Information technology is a white-collar field. However, thanks to a changing societal climate and some well-placed programs promoting diversity, the people wearing those white collars are increasingly from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, religions, ethnicities, physical abilities and sexual orientations.
Ellen Passmore, Toronto's manager for the Government of Ontario's equal opportunity and disability partnership unit within the Ministry of Citizenship, said that removing barriers to minorities within a company is good business sense.
"In order to have the best workforce, you've got to have a diverse workforce," Passmore said, pointing out that the working population is aging. "There needs to be a labor force that replaces them. IT tends to be a younger field and it basically attracts people from all different types of backgrounds because it's a very high-opportunity area and is relatively well paying. In order to get the best employee you've got to use the widest net."
This is a theory that Margaret Clark, the Mississauga, Ontario-based senior director of human resources for Oracle Corporation Canada Inc., agrees with Passmore.
"Valuing diversity is simply good business," Clark said. "Our diversity vision starts with cultivating an environment that is inclusive of all employees. To this end, we believe that individual differences present us with opportunities to examine business issues from varying perspectives. Incorporating these different viewpoints gives us greater agility and creativity."
Susan Turner, IBM Canada Ltd.'s director of diversity and workplace programs in Toronto, said making a proactive effort to accommodate and foster all employees means everyone within the company's culture wins.
One group that has benefited from IBM's diversity initiatives is the company's community of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) employees. IBM's GLBT employees have a group devoted to providing support for its members both inside and outside of the workplace, ensuring that they feel safe within the company. Additionally, policies are developed under consultation from members of the gay and lesbian community.
"We take a look at the purchasing power of the GLBT community as well as the attraction and retention of the community [within IBM]," Turner said. "What are we doing to ensure that we've got the right policies and programs in place that don't separate out the gay/lesbian community any differently than any other employee? Same sex benefits would be an example of something that was brought into IBM quite a few years ago."
IBM has also worked with its employees of various religions in order to preserve diversity within the workplace.
"We have a religious accommodation policy," Turner said. "We do what we can based on business requirements to accommodate all religions. For example, if there are specific religious holidays that individuals need time off for we will accommodate them. We have some prayer rooms in some of our locations. Where we can, we will accommodate the religious requirements [of our employees] to the best of our ability."
Roger Hohenstein, Hewlett-Packard Canada's diversity manager in Richmond, B.C., discussed similar programs within his organization, and commented on HP's efforts to extend their diversity programs from within the company to the community.
"The Canadian president of HP is on the board of the national Aboriginal achievement foundation. We try to stay in touch with what's going on in the Aboriginal community," Hohenstein said. "We've got K-12 programs for girls in trying to get more women involved in maths and science and high tech careers."
Clark agreed that involvement within the community in turn promotes diversity within an organization.
"Oracle Canada has formed partnerships with several external organizations to help us cultivate a more inclusive environment," Clark said. "These groups include the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, Canadian Paraplegic Association, Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Native Women's Association of Canada, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology and Women in Global Sciences and Technology."
Sylvy Fogarty, Hewlett Packard Canada's talent acquisition manager in Montreal suggested that IT companies are perhaps more aware of the benefits of a diverse workplace than other industries because of the nature of the business.
"Many IT companies do realize that talent is diverse," Fogarty said. "To be able to retain the brightest and best and to be able to understand your customers, you have got to hire what's representative of the population."