immigrant and racialized women at computer
November 24, 2022

In collaboration with SEASONOVA, we recently brought together 119 immigrant and racialized women and youth to hear their stories about entering the Canadian workforce. In this blog, we will explore these women’s stories about looking for a job while facing negative experiences, from the application process to the interview stage.

Even though the Canadian government takes in skilled immigrants to address labour shortages, most participants whom we consulted in a recent focus group discussion have expressed that not having “Canadian work experience” is a major barrier to being selected for interviews. For newcomer women, this is especially challenging. One participant shared:

“Being screened out because of a lack of Canadian experience is not fair. If nobody is given a chance, how do we get Canadian experience in the first place?!”

During the consultation, 91% of immigrant and racialized women shared that they’ve had negative experiences during the job application process.

Participants noted that even if they have extensive work experience, it is dismissed since it was not locally acquired. Some women expressed that this is a barrier and potentially a form of discrimination.

I had the experience of working for international organizations and working internationally but I was astonished because I kept sending my CV and applying for jobs but no answer because I had no Canadian experience…”

Only accepting the “Canadian experience” not only affects immigrant and racialized women but employers as well. Finding an alternative to this requirement, such as years of experience, education levels or recognizing international work experience, can address this and benefit employers by accessing a large pool of untapped talent.

Another emerging theme from the focus group discussion was the impact of misleading information and the lack of feedback from interviewers or hiring managers.

Participants shared various negative experiences during and after the interview process. Women recalled being told they were not hired due to being overqualified or that the position was already filled and interviews were arranged to follow protocol. Overwhelmingly, participants said they did not receive any further communications after being interviewed or any feedback despite attempts to reach the interviewer.

As the job search process involves being engaged in multiple hiring processes that take a significant amount of time, some participants felt disrespected after not hearing back after an interview or receiving no feedback. This is further worsened by microaggressions experienced by immigrant and racialized women during the hiring process.

Many of the participants expressed receiving culturally insensitive and inappropriate comments and questions about their accent, name, and skin colour, as exemplified by one participant:

I am always told I am very articulate and that my name is so exotic. This is subtle racism.

To address these barriers, immigrant and racialized women recommend employers expedite the recruitment process and provide updates so that applicants know the status of their applications. Research participants also stated that it is highly appreciated if employers provide feedback on interviews by outlining applicants’ strengths and areas of improvement regardless of the hiring outcome.

Furthermore, making sure interviewers have access to training opportunities to increase cultural competencies and EDI awareness can positively influence the experiences of immigrant and racialized women during the interview process.

Read more on our What We Heard report here to find out the main barriers encountered and how they can be addressed by employers and policy makers.

Let’s work together to welcome immigrant and racialized women into the Canadian workforce. Join us for our knowledge Exchange sessions in January and February 2023.

Join us in January 2023 to learn more about the stories and experiences of immigrant and racialized women joining the Canadian labour market and their recommendations to employers. We want to hear about your experiences as an employer in recruiting, hiring and retaining immigrant and racialized women in your workforce.

Register for our Knowledge Exchange sessions: https://forms.gle/9GX6s3sQ7xN1foaL7

Advancing Equity for Women and Girls, funded by Women and Gender Equality (WAGE), supports a feminist response and recovery from the impact COVID-19 has had on the employment of immigrant and racialized women in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) by contributing to systemic change to promote women’s economic prosperity and equality.

For any questions regarding the project, contact us:

Hodan Mohamed, Coordinator: hmohamed@achev.ca

Mayela Lozano, Community Liaison: mlozano@achev.ca

Read more about our program here: Advancing Equity for Women and Girls – Employment Services – Achēv (achev.ca)

office workers at table
August 10, 2022

“The robots are going to replace us.”

You have likely heard this sentiment many times. The weekend before the pandemic broke, I heard this phrase from the Uber driver who was, ironically, driving me to an in-person conference on artificial intelligence (AI) that I was speaking at in Toronto. At the time, I was Associate Director of the world’s first business and AI program at one of the top business schools in Canada. As part of my role, I worked extensively with corporate partners who recruited from the school. Through my work, I began to see a very different and nuanced perspective of the modern workforce emerging than what my Uber driver and the popular discourse were often describing.

