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Diversity gap

The disconnect between attitudes and policies at Canadian organizations

Research

By Susan White

A national benchmarking study involving a business researcher at Memorial has found that more work is needed to bring attitudes and actions about diversity in the workplace closer together.

Dr. Kara Arnold, pictured at the Faculty of Business Administration, researches leadership and diversity in the workplace.
Dr. Kara Arnold researches leadership and diversity in the workplace.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Kara Arnold, professor of human resource management and organizational behavior at the Faculty of Business Administration, is a co-investigator on the National Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarking Study, led by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) and Dalhousie University.

The study surveyed senior leaders and diversity personnel about diversity policies and practices in organizations across Canada.

Practice vs. policy

Dr. Arnold says the researchers were interested in looking at how leadership influences diversity practices, and also how relationships between the CEO and the person who’s responsible for diversity within an organization might actually influence what kinds of diversity policies and practices get implemented.

“We wanted to see whether there may be differences in perspective, depending on what your position is in the organization.”

The results show that while 95 per cent of senior leaders believe that diversity is a positive business strategy, only 73 per cent of them agree that they emphasize it in business strategies. Even fewer – 68 per cent – agree that they frequently communicate about diversity and inclusion to their employees.

“I can’t say I was super surprised.” — Dr. Kara Arnold

Among diversity personnel, 64 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that their organizations’ diversity policies were aligned with the business strategy, and only 32 per cent said they were satisfied with the resources and time that their organizations devote to diversity education and training.

‘Not as much follow through’

“I can’t say I was super surprised,” said Dr. Arnold, adding the results show that more work needs to be done to enact diversity and inclusion strategies in the workplace.

Dr. Kara Arnold, pictured at the Faculty of Business Administration in St. John's, researches leadership and diversity in the workplace.
Dr. Kara Arnold
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“It mirrors what [other researchers] have found in terms of commitment to gender diversity in organizations. Senior leaders understand that it’s important, and they believe it’s an important strategy for them and they know that diversity adds value, but when it comes to what is actually going to be done about it, there tends to not be as much follow through.”

The study aimed to provide national data on diversity and inclusion practices in Canadian organizations, and the working relationships between senior leaders and diversity personnel.

“The findings will hopefully spur future research looking at why there is that disconnect between how CEOs or senior leaders view diversity and the policies and practices that are in place.” — Dr. Kara Arnold

Dr. Arnold says the results can help inform future research on workplace diversity in Canada, and also be used to encourage organizations to not only track data related to diversity but to implement diversity-related policies and practices.

She also says it will help encourage organizational leaders to realize that they need to implement these practices if they want to leverage diversity within their organizations.

“But in the longer run, the findings will hopefully spur future research looking at why there is that disconnect between how CEOs or senior leaders view diversity and the policies and practices that are in place.”

Project partners

The CCDI is a national charitable organization that seeks to help individuals and organizations be inclusive and free of prejudice and discrimination, as well as supporting awareness campaigns to recognize diversity as an asset.

Dr. Eddy Ng, the F.C. Manning Chair in Economics and Business at Dalhousie University, was the principal investigator on the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada Insight Grant that funded the research. Dr. Greg Sears, associate professor of management at Carleton University, was a co-investigator.


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