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Diversity Risk in the Canadian Workplace

A good understanding of diversity risk must be part of planning. The world is laden with so many cultures. Mixtures of these various norms creates a new norm that must be considered seriously.

If we look in the past, multiculturalism has a long and wide history in Canada. It was then adopted by the government during 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 a multitude of racial, religious, and cultural background. 

Multiculturalism was an open invitation to “cultural pluralism”, a state where smaller groups within a larger society maintain their unique cultural identities. It means that the values and practices of a distinct cultural group are accepted by the wider culture 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). 

In the midst of these diversities lie the risks and questions that we all have to answer and manage every day. Before we proceed, let me ask you the following:

“Are you an internationally trained professional working in the Canadian workplace? Do you experience serious communication challenges although you feel that you have a good grasp of the English language? Do you feel that your leader and co-workers have not fully understood what you want to convey? 

Do you find your action and your statement always get misinterpreted? Through all these snags and complications, have you started to use the race card to make a point? Are you debating with yourself on what to do, perhaps even giving up the Canadian dream and is now thinking of going back to your point of origin?”

Perhaps, it is the other way around. Maybe I should ask you the following questions.

“Are you a Canadian born/Canadian trained professional working in the Canadian workplace who serves under an internationally trained professional? Have you found it difficult dealing with a coworker sometimes? Are you still wondering why he/she sometimes comes in completely from the left field?”

How about the following situations?

  • Your project still failed after tremendous effort!
  • Someone refused to shake hands with you after being introduced.
  • A new acquaintance started to ask too many personal questions.
  • Someone jumped the queue.
  • Someone near your cubicle talked too loud.
  • Your office mate asked you not to talk too loud.
  • Your female co-worker embraced you in front of your wife at an office party.
  • You temporarily locked eyes with someone and it's war!

Sounds familiar, eh? You will most likely feel bad if all of these questions remained unanswered. The Canadian workplace is highly diversified and your success at work is heavily influenced by your boss, co-workers and colleagues. 

Refusing to admit that such situations exist is a mistake. Denying the issues will get you nowhere.

The truth is (that is whether you admit it or not) there were times and occasions that you just cannot seem to get your message across and vice versa. The other parties apparently do not appreciate what you are bringing to the table. You often wonder-what is wrong with them?

One of these days, you will wonder why an officemate suddenly reacted negatively on something you said while the other keep smiling. You will be surprised why a group of person said they do not agree with what you were saying just after two sentences.

 Relationship turns more personal rather than professional. Frustration comes creeping into your life with you practically giving up the quest to understand. In extreme cases, you might already be in the midst of a conflict, spending negative energy, fighting and fending off adversaries and is now trying to get even. 

The vicious cycle of conflict has started and there’s no let up to the stress it brought. You conclude that your work relationship with your boss, your direct report and/or your colleague, or stakeholder is no longer important and thus, need not be fixed.

The project you are managing is going south due to silent bickering or has already failed, so why bother? It is now a serious situation because the worse is about to come-… and that is you are going to start doubting yourself.

I know what it is like to become a victim of perception. You will not like it. They will not like it. Nobody will! 

It is for these reasons that I want you to have the opportunity to learn and try to get a good handle of these challenges.

Nobody can do this perfectly but we all have to start somewhere. We need to be aware for without good understanding and appreciation of another person’s external and internal cultural dimensions, we can get lost, creating conflicts instead of harmony in the process.

In an article by John Hooker (2008), Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, Intercultural Business Communication, he stated that – “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 on which they primarily rely.” 

In my opinion, the emphasis Hooker alluded to in his write-up is that business should not be seen as a self-contained activity that can disregard all other culture but rather, must offer more respect to the culture that provides the business. Since no one can really please everyone, this philosophy is very practical and makes perfect sense!

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

Although it was at the bottom number 15 on Symonds’ list, my feeling is that 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 the concern have to be considered seriously by organizations because it is real. 

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

Imagine the piano... the right keys have to be pressed at the right time, together or alone, at the proper speed and sequence to create musical harmony. Press the wrong keys and you cringe with the sound it makes.

In conclusion, what is being touted by human resource experts as key to business success can easily become its own pitfall and demise if one is not carefully aware.  

Source: Frago, R. (2015). Risk-based Management in the World of Threats and Opportunities: A Project Controls Perspective. ISBN 978-0-9947608-0-7 (Canada). Chapter 8.Section 157

Continuation.... "Diversity Risk-Case 1: Nho Klu"

Rufran C. Frago – Author (10-Jan-17)

Related sites:

Related articles authored by Rufran Frago.

  1. Risk Relativity
  2. Man is the Center of the Risk Universe
  3. Your World, Our Risk Universe
  4. Rufran Frago in the Global Risk Community Site
  5. Risks as a Function of Time
  6. Changing the Culture of Your Organization
  7. A Person Perceives Others Based on His Own Interest
  8. How Can Management Motivate and Empower?
  9. How Can Managers Increase Leadership Effectiveness
  10. Risks Surrounding Canada’s TFW Part 2

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