In an era of increasingly rapid advancements in technology and the rise of virtual work, a few surprising trends have revealed themselves. Among the emerging trends are the pace of innovation and the resulting necessity for upgrading technical skills more often, as well as the emergence of an understanding of the need for soft skills. This article explores the relationship that will continue to develop between emerging technologies and people as we move into the next generation of work and life.

How do we navigate the rapidly evolving landscape of the future of work and what skills are most needed?

We can start to answer the above question by looking at the trends, research, challenges, and opportunities that exist today, which we can capitalize on to set ourselves up for success in the work world of tomorrow. When looking at the future of work, the first trend I started to notice was that the updating of “hard” or technical skills was becoming needed more often and in more rapid intervals than ever before.

The increasing frequency of technology-related disruptive change presents a challenge in that it requires workers of all types to update more specialized sets of skills more frequently. As an unintended consequence of innovations in big data, data analytics, IT and AI, business intelligence suddenly and unexpectedly was found further down the traditional organizational chart than it had been in the past. True business insights driven from data were coming from outside the C-suite, which had traditionally relied on making decisions based on experience and intuition. From my vantage point, this shift was happening because newly graduated data scientists and/or programmers with business acumen and/or formal education began to enter the workforce with knowledge of how to use novel technologies and methods of using data to drive decision-making.

The impact of these new skill sets was made even more salient in increasingly uncertain times (e.g., global pandemic and shift to remote work). What we saw as a result of our AI and business program were senior leaders of organizations, both big and small, coming to the program for technical training in order to understand the tools and processes their employees were using to advise them on strategy.

While this rush to learn technical skills began to gain momentum, another trend began to form. Employers often told us that the hard skills were just the “table stakes”, to borrow a poker term, which meant that these skills were becoming a basic expectation simply to be able to play, let alone considering what it would actually take to win. This meant that to be considered for leadership roles in organizations, it was assumed that the successful candidate would have the required hard skills. Graduates with hard skills could be easily acquired from a number of top schools. Meanwhile, soft skills, which include interpersonal skills and communication skills, were what truly separated an applicant from the crowd and were too often missing in those who were technically brilliant. Truly, what good are analytics if you cannot interpret and communicate their insights effectively for practical application and execution?

Typically, the successful implementation of data-driven insights involves a great deal of teamwork and leadership of cross-functional teams. Further, the Agile methodology, which many companies have adopted (especially in the technology sector), focuses on an iterative approach to project management and software development, which requires ongoing collaboration between technical and non-technical employees and teams. Emerging research has produced a myriad of articles on which skills will be most needed in the future of work. Notably, Harvard Business Review’s recent article on “The C-Suite Skills That Matter Mosttackles this question. A quick summary of the article reveals that after analyzing nearly 7,000 job descriptions for C-suite roles, more than anything else, companies were seeking leaders with social skills.

If the research is telling us that soft skills are more important than ever, why do they seem increasingly rare?

To compound this problem, most post-secondary schools have traditionally focused more on developing technical skills than interpersonal skills. So-called “soft” skills are much harder to teach, largely because the rules around our interactions in increasingly complex, virtual, and global workplaces are embedded in subtlety and context. That being said, soft skills (some prefer to call them human-powered skills) certainly can be taught. Doing so requires a way of thinking about education and work that is less traditional than previous generations.

In a former life in fundraising, I was able to attend the annual Not for Profit Storytelling Conference twice. My key takeaway was that people make decisions more so due to emotion than logic. Emerging research in neuroscience (see Harvard Professor Gerald Zaltman’s work) continues to explain that people, whether CEOs, employees, or customers, are all hard-wired to be influenced more by emotion than logic. It follows that those who best understand how people think and are motivated are also often among the most valuable pieces of the puzzle in the modern workplace.

