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Ratna Omidvar, president of Maytree, a Toronto-based foundation dedicated to accelerating the settlement of immigrants and refugees.
Ratna Omidvar, president of Maytree, a Toronto-based foundation dedicated to accelerating the settlement of immigrants and refugees.

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Diversity - Thinking globally, recruiting locally Add to ...

One of the greatest challenges for any enterprise, large or small, is recruiting and retaining workers, a situation that is certain to escalate as baby boomers move into retirement.

One way to meet the challenge, experts say, is to strengthen the recruitment of visible minorities. In fact, major corporations are fostering diversity in the workplace as good business sense, not only to reflect changing customer bases today, but as a strategy for the long term.

Business is increasingly international in nature and having people on staff fluent in foreign languages and cultural savvy can prove a tremendous asset. Then there is the need to have an organization reflect the communities it serves -- it just makes sound branding sense.

The challenge for many companies, however, is how to get started, and then how to recruit and retain visible minorities on staff.

Enter Ratna Omidvar. She is president of Maytree, a Toronto-based foundation dedicated to accelerating the settlement of immigrants and refugees.

Under Ms. Omidvar's leadership, Maytree has gained international recognition for developing, testing, and implementing programs and policy solutions related to immigration, integration and diversity.

Ms. Omidvar, who was born in India and earned a bachelor of arts from the University of New Delhi, immigrated to Canada in 1981. She is a Fellow of Centennial College, and has received an honorary diploma from George Brown College. In 2006, she was appointed to the Order of Ontario.

She also was the first executive director of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, and is the chair of its board of directors. She serves as a director of the Toronto City Summit Alliance, and is a member of the board of the Tamarack Institute.

Ms. Omidvar joined us earlier for a discussion about diversity and the workplace.

Dave Michaels, globeandmail.com: Hi Ratna, and thanks for joining us today. The talk these days is of a business case for diversity. Is this a new concept -- the idea that your business can gain a competitive advantage through a diverse work force?

Ratna Omidvar: No, this is not a new concept. The women's movement has made many of the same arguments since the early 1950s. However, the discussion has sharpened in the last few years because of increasing globalization and the worldwide movement of people with skills and talent.

In Canada, the demographic imperative, particularly in our large urban centres, has provided a new context. Whilst labour market shortages have taken a back seat in the current economy, the need to reach into new markets and deliberately internationalize our customer base for Canadian goods has also provided a new urgency.

Finally, new research is being tabled that makes a link between diversity, innovation and competitiveness.

Slowly but surely the argument is being made that diversity is not a social justice issue but plain good business sense.

Dave Michaels, reportonbusiness.com: How can an entrepreneur prepare a business and its employees for a diversity initiative?

Ratna Omidvar: First of all, the entrepreneur, the corporation or the business must start with "Why diversity?" They must make the objectives of the initiative crystal clear and ground it within a compelling business rationale. Without this foundation, any diversity initiative will likely falter. It will fail to get the buy-in from employees who may well dismiss it as a form of social engineering or tokenism. In order to be taken seriously, this work should be done at the leadership level of the organization and the messaging should come from this level as well.

Next, a strategy needs to be prepared. How employers choose to do this will differ by size of employer. However, regardless of size and sector, a successful strategy will be owned by the leadership of the organization, who will make it a key priority, allocate resources and key staff to it, and commit to measuring and reporting on results within a specific time frame.

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