Diversity and inclusion are no longer tick boxes on a list of corporate social responsibility requirements. For many of today's businesses, they're key drivers of success, and a strong diversity policy is a means of accessing the right talent for the job.
Following her presentation at last autumn's Canadian Employee Relocation Council (CERC) conference, I asked Crown World Mobility's director of client services for North America, Tricia Cochran, for her perspective on diversity and inclusion in Canada's mobility sector.
While diversity and inclusion are not new issues in the workplace, they are gaining traction, and what that means on a corporate level is changing.
"Diversity and inclusion have always been there," said Ms Cochran. "In the past, it used almost to be about assimilation. We didn't want to embrace differences, we wanted everybody to be the same. Over the years, having highly diverse teams has become more critical. It's important for us to include all of the skillsets from the various different levels of the organisation, and to make sure that we're not excluding talent by making assumptions based on any kind of diversity issue, whether it be visible or non-visible."
Identifying non-visible diversity issues is an important part of the process. "There are a couple of different ways of looking at diversity," said Tricia Cochran. "We have the visible definition, which is generation, gender, race, geography and disability. Then we have the non-visible definition, which is sexual orientation, religion, culture, what their various different levels of experience are, or people in non-traditional roles."
As a non-traditional role, she gave the example of a female CEO of a mining company. "We would still, to this day, think 'oh, a woman'." Ms Cochran characterised clients' policies in the field as occupying a wide spectrum. "There's a band going from the left side – where we base our decisions on skills regardless of differences, where we really don't acknowledge the fact that there may be concerns surrounding diversity and inclusion – right to the opposite end of the spectrum, where diversity's embraced, vetted and measured within an organisation.
"So you get organisations like Deloitte, where they fully embrace diversity – you can see it at all levels, and there are diverse teams working together that are making a true difference to how effective and agile the company is.
"At the other end of the spectrum, you get organisations that are still quite male-dominated, where we still don't see the presence of women at board level. And it's important to recognise those, given that more than half the students in business schools are women, and that engineering is coming way up in terms of female graduates.
"It's vital that those talents are recognised, and that we're not putting that glass ceiling in place where we think that this person can't go on an assignment because she has children or that person may not work as hard because she's got to get home and look after the kids. Measures have to be put in place so that we're not putting up those invisible barriers that prevent high-performance teams from really reaching their level of excellence."
This, said Tricia Cochran, must be reflected in mobility policy, with benefits that enable everyone to be considered for assignment, not just a narrow slice of an organisation's workforce representing the most 'convenient' talent.
Putting support in place
Drilling down to how that plays out in practice, Ms Cochran said, "From a relocation perspective, policies that we need to look at would be those addressing things like single parents with child- custody requirements, dual-career families, same-gender partners, and employees with eldercare requirements.
"We need to equip employees' families with cultural, language and daily-living support. So those would be examples of the kinds of thing we need to keep in mind when we're doing assignment preparation.
"When we look, for example, at assignees in a same-gender partnership, we need to make sure that we're abiding by local immigration laws in the destination location regarding sexual orientation, and we need to provide cultural and security briefings."
Immigration isn't where it stops, however. "We need to provide diversity and inclusion training to the host location manager where, perhaps, they might be less experienced with diversity," said Tricia Cochran. "We need to include wording on forms to raise awareness of support for any non-visible diversity issues for employees.
"And then we need to make sure that we are supportive of those assignees, that they have networks to work within, and that we keep them connected in terms of webinars and Skype and those kinds of things."
Ms Cochran said that firms needed better data, both on women who had been sent out on assignment and on those who had rejected moves because they weren't properly accommodated.
Giving an example of where a non-inclusive outlook might shut down options as to who could go on assignment, she pointed out that there was often an assumption that younger employees were unready, but that, as Millennials now constituted half the talent pool, this view must be challenged.
Diversity and inclusion are in a very different place from where they were a few years ago, but, while Canada is by nature quite a liberal society, Tricia Cochran believes there's room for growth.
"Canada tends to be quite an inclusive culture to begin with, but there's still a lot of work that needs to be done from a corporate perspective in terms of truly valuing employees for what their contribution is going to be," she told me.
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