In the IT world, in particular, a gap has emerged between the typically technically savvy IT workers and the non-technical or more business-focused employees. Considering that there are at times language-skill-related gaps in communication in an increasingly international and remote workforce, it is true that even native speakers of the same language often struggle to communicate effectively between these two broad audiences.

In my role running the business and AI program, we put considerable thought, energy, and resources into training our students on both the hard and soft skills associated with building businesses, products and services using AI. The current market continues to ask us to teach Professional Communications, with an emphasis on communicating between technical and non-technical audiences, as organizations seek out knowledge translators in order to attempt to bridge this gap. 

There are issues around the education system and organizations playing catch-up on teaching soft skills. However, we can posit that modern technology and the recent shift to the mainstream acceptance of remote work have created conditions in which people are able to operate without needing to develop the basic interpersonal skills that were once needed to get by. This suggestion is not new, and as an example, we might ask, “what is the difference between having a difficult conversation over text or email versus having that same conversation in person?”

Dealing with each other is hard at times, and most people do not like conflict, so it is natural to think that people would avoid it if possible. Some of the problems new technologies can unintentionally create include a lack of social skills and self-awareness, which can result in a society that is increasingly ill-equipped to work with each other.

Canadian philosopher and communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, who became internationally renowned during the 1960s for his studies of the effects of mass media on human thought and behaviour, famously said that “the medium is the message”. We can interpret this quote to say that the method(s) through which we choose to communicate with each other can also inform us of the value we place on those interpersonal relationships themselves.

For example, if you need to contact a loved one to tell them about a mutual friend or family member that has passed away, we implicitly understand that communicating this news in person or over the most personal means possible (e.g. a phone/video call) would be preferred to sending a text or email. And yet, I believe that we too often devalue our everyday communications with each other and relegate them to more impersonal means in exchange for convenience. This means that, by extension, we also relegate not only communication skills in general, but also each other, to places of diminished value in our modern lives.

Where do we go from here?

The good news amidst all of these emerging trends in the future of work is that an opportunity exists for individuals skilled in interpersonal communication to act as bridges between differing but potentially complementary perspectives. One example of a growing ecosystem desperate for such bridges or translators is the non-technical and technical worlds that need to work together in modern business. In the AI and business program, we often referred to individuals who could move seamlessly between technical and non-technical groups not only as translators but as “unicorns” that had the ability to leverage communication and soft skills as well technical competencies simultaneously. Such “unicorns” could bridge the communication gap between a sales team and a product development team, for instance, facilitating a better end-user experience.

Returning to my Uber driver from earlier, it is true and important to note that robots and automation will certainly replace some of the jobs which humans previously have been needed to do (often the most tedious and repetitive jobs). In many cases, it is also true that humans who understand modern technology will still need to lead and work as much or more with other humans in order to create successful businesses, products, and services. Through my experiences in the worlds of education, technology, and user experience design, it is clear to me that employees who understand human behaviour are better able to create more intentional and positive customer experiences and outcomes as well as better shared experiences amongst co-workers

Beyond business considerations, when it comes to solving the problems facing modern society, I would argue that the stakes around communicating and working together effectively are higher than ever, as we find ourselves in an increasingly complex and rapidly evolving world. Ultimately, the merger of hard and soft skills allows the leadership of a business, organization, non-profit, or even government to understand the complexities of human emotion and interaction pertaining to all of their key stakeholders. Advances in technology can certainly help us to tackle modern challenges in new and exciting ways. The most advanced computers still struggle to meaningfully understand and interpret the complex subtleties and nuances of human communication. That’s why we need more unicorns than robots, no matter what your Uber driver (or self-driving car) tells you.

Rishi Behari is an Inclusion Coach with Achēv, focusing on soft skills development for technology professionals. He is also a professional speaker, consultant, coach, teacher and facilitator. The Founder of Flowstate Coaching & Consulting, Rishi continues to appear across media as a guest expert on a range of topics including the effects of emerging technologies on modern society, with a focus on their intersection with issues of ethics, equity, diversity, and belonging.

gender neutral language
June 20, 2022

Have you ever referred to your team as “guys” or asked an employee if their husband or wife was coming to the company party?

