Diversity by Design: Co-Creating Inclusive Workplaces for Immigrants and Newcomers Recap

On January 28th, veza community hosted our second annual Diversity by Design workshop at Women in Tech Regatta. This year we were joined by Hanif Ladha from the Immigrant Employer’s Council of BC, Humaira Ahmed of Locelle Digital and Gwen Pawlikowski of Highlight Communication, who all provided incredible insights on the immigrant journey. The following blog will share some of the key highlights and takeaways from the panel and breakout groups.

Organizations can be designed to encourage diversity (and they should be!) A suite of studies have overwhelmingly proven that companies with more women in leadership and higher rates of ethnic diversity are more profitable, have higher retention rates of staff and are better at solving problems because of a diversity of thought around the table. For instance, according to Statistics Canada’s Workplace Employee Survey, for every 1% increase in gender diversity and ethnocultural diversity, there was, respectively, an average increase of 3.5% and 2.4% in revenue and 0.7% and 0.5% in workplace productivity.

We know that diversity is important secret sauce that makes organizations work better, but what is the secret to fostering more diversity? And further, what can we do to make sure that diversity is accompanied by belonging, especially for newcomers?


Onboarding is an important juncture for all employees that sets them up for success in their new roles. Poorly executed onboarding can create unnecessary stress, frustration and often, an end to employment. Newcomers need additional support to fit in and have an easy transition into a Canadian workplace.

Recommendations included:

  • setting up their workspace with the tools they need and an onboarding guide ahead of time, perhaps even an acronym dictionary if the organization leans heavily on jargon;
  • setting clear expectations and pathways to success;
  • having all staff participate in a welcome lunch or party;
  • creating a buddy system that links the new hire with someone of a similar background who can help show them the ropes;
  • Encouraging patience in current staff ahead of time by highlighting some different ways that people of their culture show up in the workplace.

Belonging leads to retention

As panelist Hanif Ladha shared, “Trust starts with meaningful conversations.” In the workplace, that means conversations that create a human connection between current staff and new hires of different backgrounds to build trust and a sense of belonging. Staff take a queue from senior managers on this and that is why it is important to create an office culture that encourages people to be people. Workshop participants expressed a feeling of belonging coming from colleagues showing a genuine interest in their families, stories, and culture (and not assuming men don’t want to have those conversations!) and from having their office celebrate holidays and birthdays.

Belonging requires promoting a culture of celebrating diversity in the workplace. For example, participants fondly recalled Diwali parties with samosas and a Moon festival potluck that allowed them to take part in their colleagues’ cultures.

The key piece is buy-in from leadership. Having committees and resource groups for different backgrounds or LGBTQ employees and even for cultural celebrations is appreciated by staff, but do require discretionary funds. Participants also highlighted volunteer projects in their communities as a huge boost for staff morale and a way of infusing meaning into a newcomer’s transition into a team.

One participant stood up and shared that on the whole, newcomers don’t want to be treated as newcomers. They want to be treated as people. All people have a history and a culture. All people have skills and interesting perspectives. All people have something to offer. All people should be accommodated.

The ultimate goal is for every employee to feel like they belong and they are identified as a team member rather than being labeled as an immigrant or newcomer.

Opportunities for growth

Staff from all backgrounds want to work in organizations that take a personal interest in their wellbeing and their professional advancement. That includes opportunities for mentorship, professional development and space to move up, but also, one-on-one time with leadership. Many appreciate systems of recognition or peer spotlighting.

A strong workplace culture should ultimately allow all people to be heard without judgement, because adding different cultures adds different perspectives. That’s why we need to make the space and take the extra care where it is needed. It’s the right thing and the smart thing to do.

If you want to do a quick strategy session on your HR programs and policy to promote greater diversity and inclusion in your organization, please contact us at hello [at] vezacommunity [dot] com.