By Pradip Rodrigues
Back in February, the then Conservative leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary caused a stir and even struck a chord when he brashly asserted that PM Justin Trudeau had ended up with a mediocre cabinet because he placed more emphasis on diversity than competence.
Privately many Canadians probably suspect that O’Leary has a point given that many cabinet ministers with some notable exceptions have yet to make much of an impact half way into their first term.
I thought about that diversity over competency recently at a Starbucks café. The person at the counter was clearly having difficulty following what customers were saying, he seemed bewildered at inputting orders on the computer screen and every now and again his fellow co-workers patiently dropped what they were doing to assist him. He passed a steaming cup of coffee filled to a customer causing it to spill which caused her a nasty burn mark on her hand. Realizing that this was a new immigrant with limited language skills, she quietly told a co-worker what had just happened who was all apologetic and explained off the record that the person in question was a Syrian refugee who was learning on the job. The learning process was taking longer given that he was hired more for the optics of hiring a refugee in keeping with the company policy ( In March, Starbucks, announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees around the world, including 1,000 in Canada over five years). The hiring standards were naturally dropped or relaxed in this case.
And what I gathered is that the refugee’s co-workers should be applauded for stepping in and saving the day ever so often. Because of language skills there are safety and customer service issues that I imagine came up often because the conversation I overheard suggested that the co-worker didn’t seem surprised, it was as if was expecting to have to deal with complaints such as this.
I thought about the issue of diversity in companies again while reading a piece dissing Canadian tech companies that talk a lot about diversity but don’t seem to walk the talk.
O’Leary believed in the importance of diversity but not if it would compromise competency. I know a lot of right minded managers and Canadians would agree. I mean how many champions of diversity would prefer their heart surgery to be performed by a surgeon who was given preference over more qualified candidates because he or she happened to be from a disadvantaged section of society? There would always be a nagging feeling that the hiring standards were relaxed or compromised in favor of creating diversity in the workplace.
Unlike governments, private companies cannot afford to hire managers with little or no prior experience. Doing so could result in bankruptcy. Governments can simply run up deficits and claim it is for the good of the people!
So while in principle every single company and individual is committed to respecting and doing their bit to encourage and improve diversity in their companies and maybe even in their friend circles, it seldom happens.
Businesses often ensure they have the requisite number of minorities simply for the optics and as a brand building exercise. It is simply the cost of doing business. Hollywood is one prime example. Actors and the movie moguls are among the most active liberal donors and supporters who support refugee and immigration causes, yet, when it comes to their movies, they go not by their personal convictions (read, hire more minorities) they go by what sells and if a mostly white cast is what is a universal crowd-pleaser and sells better than a Indian, Chinese or black cast in China or India, so be it. Principle be damned. Even Bollywood stars so happen to be light-skinned, actors with darker hues end up cast as villains or get minor breaks in Hollywood.
If however, the government heavily subsidized movies featuring multi-colored casts, failed filmmakers would jump at such a risk-free opportunity and flood the market with such Oscar-winning movies, never mind if they are commercial flops.
Which is why it is easy for governments in the western world to champion diversity as they are the only ones who can afford to recruit personnel based on where they came from rather than what they have to offer.
Such tokenism is why initiatives taken to foster diversity in the workplace is so transparent. If Canadians who’ve gone through a process favoring merit have to contend with the possibility that some of their co-workers got in because of the color of their skin, that could most definitely cause even more racism and resistance to true diversity in the workplace. It is clear that the policy of shaming and calling out those opposing diversity over other concerns has really failed for all practical purposes. The only reason politicians, NGOs and others with vested interest repeat ad nauseam about the need to diversity is to feel good about themselves, get themselves elected as politicians or benefit financially from this diversity racket.
I would like to think that immigrants and refugees need to earn their place at the table, not have a spot reserved. That is bad optics that makes Canadians wonder about competency and worry that they or their own children may be at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to being hired. The day a significant number of Canadians begin to feel the threat of reverse discrimination will be the day multiculturalism will be under severe attack.
This is simply not the way of uniting and creating one single society. It is creating an us v/s them situation which can only get worse as demographics change and Canadians fear lowering standards everywhere to accommodate newcomers who they fear will bring us all down to the level of a third world country. Something many of us chose to escape.