Even the most well-intentioned employer or manager may inadvertently use gendered words or language in the workplace. It can result in feelings of distress, alienation and discomfort, especially among non-binary employees.

Inclusive language and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) practices are crucial to building an inclusive and diverse workplace. One of the key steps to integrating DEI in the workplace is educating yourself and your employees on how to use gender-neutral language properly. Doing this is a massive step toward becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization.

What is Gender-Neutral Language?

According to the UN, gender-neutral language (also known as gender-inclusive language) is “writing and speaking in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.”

This means avoiding using masculine pronouns when speaking to a group of employees and assuming someone’s pronouns based on their physical appearance, name or clothing. A lack of this awareness can lead to misgendering, which is using a pronoun different from the gender with which people identify.

Categorizing people into binary categories of masculine/feminine, he/him or she/her is something many people do subconsciously. For centuries, society has assumed that there are only two sexes (male and female) and two genders (man and woman). This belief ignores other gender identities and excludes non-binary, gender non-conforming and transgender individuals.

To create a more inclusive workplace, employers or leaders should take the time to understand the various gender identities, gender expressions and differences between sex and gender.

Here are some examples of non-inclusive and inclusive terms:

Non-Inclusive Terms:

  • Hi guys, ladies and gentlemen.
  • Invite your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife to the event.
  • Best man for the job.
  • Mankind.
  • Each employee should read his performance review carefully.

Inclusive Terms:

  • Hi folks, team, everyone, customers or clients.
  • Invite your partners or spouses to the event.
  • Best person for the job.
  • Humankind.
  • Employees should read performance reviews carefully.

Take the First Steps Towards an Inclusive, Equitable and Diverse Workplace

Achēv welcomes partnerships with businesses striving to create supportive workplaces for LGBTQ2+ employees. Adding LGBTQ2+ to your DEI discussions and taking the time to understand the importance of using gender-neutral language in the workplace will empower you to take that valuable step toward equitable work environments where everyone belongs.

To learn more about how you can adopt a more inclusive workforce at your company and/or how Achēv can support your business, contact Sachin Kapoor (him/his), Manager of Corporate Partnerships, Achēv, at: skapoor@achev.ca for a quick 15-minute DEI coffee chat.

Jana Gregorio (She/Her),
Communications Assistant, Achēv

and

Lisa Trudel (She/Her),
Career Specialist, Achēv

lgbtq flags
May 30, 2022

June is Pride Month in the Greater Toronto Area, and on June 1, the Mayors of Toronto and Mississauga will raise the Rainbow and Transgender flags at their City Halls to proclaim the start of Pride 2022. During the month of June, hundreds of rainbow flags will be swirling in the wind and decorating store windows and websites, all of which is a great boost to LGBTQ2+ awareness and inclusion.

If you are an employer working towards an authentic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policy for inclusive hiring, retention, training, customer service, and overall culture, it is important to equip your business with a lens that includes an informed and meaningful strategy that is specifically LGBTQ2+ focused.

Here are six steps to consider if you want to adopt a more inclusive workforce:

  • Understand Terminology: What does LGBTQ2+ refer to? It’s important to learn and understand what this umbrella term stands for and its meaning.
  • Celebrate History: Canada is one of the most progressive countries in the world with respect to LGBTQ2+ rights. This international reputation was earned due to the work of countless advocates who established new legislation over the past 25+ years.
  • Implement LGBTQ2+ Training: Offering professional development as part of diversity training can be a powerful approach to educating staff. It can help to ensure DEI policies are understood and that everyone feels a sense of belonging.
  • List Pronouns: Adding pronouns to email signatures has become a way for everyone to normalize not assuming someone’s gender.
  • Incorporate Gender-Neutral Language: Using gender-neutrality in written business correspondence and emails, and verbally in phone calls and in-person, is an important step to acknowledging that language matters.
  • Create inclusive benefits: It’s important to ensure that your benefits meet the needs of LGBTQ2S+ employees.

It is incredibly exciting that more Canadian businesses are investing in DEI as part of workplace culture and the hiring process. Diversity is a huge topic and companies who are truly DEI aware will experience the positive benefits of including DEI in the workplace.

Achēv welcomes partnerships with businesses that are striving toward creating workplaces that are welcoming and supportive of LGBTQ2+ employees. By adding LGBTQ2+ to your DEI discussion and allowing Pride flags to decorate office cubicles, you are taking a valuable step toward equitable work environments for everyone.

To learn more about how you can adopt a more inclusive workforce at your company and/or how Achēv can support your business, contact Sachin Kapoor (him/his), Manager of Corporate Partnerships, Achēv at: skapoor@achev.ca for a quick 15-minute DEI coffee chat.

Lisa Trudel (she/her),
Career Specialist, Achēv

 

 

May 5, 2022

During my time with The BlackNorth Initiative as the volunteer lead of the working engagement group, I met with and supported over 100 companies at the start of their journey towards ending anti-Black systemic racism.  The murder of George Floyd had galvanized the global community to act on the injustice and imbalance in society and the workplace.

Each of the companies I worked with had signed a pledge to deliver on commitments designed to build a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture within their organizations.  Many of the organizations, from large corporations to small start-ups in the private and public sectors, as well as not-for-profits and charities, were launching diversity, equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs for the first time.  Together, we worked through a wide range of issues, challenges, and strategies to help them successfully navigate this new and complex process.

As the CEO of Achēv, I have continued to engage organizations and support their DEI initiatives.  We have also launched our own DEI initiative at Achēv, and I am personally committed to building an inclusive culture where everyone feels they belong.

I would like to share a few things I have learned through my journey over the last few years.

 

1. Your first step is the right step.

This is a journey, and getting started is what really counts.  You are likely doing this for the first time, so you might not get it right.  What is important is moving forward.  If you have a misstep, acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on.

2. Leaders need to lead.

To have the desired impact, this cannot just be an HR program.  It must be a priority for the CEO if it is going to work.  “Tone from the top”, as they say.  Everyone, at every level, needs to see and feel the CEO’s commitment so it cascades throughout the organization.

3. It is about changing behaviours and how people use, or don’t use, their power.

Building an inclusive culture where everyone can belong requires behaviour changes at every level across an entire organization.  This is particularly true for those with implicit and explicit positions of power and authority.  These are the positions where behaviours will be closely examined, and can make the biggest impact – everyone needs to be engaged and on side.

4. Recognize this process for what it is – a transformation.

Creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive culture is a transformation, not simply a project with deliverables to be checked off.  Changing how an organization thinks and does business is not a small undertaking.  It requires a change-management approach, and, like any transformation, it takes time, needs champions, engages everyone, celebrates small wins, adjusts as needed, and has a clearly articulated vision for the future.

5. What gets measured, gets done.

Every organization I have worked with on DEI struggles with the topic of measurement.  What do we measure? How do we measure? When do we measure? These are all common questions.

I give everyone the same advice – first you need to understand where you are today, before you can set your goals for tomorrow.  Consider starting with a demographics survey – ask about specific characteristics, such as age, gender, sexual orientation, languages, cultural heritage, religion, and disabilities.  It must be anonymous and results should only be shared on the aggregate data.

With that data, you can make decisions about what areas you want to focus on, and set some goals.  I would urge you to consider engaging staff in these discussions.  This will help you understand what matters to your employees, and what can be achieved.

And don’t be too hard on yourself – the first survey may not have a strong response rate. This is not unusual, and the response rate will increase each time you do it – provided staff feel safe in sharing the information, and they understand how it will be used.

5. Listen.

Part of understanding where you are is not only captured through a demographic survey.  You need to really understand what is happening across the organization – what does the staff experiencing looks like, what challenges and barriers are they experiencing, and where are things working.

