Sunday, September 21, 2014
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The quest to increase opportunities for aboriginals in the workplace

(Originally published in the May 2013 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal - "Aboriginal Awareness Week" special ad feature)

Aboriginal people under 30 years old represent the fastest-growing segment of Canada's labour force. Deloitte recently released a report with recommendations focused on how Canadian companies and the aboriginal community can create stronger connections to improve relations and launch the careers of thousands of people.

The report, “Widening the Circle: Increasing Opportunities for Aboriginal People in the Workplace”, underscores the importance of a long-term commitment to building relationships between aboriginal people and business. It also highlights the need for greater collaboration; improved education and skills training; accommodation and cultural understanding.

“Creating inclusive workplaces is a responsibility we all share,” says Jane Allen, partner and chief diversity officer at Deloitte, a professional services firm specializing in audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services. “We hope our report inspires conversations, but more importantly, inspires action from Canadian companies that will provide aboriginal people with access to a wide range of careers and meaningful advancement opportunities.”

According to the report, significant gaps in the education system make completing the formal education required by employers difficult. There are limited opportunities to learn about careers beyond those traditionally aspired to in aboriginal communities and little support available to navigate corporate systems. Once hired, aboriginal people can experience isolation and unfamiliarity with cultural norms. The absence of aboriginal role models in senior roles — or even aboriginal colleagues — can contribute to retention challenges.

On the employer side, company hiring practices may be too inflexible to consider a broad range of qualifications and experience, or may be limited by resources to foster inclusive hiring and training practices. Misconceptions and old myths persist. At every opportunity, these attitudes must be dispelled through education, listening and conversation.

The report follows a series of roundtable sessions called “Dialogues on Diversity” that were held in nine cities across Canada last year. Each session included representatives from the business community, educational institutes, community-based aboriginal organizations and Deloitte professionals. The participants brought firsthand perspectives and many were of aboriginal heritage.

“Through our dialogues, we heard about the challenges and explored solutions for creating closer and more effective ties between aboriginal people and business,” says Allen. “We hope to change the conversation so that a new story about aboriginal people in the workplace can be written — one full of ideas and opportunities for a bright future.”

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Top tips for business

Here are four best practices for increasing opportunities for aboriginals in your workplace:

1) Provide students with internships to give them training/experience.

2) Review screening/hiring/advancement practices to recognize unconventional talent and cultural differences.

3) Conduct company-wide cultural training.

4) Develop an aboriginal hiring/retention strategy.

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