Diversity in the workplace is likely to become the next business issue to test our industry’s ability to respond to the new world.
There are a number of demographic and business reasons for this. First, throughout North America and indeed in the advanced economies of the world, the employable population is shrinking as ageing baby boomers retire from the workforce. Boosting productivity levels may ease some of this shortfall. But some of it will need to be met by turning to other sectors of the population that, until now, have been largely ignored by IT recruiters. Chief among them are skilled and highly educated immigrants and offshore workers.
Also, the North American marketplace is becoming more diverse in its interests and structure. The continent’s fastest growing group of consumers – those from the Hispanic community – will command a much larger percentage of spending than ever before. The global telecommunications infrastructure has also facilitated access to a greater range of employer and employee choices.
A diverse workforce is required in order to service the needs of this marketplace. Who is better positioned to understand the product requirements of the disabled other than a disabled person? Who better to understand the cultural factors in selling to an ethnic group other than someone from that ethnic group?
Companies are already beginning to act – employers continue to build accommodations such as wheelchair access in order to attract the disabled workforce. And the shortage of skilled and experienced workers has already required some companies to re-hire previously retired employees.
However, many of us still equate diversity with employment equity. Although many diversity programs have their roots in a sometimes exclusive employment equity environment, the modern concept of diversity speaks to an inclusive workplace that caters to global economic pressure. The key here is diversity of thought. Organizations that foster diverse thinking do not need employment equity programs.
Employee support groups and workplace networking groups can be used to facilitate the exchange of ideas in a setting that is both safe and comfortable.
Like other Canadian industries in the new (and old economy), the IT industry in Canada enjoys competitive strengths that make it a formidable combatant in the battle for these new workers and the wealth that they will bring. Despite what some critics of our education system have to say, Canada is home to a highly skilled and educated workforce. Canadians can be proud of their reputation abroad as a respected, fair and diverse country.
Amid the confusion, employers and employees alike will look to government policy makers and IT industry associations for leadership in responding to the new challenges presented by these trends. Increasingly, these associations will need to speak out on the need to develop and maintain a diverse workplace. Failing to do so could mean that companies such as Motorola and Infosys have no option but to outsource their research and development work offshore.
An effort to introduce diversity into your workforce doesn’t guarantee diversity of thought, but not trying ensures that it will never happen. The road to a successful implementation of workplace diversity is rocky and treacherous.
Nevertheless, we can expect those IT organizations that are successful in developing diversity of thought will share in the wealth of the new millennium for themselves and for future generations.
Eng is a planning manager at a major Canadian financial institution, where he sits on its Diversity Committee. He is also the director of networking events with the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) Toronto Section. He can be reached at email@example.com