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"Just be yourself" not viewed a viable option by many visible minorities in the workplace

New Catalyst study findings reveal workplace fit, negative stereotyping and perceptions of leadership qualities are barriers to career advancement for visible minorities

Toronto, (June 25, 2008) — Findings in a study examining workplace fit and stereotyping in corporate Canada revealed that many visible minority managers, professionals and executives believe that in order to succeed at work, they need to "Canadianize" themselves. Downplaying their ethnicity and speaking English or French without an identifiable accent are viewed as measures that must be taken if they want to get ahead.

In this fourth report of a series on visible minorities in corporate Canada, titled Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities in Canada ~ Workplace Fit and Stereotyping, Catalyst identifies issues that affect visible minority career advancement, specifically the crucial aspects of how this group fits into the work environment, whether and to what extent they experience stereotyping, and how others perceive them as leaders.

The Catalyst study also stresses the fact that given an increasing globally competitive marketplace, visible minorities will be critical to the performance of Canadian companies and firms in years to come. The report provides recommendations on how Canada's largest businesses can create inclusive environments in which visible minorities can be successful and organizations can reap the full benefits of diversity.

"As Canadians, we celebrate all that diversity brings to our country and communities", said Deborah Gills, Vice President, North America, Catalyst. "But when the message delivered to visible minorities working in our largest businesses is that they must blend in to get ahead, the potential to fully leverage diversity as a source of competitive advantage is being compromised."

Key findings from the study include:

  • Advancement for visible minorities may necessitate their downplaying aspects of their cultural background, such as having an identifiable accent, that does not "fit" the prevailing image of leaders in their organizations.

  • Some East Asians and South Asians who felt they understood Canadian idioms and were familiar with Canadian culture, particularly those whose families had been in Canada for generations, expressed comfort with how they fit within Canadian business organizations. However, other visible minorities stated that their chances of acceptance and promotion at work are tied to how "Canadianized" they are.

  • East Asians reported being stereotyped as "hard working but not sociable" while South Asians reported being considered "outsiders" and "foreigners" in spite of the length of time they had spent in Canada.

  • Blacks faced a dramatic difference in workplace challenges as compared to their South and East Asian colleagues. More negative stereotyping and an extremely limited number of similar role models combined to create a sense of isolation and limited opportunities for black managers, professional and executives.

  • In multicultural workplaces, "political correctness" can impede advancement of visible minorities to the extent that it makes it difficult for organizational members to address arising tensions.

  • While many organizations are committed to building inclusive work environments, imperfect execution of diversity programs can hinder career advancement for visible minority managers, professionals and executives. An added barrier is that white/Caucasians are more likely to believe that diversity efforts are successful than are Blacks or Asians.

"The market has diversified extensively in the last five years," said Zabeen Hirji, Chief Human Resources Officer at RBC, the lead sponsor of the study, "And we've understood that to serve the market, we need to hire the market. Companies that put well executed talent management systems in place to leverage the capabilities of diverse employees are more likely to have a dynamic and high performing work environment. This is a sound business model that is not only appreciated within organizations and by clients, but by stakeholders who understand the importance of attracting the best employees. The Catalyst study shows that there is still a great deal of work to be done. Achieving full diversity is a journey that requires ongoing dialogue and focus inside organizations and across our communities."

To help Canadian organizations fully leverage the diversity and talent of their visible minority employees, Catalyst recommends:

  • Organizations create inclusive environments where visible minorities can spend less time focused on overcoming stereotypes and more time on contributing to organizational performance. Senior leaders can develop inclusive workplaces by building a strong business case, addressing the concerns of majority groups, and ensuring that leadership competencies are clear and allow for a variety of styles.

  • Recognize that negative stereotyping exists in the workplace and address it. Avoid political correctness or politeness as a barrier to dealing with this problem.

  • Visible minorities should aim to familiarize themselves with their organizations and be prepared to navigate less-than-perfect workplace environments. Changing an organization is a long-term activity, and realistically many visible minority managers, professionals and executives will find themselves employed in business organizations that are less than fully inclusive.

RBC is the study's lead sponsor. Deloitte and Touche LLP and IBM Canada are the participating sponsors. The Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration is the supporting sponsor.


To review the Catalyst study and a complete account of recommendations, please visit www.catalyst.org.


Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and the support of more than 370 member organizations, Catalyst is the premier resource for research, information, and trusted advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women's advancement with the Catalyst Award.

For more information contact:

Charmain Emerson
Building Blocks Communications
Work: (416) 588-8514
Cell: (416) 857-9401
E-mail: charmain@building-blocks.ca

Susan Nierenberg
Direct: (646) 388-7744
Work: (212) 514-7600 x 333
E-mail: snierenberg@catalyst.org


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06/26/2008 08:04:28