Diversity Risk in the Canadian Workplace

By Rufran C Frago posted 03-11-2023 04:20 PM


Cultural Pluralism and Multiculturalism

If we look at the past, multiculturalism has a long and broad history in Canada. The government adopted it in the 1970s and 1980s (Kobayashi, 1993) and (Duncan & Duncan, 1993).

From that time onwards, various religious and cultural influences flourished in our society, from the family to the workplace and into the main building blocks of Canadian politics. They consist of people from many racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds. 

Multiculturalism was an open invitation to "cultural pluralism," a state where smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities. It means the broader culture accepts the values and practices of a distinct cultural group, provided they do not violate any governing laws and values.

Note that "cultural pluralism" is often confused with "multiculturalism." 

Yes, the attributes are very similar except for one evident distinction-"multiculturalism lacks the requirement for a dominant culture (Wikipedia, 2013. Cultural Pluralism). 

Amid these diversities lie the risks and questions we must address and manage daily.

Internationally Trained Professionals

Are you an internationally trained professional working in the Canadian workplace? Any experience having severe communication challenges, although having a good grasp of English? How about Pedro's feelings that his leaders and coworkers struggle to understand him? Why can't he convey fully?

Adaeze immigrated to Canada three years ago from Africa and often asked why people misinterpret her.
Photo by Christina Morillo.Pexels2023.PM Solution Pro

She exerts serious effort to improve her communication style to compensate for her heavy accent. However, frustrated by all the snags and complications, she started to use the race card to make a point of frustration.

In her mind, she debated what to do, perhaps even giving up the Canadian dream. She is now thinking of just returning to her point of origin. It is a sad turning point.

Canadian-born/Canadian-trained Professionals

Are you a Canadian-born/Canadian-trained professional working in the Canadian workplace who serves under and among internationally-trained professionals? Why Joe Lacklustre found it difficult to deal with an internationally-trained coworker? He wonders why he sometimes comes in completely from the left field? What is going on?

How about the following situations?

  • the project still failed after tremendous effort
  • new employee refused to shake hands after being introduced
  • new leader from Asia asks too many personal questions
  • new employee from India jumped the queue
  • American co-worker talks loudly
  • a direct report was always silent during team meeting
  • a new officemate originally from the Middle East, not socializing
  • female coworker hugged Ibrahim in front of his wife at an office party
  • two employees temporarily locked eyes, and a fight ensued

Sounds familiar, eh? There needs to be more explanation of how cultural differences intersect and their consequences. The Canadian workplace is highly diversified, and bosses, coworkers, and colleagues heavily influence a person's success at work. 

Refusing to admit that diversity risk can be a threat is a mistake. On the other hand, denying the issues it bring will get us nowhere.

There were times and occasions when Piotr could not convey his message and vice versa. He also needs help understanding them. He often wonders what is wrong between him and them. Unknown to them, one of the best approaches is to appreciate what each brings to the table but way beyond the spoken words.

One day, he was surprised why an officemate suddenly reacted angrily to something he said while the other kept smiling. In one instance, he could not understand why a colleague said she disagreed with what he was saying just after two sentences.

The relationship turns more personal rather than professional. Frustration comes creeping into Piotr's life, with him practically giving up the quest to understand. In extreme cases, some might already be amid a conflict, spending negative energy, fighting and fending off adversaries, and are now trying to get even. 

The vicious cycle of conflict has started, and there is no let up to the stress it brings. Therefore, Piotr concluded that the working relationship with his boss, direct report, colleague, and stakeholders is no longer essential and, thus, need not require fixing.

Conflicts in the office due to poor understanding of diversity risk. Photo by Yan Krukau.Pexels Free Pictures

His project is going south due to silent bickering or has already failed, so why bother? However, it is now a serious situation because the worst is coming. He starts doubting himself.

Many know what it is like to become a victim of negative perception. They did not like it. Nobody will like it. No one will! 

For these reasons, we must pursue the opportunity to learn and handle these challenges well. Nobody can do this perfectly, but we all have to start somewhere. We must be aware that we need to understand and appreciate another person's external and internal cultural dimensions to avoid getting lost and creating conflicts instead of harmony.

"And though our culture shapes us, we shape our culture. The culture changes only when a Higher Power shapes us (Brownrigg, J., 2017. Living with Christ Vol. 23, No. 1, Pg. 139)."

In an article by John Hooker (2008), Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, Intercultural Business Communication, he stated,

"The key to cross-cultural business is to understand one's business partners well enough to make cultural adjustments. A practical rule of thumb is that business transactions should favor the cultural norms of the social infrastructure they primarily rely on.

The emphasis Hooker alluded to in his write-up is that business is not a self-contained activity that can disregard all other cultures but must offer more respect to the culture that provides the business. Since no one can please everyone, this practical philosophy makes perfect sense!

Cultural differences were among the top 15 reasons for Project Failure (Symonds, 2011.15 Cause of Project Failure). 

Although it was at the bottom number 15 on Symonds' list, the threat posed by improperly managing cultural differences can easily land on the top five. 

Regardless, she is one of the many present-day thinkers who believe that organizations must consider the concern seriously because it is real. 

She said, "… even on simple, straightforward projects, many areas can cause problems that eventually manifest themselves in failure. Add to the many possible causes of failure any complexity and problems can rapidly escalate into disasters." 

Imagine the Piano.Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas.Pexels

Imagine the piano. The right keys must be pressed at the right time, together or alone, at the proper speed and sequence to create musical harmony. Conversely, press the wrong keys, and cringe at the sound it makes.

In conclusion, what human resource experts are touting as key to business success can quickly become its pitfall and demise. Organizations therefore, has to be carefully aware, provide training, and strike the right balance.

Source: Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective.ISBN 978-0-9947608-0-7.Canada

Disclaimer: Any name similar to actual persons, living or dead, or situation similar to actual events, is purely coincidental.

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