To capture this information, focus groups or listening events across your organization can provide powerful feedback, and a great way to engage staff directly.  To get the most out of these sessions, “safe spaces,” where employees feel comfortable to share, need to be created.  These can be emotional discussions, and are best facilitated by a third party who knows how to handle these types of situations.  Like the survey results, information should be collected and specific comments kept anonymous.  Management needs to hear the results to inform key decisions, but it is essential that privacy is protected.

One last word of advice on listening.  You need to be prepared to hear things that might challenge your understanding and beliefs about the culture of your organization.  As a leader or people manager, it can be hard to come to terms with the realities of people’s experiences when they don’t match your own.  But, it is a key step in the journey.  You can’t fix something if you don’t know where it’s broken.

I know it isn’t always easy to know the right thing to do or where to start.  Achēv is here to help.  We offer inclusion and belonging training, and can facilitate listening events or focus groups.  Please reach out if we can be of assistance.

Remember, the most important step is the first step.

Tonie Chaltas
CEO, Achēv

 

language at work
May 3, 2022

Everyone, no matter their job or industry, should care about language.

Language is not neutral. Words are a powerful reflection of who we are and what we believe. They can include or exclude, empower or belittle, and both drive progress and resist it.

In our modern digital age, when so much of what is presented to the world is through online platforms and social media, the language an organization uses to communicate is especially critical because it is public and out there for the world to see.

The changing nature of inclusive language.

The consistent use of inclusive language is a critical building block to a truly inclusive and diverse workplace. If the goal is to attract and retain a diverse workforce and create an atmosphere where everyone feels they belong, the language of the workplace should be at the top of every company’s diversity check list.

Keeping current, however, can be a challenge for the modern workplace because language is constantly evolving. Terms and phrases change and a once acceptable term can now be met with shock, stunned silence or worse.

It is important for organizations to accept and embrace this evolution as language becomes more precise, less exclusionary, and more sensitive to people who have historically been marginalized or overlooked. 

What can an organization do?

Everyone should see a place for themselves within an organization, whether they are current employees, job seekers, existing or potential customers, clients, suppliers or service providers.

How an organization is presented in all communications reflects the culture and core values of a business. Two of the most important areas of focus for a business to demonstrate a commitment to diversity are websites and job postings.

Building an inclusive website.

A website is often the first point of contact for a potential client or job candidate, so the content should include diverse and inclusive language and visuals.

A good place for an organization to start is to explicitly state their views on diversity. Well-written mission and diversity statements can show that an organization sees diversity as a valuable asset and not just as a bunch of trendy buzz words or a box to check off.

Examples of statements include, “We’re seeking to create a diverse work culture to reflect the diversity of our global client base” or “Diversity and inclusion are the foundational principles that built our teams and created a workplace where everyone is comfortable to be themselves.”

In addition to language, businesses can show potential customers and job applicants their commitment to diversity in a clear and meaningful way through imagery. The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is entirely accurate when it comes to creating a diverse website. What a company chooses to represent their business online says a lot about their culture and values. The use of photos and videos of current employees and diverse teams can be a great way for a company to display a commitment to diversity, while the use of stock photos that show a wide range of diverse people can be a way for management to demonstrate a vision for the future.

Attracting talent through inclusive job postings.

It is a competitive market out there and the language in job postings can either be welcoming to diverse applicants or create barriers for attracting, recruiting, and hiring talent. Job postings should use language that encourages job applicants from all backgrounds in order to attract top candidates from the largest pool possible.

  • Ethnic and racial diversity

To avoid racial or ethnic bias, words and phrases should be carefully considered. It may be obvious that specific race or national origin terms should never be used, but more subtle phrases like, “strong English-language skills” might deter qualified, but non-native English speakers.

  • Gender diversity

Similarly, removing gender-specific language can avoid gender bias. Replacing chairman with chairperson might be obvious, but there are more subtle terms that can exclude people. Words like cheerful, agreeable, collaborate or share or on the other side, words like fearless, ambitious, decisive, assertive or driven, can all hint at gender stereotypes.

