There are some professions that are automatically seen as having a strong impact on our world and are accepted as having the capability of making our world a better place. Human Resource Management however is often seen as having the potential to make significant impact on business success, rarely do we extend that assessment to the economy and nation building. But the Human Resource profession may just be the answer to some of the social, political and economic challenges being faced in Canada today.
One of the most divisive political challenges being faced by developed countries over the past few years and increasingly within this year, is that of immigration. Canada has been applauded as one of the few countries that presents itself as being open to immigrants. 1 out of 5 Canadians are foreign–born and Canada demonstrated its positive attitude toward immigrants earlier this year by its willingness to accept thousands of Syrian refugees. Canada’s openness to immigration is fueled partly by the value of kindness and empathy that we all share, as well as the reality of an aging workforce and low productivity. It is expected that by the year 2036 approximately 24.5% of our population will be seniors. Productivity rates in Canada have averaged 88.45 index points from 1981–2016.
It has therefore been seen by successive governments to be in the interest of Canada to immigrate skilled labour to provide the resources needed for economic growth and development. The requirements of the skilled immigrant process are skewed toward young highly educated applicants to ensure that Canada maintains a young and highly educated population. The hope is that young immigrants will fill the gap created when the aging population leave the workforce. While productivity levels are expected to increase with a large percentage of the population being highly skilled. The assumption is that the larger the percentage of highly skilled participants in the economy, the more productive the economy will become. But what has been the experience of Canada’s immigrant population? One research indicates that 40% of new immigrants leave Canada within their first 10 years. While another survey conducted by Statistics Canada shows that next to the weather, the thing most immigrants dislike about Canada is the lack of job opportunities.
The reality is that governmental policy has limitations. Governments can create policy that is favorable to immigration, they can create agencies to assist with immigrant assimilation but they cannot determine job selection. This is where HR has the power to influence and make our world a better place. Immigrant experience in Canada is primarily that of initial disappointment and hardship on the basis of an inability to demonstrate “Canadian work experience”, even though we do not discriminate on the basis of country of origin. Can we do more in our capacity as hiring managers to demonstrate our Canadian value of openness and kindness? Can we make Canada a place of equal opportunity for all by examining our selection processes to ensure that we do not screen out new Canadians simply because they have not named on their resume a University or a previous employer that we know?
Allowing ourselves to maintain hiring practices that screen out new Canadians is difficult to rationalize, on the basis of an inability to determine competence and the authenticity of a resume, when the Government of Canada already did an extensive background check that would have included the validation of their credentials. The reality is the world has changed and there are very few professions in which best practices are not simply global best practices. Very few things in the work environment are unique to any one nation. Multinational corporations have exported the culture of their home nation all over the world so that most professionals are accustomed to functioning in a dual cultural context—an organisational culture and a national culture. Given the fact that the majority of multinational corporations are from developed nations, the global work culture is predominantly that of a developed nation.
The need to be the driving force behind the management of this political challenge, rests with HR professionals because in most businesses it is the HR professional alone that has training in human behaviour, psychology, sociology, employment law and diversity awareness. It therefore provides an opportunity for the HR profession to enrich the Canadian workforce by coaching organisations into diversity acceptance. This, of course, will be a challenge as it will mean creating selection processes and tools that are not only reliable and valid, but also impartial. As humans we all have biases and so it can be difficult to create systems that remove bias from selection.
A recent study by Stanford University, published in the September 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review, indicates that as humans we perform poorly at even identifying the existence of diversity. The study shows that, if a group is diverse in any way, we perceive it to be diverse in every way. In an experiment, subjects were asked to assess the diversity of a group which was 2/3 male. Because the group was racially diverse, participants were found to be more likely to view the group as diverse even though the group was homogenous along gender lines. So even though diversity is difficult, it is important that we make the effort to infuse diversity into our processes. If we are to build a nation that is a model to the world in inclusion, diversity and openness, then HR professionals must do their part. We must dig deeper into candidate profiles, we must listen beyond the unfamiliar accent, we must ask fair questions, we must coach our organisations, we must become global in our thinking.
Failure to do this will result in an economy in which not all members of our society participate. Whenever this happens, everyone is impacted as a greater burden is placed on social support systems which we end up paying for with tax dollars. We become more divided as a people as the “haves” cling together and the “have–nots” become bitter. Very easily political challenges become economic challenges that give rise to social challenges. Human Resource Professionals can change and save the world.