Canada  »  Community  »  Feature  »  Op-Ed  »  Pradip Rodrigues

Are minority-owned businesses exempt from diversity?

October 11, 2013   ·   0 Comments   ·   681 Total Views   ·   http://www.canindia.com/50qln

By Pradip Rodrigues

Last week I was reading about Scooter Catering, a Milton-based catering company that was hoping to snag some business at the upcoming 2015 Pan Am games. The owner went on the Pan Am website to register as a supplier, but ran into a road block- he was asked if his was a diverse business. Now a diverse business is defined as one which is 51 percent owned and operated by females, visible minorities, the disabled or the LGBT.Minority_Oct11 Then he was also asked if he could boast of “diversity certification.”
Now I am not sure just how many visible minorities work over at this company, but the fact that he deals with non-halal pork and beef would rule out many minorities, then again if he operates in a rural area, his recruits would tend to be residents living in the area.
I am pretty sure that his company wouldn’t be disqualified from bidding for business but it is certain that if his competition is a business that has ‘diversity certification’, that company will be more likely to win the bid.
This I believe is the outcome of the decision to make “multiculturalism” to the TO2015 games what “green” was to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Reverse discrimination
Back in 2011, it was announced that the games would adopt diversity as a standard practice which meant businesses owned by those defined as minorities would be favored. So if Mr Singh and Mr Smith are two suppliers vying for the same contract, it is likely Mr. Singh would win hands down. While this may gladden the hearts of minorities who have for years found it impossible to compete with professionally-sound White owned companies, it comes across as reverse discrimination that will create animosity between native born Whites and minorities.
Such initiatives that punish those who do not employ sufficient numbers of visible minorities could well backfire. For example, in places such as Acton and Rockwood which is over 80 to 90 percent White, a business operating there would have difficulty finding disabled, LGBTs or visible minorities. And then again, when an employer is looking for the right candidate, the color of the skin shouldn’t matter. The fact that it does in many cases is a different matter altogether.
What I’ve noticed is that businesses owned by visible minorities invariably have employees belonging to the same background as the owner. There is no diversity there unless it happens to be a car dealership where it is important to have a token Chinese to deal with Mandarin-speaking clients and a White to take care of ‘his or her people’, that too the number of employees from different backgrounds will depend on the demographics of the area, so if it is mostly South Asian, then the employees will likely be mostly South Asian.
It would seem diversity isn’t something expected of minorities. As more and more business are owned and operated by minorities, this is going to be a contentious issue. Should a Chinese or South Asian-owned business also be subject to producing ‘diversity certification’ when competing for contracts now or in the near future when we are the new majority?

Diversity should apply to minority-owned businesses as well
Decades ago when diversity meant accepting ethnic groups like Italians, Polish and Portuguese, the businesses run by these communities tended to employ their own kind. I once had a conversation with a senior who spoke about a time when the largest employer in his small town went bust, unemployment was rife and the only employer doing brisk business was a bakery run by an Italian and unemployment among the town’s Italians was zero, reason being they all had jobs at the bakery. This he said created intense animosity toward the Italians.
Last year I stayed at a motel in a small town that was under new South Asian management. The same motel when owned by a White couple earlier had about five employees who lived in the area, they patronized local suppliers and  handymen to do odd jobs. The South Asian family who ran the place did not employ a single person from town, even handymen were brought in from Toronto on weekends to fix things up at the motel.
I am sure many White managements could do with some encouragement to consider hiring minorities but the methods being used are not seen as fair. Furthermore a millionaire South Asian running a thriving business should also be encouraged to hire a certain percentage of non-South Asians a certain percentage in his workforce.
Just as there are thousands of visible minorities struggling to find jobs and businesses struggling to keep open, there are also many Whites and other minorities facing the same predicament. Perhaps if diversity in the workplace is expected of White-owned businesses, it should also apply to South Asian businesses and other minority-run businesses as well. I have heard some South Asians complain that certain businesses were racist because they preferred hiring Whites given the lack of visible minority faces, but no one would bats an eyelid when they walk into a Chinese or South Asian owned business and find virtually all the employees look and sound like their owner or manager. Is this a case of double standards?

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