  • Disabled and age-related diversity

Inclusive job descriptions also help disabled and older workers feel welcome. Mentioning accommodations such as flexible hours or work-from-home policies can appeal to disabled workers. Avoiding language that could discourage qualified disabled job applicants isn’t always obvious. For example, a job that requires movement throughout a workplace shouldn’t say “walking” when there are other ways to move around a workplace.

The challenges of evolving language.

We all know the big ones, the words that are absolutely not acceptable to use.  They should not be uttered in any conversation, not even in a joke or in jest. They have been banished forever from our lexicon – as they should be.

But others are not so clear. An example is the word queer. Historically, the word was only used to describe something strange or odd, but it became a way to demean gay and lesbian people.

Now that word has come full circle. It’s been embraced by the community as the Q in LGBTQ2S+. But it can also still be used in a negative way to insult, depending on the context.

While it can be confusing and challenging to stay up-to-date, staying current with terms that are used to describe groups of people is of particular importance. In the workplace, it should not be about what’s easy. It is about showing respect and using the term that individuals and organizations have chosen for themselves.

A good example would be a law firm doing work in Northern Canada using the term Aboriginal in all website copy. While it’s not technically wrong, the term Indigenous has been widely accepted instead, by both Indigenous groups and the federal government. The law firm was not entirely wrong, but it did look out of touch with its own client base.

It was once acceptable, according to Canadian Press style, which governs the use of language in most Canadian publications, to use words we would never dream of using today. It was once acceptable to use the word handicapped to describe someone with a disability or to use the words policeman or fireman to the exclusion of all women. Similarly, saying a diabetic woman or an autistic child puts condition ahead of humanity, so instead it’s better to say a woman with diabetes or a child with autism.

Staying current with inclusive language.

What are the first steps to a truly inclusive workplace? A good first step is talking to people within the workplace and asking how they would like to be addressed. Don’t assume. What was once common and acceptable may not be in our modern society. No one should have to explain why a term is offensive after the fact. For example, a lot of women don’t want to be referred to as ladies – or even worse, girls – in the workplace, so talk to people and find out.

Further steps to creating an inclusive workplace:

  1. Set up an internal diversity committee. A good starting place is talking to existing employees to make sure people feel included and valued. It is not only about acquiring diverse talent, employers also need to create workplaces where diverse talent will stay and succeed.
  2. Get help from the experts. Organizations like Achēv make it their mission to help companies create diverse and inclusive workplaces.
  3. Hire a professional writer who has knowledge of the evolving nature of inclusive language. 
  4. Conduct research. There are many trusted online resources to look up current terms and inclusive language.  We all have a social responsibility to take our guidance on inclusive language from those who have been marginalized. Groups dedicated to historically marginalized people, including Indigenous groups, Black and Hispanic communities, LGBTQ2S+ organizations and those that assist people with disabilities can be a valuable resource for current terms. Some examples include the Native Women’s Association of Canada, The BlackNorth Initiative, Pride Toronto, Canadian Business SenseAbility, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Other online resources:

  • The Government of Canada, the Ontario Government, and international organizations like the United Nations all have online resources and guidelines for inclusive language.
  • Educational institutions have long recognized the importance of inclusivity and diversity. Universities Canada and individual schools such as Queen’s University, York University and the University of Toronto have published guidelines on diversity and inclusion.  
  • Non-profits that provide community support and services to a wide range of diverse clients stay up-to-date on inclusive language. Examples include, Kids Help Phone and Habitat for Humanity Canada.
  • Trusted and established news media have strict guidelines on the use of inclusive language. Examples of newspapers, online news outlets, broadcast news, and radio resources include the CBC, CTV and The Globe and Mail.
  • Online resources like Merriam Webster and Oxford dictionaries stay up to date by including warnings in the definition when a word has historically been used or has evolved to be used in a disparaging context.

The bottom line on inclusive language.

There is a lot to think about when developing a diverse and inclusive workplace. The first step is using inclusive language, in all internal and external communications. While keeping up with changing words and phrases can be challenging, it is important to accept that the evolution of language is an ongoing process and always will be. It is up to each of us to choose words that demonstrate our respect for each person as valued members of a workplace and the community.

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