Walking down a busy Toronto street, half of the people you would see were likely born outside of Canada. Toronto boasts an incredible diversity, with 50 percent of its population made up of foreign-born residents. The BBC has called it the world’s most diverse city, and it’s clear that diversity spreads beyond Toronto’s city limits.
The most recent Canadian census revealed that foreign-born residents make up 20 percent of Canada’s total population, the highest percentage among the G8 (France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., Japan, the United States, Canada, and Russia).
Canada’s Aboriginal population is also extremely diverse. With over 600 recognized Aboriginal tribes, 60 Aboriginal languages, and the highest birth rate in the country, they represent many needs and interests.
However, this diversity is a relatively new phenomenon.
The Aboriginal population experienced a 45-percent growth in the last two decades in Canada, with a high proportion of Aboriginal people living in the province of Ontario. Ontario’s capital, Toronto, has seen 30 percent of its population arrive in the last 25 years.
The growing Aboriginal and foreign-born populations have an impact on many areas of society, such as language, culture and infrastructure. As society shifts, business practices have to follow. This may seem like a daunting task, but Kristine Remedios, the director of diversity and inclusion at KPMG in Toronto, said that the first step forward is education.
Toronto’s client base and job market are vastly different compared to 25 years ago. Businesses need to understand the city’s many cultures and demographics to remain competitive. This knowledge is multifaceted — Remedios noted that it is important to understand clients and job candidates from a business perspective and from a community perspective.
From a business perspective, it is important for employees to know that they can’t behave the same way they might have 25 years ago, and recruiters can’t approach campuses and potential employees as they used to. Instead, employers and recruiters need to learn about the cultures they will meet and their own biases.
“The main focus of our education so far has been around biases,” Remedios said. Training on awareness and management of biases helps employers and recruiters interact with others in a fair and open way.
Many business executives recognize that their companies are key stakeholders in the community. Through their businesses, executives can choose to include or exclude certain groups. Remedios explained that KPMG approaches priority groups in order to counteract any possible exclusion. One of these priority groups is the Aboriginal population.
KPMG has partnered with Indspire, an organization in Canada that helps Aboriginal people obtain and finance their education. Thanks to this partnership, KPMG has funded scholarships for Aboriginal students through Indspire’s bursary and awards programs.
KPMG has also begun mentoring students who win a KPMG scholarship through Indspire. It also sponsors trips to residential schools in order to educate its employees on the history of Aboriginal people. Aboriginal youths were often forced into residential schools to be assimilated into mainstream Canadian culture, which, at the time, was predominantly European.
Residential schools were active from the late 19th century, with the last one closing in 1996. Visits to these places, which are no longer in operation but preserved as part of Canadian history, open the eyes of non-Aboriginal people. This past June, KPMG offered some of its employees the opportunity to visit a residential school near Toronto to commemorate National Aboriginal Day.
Efforts to engage with Aboriginal Canadians and other communities can lead to new business opportunities and employment. But, the end goal, says Remedios, is for people to “feel at home” when they come to work.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV