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Thursday, 15 May 2014

How do we leverage diversity in the public service?

by Irfan Chaudhry

Photo: What’s your take on diversity in the workplace? In a recent blog post, Irfan Chaudhry tackles some of the myths and realities of diversity in the workplace as Canada increasingly becomes more multicultural. The bottom line is that diversity builds better companies and stronger communities. Whether you are “colour-blind” or simply uncomfortable talking about race, acknowledgement of this reality is the key to breaking down walls and starting to build solutions. To learn more and to join the conversation, visit the IPAC Impact Blog:

Three things you should know about diversity:

  1. Quite simply, this is how it’s going to be.  As Canada becomes more diverse and multicultural, (as it has done for the past 20 years, and will continue to do so), we as a collective need to embrace this new reality.

  2. Diversity builds better companies; stronger communities.  The more likely you are to interact with people from different backgrounds as yourself, the less likely you are to hold negative assumptions about them.  As simple as this equation is, more of us need to do a better job in doing this.  Embracing diversity builds better companies and stronger communities. 

  3. Challenge Resistance. As a collective, we have inherited a historical social context where race and ethnicity are taboo to discuss in a public setting.  Often times, people claim to be “colour-blind” and get uncomfortable when the topic of race comes up. For progress and change to happen, however, we need to get uncomfortable.

Three myths about diversity:

Myth #1:  Why does “X” group get special treatment?

Reality:   We have inherited a social history embedded with inequality (gender, race, ability, sexual orientation).  It’s not about giving one group preferential treatment over the other (in fact, this is what got us to this point in the first place!).  It’s not even about equality (“giving everyone a shoe”).  It’s about equity (“giving everyone a shoe that fits”).  

Myth #2:  “We want a workforce that is representative of our diverse community”. 

The Reality:  This has become a mantra for almost all municipal and provincial government departments in Canada, yet not much is progressing.  Just by saying you want to have a diverse workforce, does not mean this will automatically happen.  Often times, more emphasis is paid on lip service (i.e. we have a “Diversity and Inclusion” handbook) than the actual hard work needed to put this claim into action.  It is important that action plans and evaluation strategies are put in place (and actually acted on!) to ensure that our workforce (in all sectors) truly becomes representative of our diverse community.

Myth #3:  “I don’t see colour”.

The Reality:  This statement is concerning on a number of levels.  Either you really have a medical condition where you cannot see
colour (this probably should get checked out!), or you are ignoring a significant social characteristic and are assuming that thinking about race is a negative thing.  Whether we like it or not, race matters.  Due to our history with race (i.e. genocide, Jim Crow segregation laws, Residential schooling system, apartheid), we often only connect it with the negative and intertwine race and racism.  This is why people claim to not “see” race.  It has an ugly history.  (Think of it as your ugly and awkward junior high photo, which you know exists, but would rather not look back at).  By acknowledging this, however, we can start to breakdown resistance and start to build solutions.

Irfan Chaudhry is currently a sessional instructor at MacEwan University, Department of Sociology and a PhD Candidate (provisional) with the Department of Sociology, University of Alberta.  Irfan’s research on racist tweets in Canada were highlighted in Avenue Magazines annual top 40 Edmontonian’s under the age of 40 list, where he was featured as one of the top 40 recipients in 2013.    Irfan received an MA in Criminal Justice at the University of Alberta (Department of Sociology). Prior to returning to University to pursue a PhD in Criminology (focusing on race, racism and crime), Irfan held a number of positions with the City of Edmonton, including a Crime Analyst with the Edmonton Police Service, and more recently, as a Race Relations Specialist for the City of Edmonton, Aboriginal and Multicultural Relations Office. @RiffC

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