A new monthly series in the Current and an upcoming Chamber of Commerce award, sponsored by the Current, highlight the value of diversity in the workplace.
Revelstoke is, in many ways, an international community drawing people from around the world who enjoy the beauty and recreation our mountains offer. Residents have become used to hearing Russian, Chinese, French or German in our cafés, on the street and in the aisles of our grocery stores.
But has this ease with diversity extended to the workplace? Are there qualified workers who struggle to find employment in Revelstoke businesses simply because of who they are or where they come from? Are potentially good employees being missed because they struggle with English?
From an employer’s perspective, hiring staff outside of the dominant culture may be risky or it may be seen as disrupting a comfortable work environment. Three years ago a major employer in Revelstoke told me matter-of-factly that he doesn’t hire women, even if they are qualified for the jobs being advertised. “Women wouldn’t fit into our (male) culture,” he said “and, besides, we don’t have a women’s washroom.”
Other employers might be concerned about hiring people who don’t speak fluent English, who come from another culture, or who were trained in a foreign environment – even when they are qualified for a job.
Taking a chance and forming a friendship
Some employers do take chances and hire someone outside their employment norm – with happy results. In 2007, Janet Pearson owned Talisman Trading Company, a popular store on Mackenzie Avenue that sold gifts and clothes, often made by local or regional artists. A recent immigrant from China, Lu Si, was looking for work. Her English was at a low-intermediate level but she was keen to work. Si had dropped her résumé off at different places but without success. Her friend, BR Whalen, approached Pearson and encouraged her to talk to Si.
“I was so nervous,” Si said. “I was so afraid that nobody would hire me. But BR gave me a little push and she said that Janet was really good, so I tried.”
Community-minded Pearson liked Lu when she first met her. She said she took a chance because she wanted “to support Lu as a woman starting out in a new community and as a new Canadian.” Pearson knew that “you can’t get a job because you don’t have any experience so you need somebody to take a chance on you. I liked Lu’s personality. She seemed personable. She said hello to everybody who came into the store.”
“It worked out really well. I missed her when she left. She was a great employee,” Pearson said. “What I noticed was her work ethic over a lot of North Americans. She kept herself busy the whole shift. I didn’t have to keep pointing to the list in the closet. She could look around the store and see what needed to be done. It was a good model for our younger employees. They saw that Lu just took initiative.”
Si and Pearson still laugh at some of the funny language mistakes that Si made. Once, a woman came in looking for boxer shorts for her boyfriend and Si thought she wanted boxes. Another time someone was looking for socks but Si thought she wanted a soccer ball and told her this wasn’t a sports store.
“That was probably the most fun, understanding each other,” Pearson said. I had to learn how to explain things way more clearly than I usually do – and sometimes I drew pictures.” “I think the most important thing is that I gained experience and confidence there because you have to talk to people” even if you’re scared, Si said.
Since working at Talisman, Si has worked several jobs, often at the same time, in retail and restaurant businesses. She even worked as an electoral officer during the 2013 provincial election. Her poise, intelligence and thoughtful way of speaking made her an exemplary elections worker. Though her English is still not perfect, she speaks with ease and communicates well.
Si offers this advice to new immigrants who are looking for work and who may not speak English confidently: “You have to try different things and talk to different people. Research the business before you go.”
Pearson has advice for employers. “Just take the chance, especially if you connect with the person, because all language isn’t spoken language. They can start with something that is not too much responsibility and as they become more comfortable and improve their English they can have more responsibility.”
Upcoming articles and award promote workplace diversity
The Revelstoke Current is pleased to introduce, in cooperation with the Embrace BC program at Okanagan College, a monthly series of articles about businesses that have recently taken steps to diversify their workforce. Diversity can be based on gender, language or physical challenge, ethnicity, immigrant status, religion or age. The story has to reflect a new effort to diversify and it should be significant, requiring some deliberate effort on the part of the employer.
“Recognizing the importance of diversity and helping immigrants find a place in our society is important,” said Current Publisher David Rooney. “All Canadians are immigrants or the descendents of immigrants. My family immigrated to Canada in 1835 and the experience was such that when I was a boy, 130 years later, my father told me stories about how difficult it was for them as Irish Catholic immigrants. That helped teach me that everyone yearns to fit in and we can help new immigrants do just that.”
We encourage readers to submit suggestions about businesses that are trying to diversify their staff. Please contact Laura Stovel at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to suggest a business that should be profiled or would like to share your own story.
The Current, working with the Chamber of Commerce, is also pleased to announce that it will be sponsoring an annual Chamber business award recognizing a business that has done the most to increase staff diversity over the past year. The annual award will begin in November 2015.