Olga Shcherbyna: Seeking Diversity Clues


Voice and Vision - Olga ScherbinaAs founder of the Vancouver-based Diversity Clues Consulting Inc., Ogla Shcherbyna’s favourite quote has always been M. Ghandi’s: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.  Diversity Clues promotes livable and welcoming communities and inclusive workplaces by assisting organizations to plan and deliver their workforce strategies, services and programs. For the last four years, she co-chaired BC HRMA’s Diversity in the Workplace Roundtable and led over 50 discussions with diversity experts. Holding a M.Sc. in Planning from UBC, Olga most recently launched a new online publication www.thinkimmigrants.com which offers an independent platform for exchanging knowledge and opinions between scholars, policy makers, immigrants and employers.

How has the workplace perspective of diversity changed in recent years due to labour shortages and demographic shifts?

As Canada becomes more diverse so does the Canadian workforce. Approximately one in five people living in Canada is a visible minority and in many communities visible minorities are becoming the majority. British Columbia is expected to have over one million job openings over the next decade; since only 650,00 people will come out of BC’s school system, policy makers predict that internationally trained workers will fill one-third of these job openings through to 2020.

As more BC sectors are experience skills shortages, employers are becoming more open to diversity in the workplace and are increasingly their efforts to reach out to untapped labour and skills sources. In particular, the BC’s Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) has been gaining the moment as it allows employers bring workers from oversees to meet current labour needs. While I am not questioning the effectiveness of the PNP to address immediate skills shortages in our province, I do advocate for getting local employers to become more knowledgeable about and interested in the diversity of skills and expertise of local foreign trained professionals, i.e. those who are already in Canada and looking for jobs.

What are the practical steps involved in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce?

There are many ways by which employers can diversify their talent pools. These strategies are discussed in detail in many online and printed resources that have been developed in the last few years, including A Cultural Competence Toolkit developed by BC HRMA in 2009. The strategies will be different depending on the size of an organization, the make up of its current workforce and many other factors.

However, some practical steps apply to all organizations. Building relationships with local agencies serving different population groups allows companies to expand their talent pools. Separating job requirements into essential and “nice-to-have” categories provides clear guidelines both for applicants and the decision-makers during the selection process. Finally, using plain language and avoiding slang allows hiring managers to better connect with potential immigrant employees and ensures that candidates are better positioned to demonstrate their core competencies during interviews.

What do you see as the most challenging aspect of a diverse working environment? What steps have you taken to meet this challenge?

I think one of the most challenging aspects working in a diverse environment is to overcome our individual biases or at least be aware of them. As humans we tend to discriminate based on our personal preferences and past experiences.

Challenging our unconscious biases is difficult, as it requires consistent efforts in questioning our thoughts and actions. I found that learning to recognize my discomforts, pause and think about my feelings were the first steps towards becoming less biased. I have also accepted that this learning process is a life long journey: moving beyond tolerance and remaining curious and open to new ways of being.

With such diversity within BC, in what ways are we defining the opportunity of the diverse workplace?

In this knowledge-based economy, the majority of new jobs will require people with post-secondary education and skilled immigrants are becoming important players in this highly skilled job market. For example, in 2012, foreign-trained professions accounted for 46 per cent of newly registered pharmacists and 38 per cent of newly licensed engineers with local regulatory bodies.

Local employers have tremendous opportunities to take advantage of this culturally-diverse and competent workforce. To tap into immigrant talent pools, employers may participate in the initiatives developed and/or funded by the Immigrant Employment Council of BC and/or partner with established immigrant serving agencies, such as MOSAIC, S.U.C.C.E.S.S, ISSofBC and others. Moreover, there are a number of training opportunities for employers ranging from seminars on diverse workforce offered by BC HRMA to a certificate in Intercultural Communication by UBC, Continuing Education.

Additionally, companies can also learn from outstanding local employers who were awarded with local and/or national diversity awards.. At the BC HRMA Diversity in the Workplace Roundtable we had the good fortune to learn from a wide variety of local diversity champions. I would like to thank all the presenters for volunteering their time to share their expertise and generate lively group discussions at our roundtable from 2009 to June 2013—and I hope the group will continue with new leadership this fall.

(PeopleTalk Fall 2013)

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