The makeup of the workforce is changing rapidly. Like the population in general, workers are getting older, many are nearing retirement, and fewer new young workers are available to enter the workforce. To find the workers they need, employers have successfully expanded their recruitment and retention efforts to focus on workers from underrepresented groups, including, but not limited to: immigrants and foreign workers, Aboriginal Peoples, African Nova Scotians, persons with disabilities, people of different cultures/ethnicities, women, youth and older workers.

This section provides a guide, suggestions and links to programs and support services. It also provides examples of effective practices and policies to help you create and manage inclusive workplaces and support the successful integration of new workers with diverse backgrounds and expectations.


In This Section:

On-lineTraining in Managing a Diverse Workplace is Available:

SkillsonlineNS offers free online courses to Nova Scotia residents and businesses. Course topics include Welcoming Workplaces, Engaging Gen Y, Unconscious Bias, and Cross Cultural Communications.  Click here register for these courses or to view the complete course catalogue.


Benefits of a Diverse Workplace

The working age population in Nova Scotia is shrinking and employers are finding it more difficult to find and keep workers than ever before. Competition is going to get tougher yet. Statistics tell us that due to retirement of the baby boomer generation there will be 36,000 fewer workers in Nova Scotia by 2019.

Some pockets of the population are growing in number however and many are underrepresented in Nova Scotia workplaces. Aboriginal Peoples, African Nova Scotians, women, persons with disabilities, people of different cultures and ethnicities, immigrants, youth and older workers are groups that represent a rich source of potential employees for Nova Scotia businesses. Employers whose workplaces are open to diversity where all employees feel welcomed and valued will be more successful in recruiting and retaining people from diverse backgrounds.

As the population in Nova Scotia becomes more and more diverse, employers are seeing how employing people from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities makes it easier to understand and respond to the marketplace and the needs of the diverse clients.

Businesses that want to expand globally will benefit greatly by employing workers that have first had knowledge of the target market. For example if you were looking to expand into China, hiring a Chinese immigrant could be invaluable in helping you gain an understanding of the ins and out of the Chinese market and for identifying any cultural practices you should be aware of.

Diversity among employees allows businesses to:

  • Meet and predict market demands
  • Increase response and attraction to diverse clients
  • Create and improve products and services
  • Improve decision making
  • Attract, retain, motivate and use employees more effectively
  • Create a competitive advantage
  • Improve company culture and morale
  • Decrease complaints, litigation and conflict
  • Open up new markets
  • Increase productivity
  • Increase market identity
  • Reduce training costs
  • Reduce costs of turnover and absenteeism
  • Create opportunities for disadvantaged groups
  • Better manage the impact of globalization and technological change
  • Learn about new and potentially better processes for more efficiency


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Create an Inclusive Environment


What is an Inclusive Workplace?

An inclusive workplace is one where employers have chosen the right person for the job regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, age, race, religion or disability. It is also a workplace where all employees are respected and where individual differences are valued.

When the different life experiences, perspectives, needs and abilities that people bring to the workplace are valued, respected and supported, the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential. These conditions help build an inclusive and welcoming work environment.


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How to Build an Inclusive Environment

The best way to build an inclusive environment is to build principles of diversity into the foundation and structures of your company. The first step for doing this is to create a diversity statement. Like a mission statement, a diversity statement commits a company to taking specific steps.

A good example is the Diversity Statement on the McInnes Cooper website:

"McInnes Cooper is committed to creating an inclusive workplace environment that values, respects and supports the different perspectives, cultures and experiences of our clients and our people. We believe that providing a workplace rich in diversity inspires all members of our team to realize their full potential and enhances our ability to deliver innovative and strategic solutions to our clients"

Or, your diversity statement could be incorporated into your company's values mission and vision as is the case at Pete's Footique. Commitment to Diversity is one of Pete's Promises. It reads:

"Our commitment to diversity is evident in the way we do business. Partnerships with local organizations help us attract qualified and enthusiastic individuals from diverse communities. Diversity in our product as well as our people is what creates the vibrant atmosphere at Pete's.

At Pete's we not only value diversity, we celebrate it!"


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Communicate Your Commitment to Diversity

Communication is an important element of building an inclusive environment. Communicate your commitment to your clients, customers, employees, and job seekers to show that you believe in diversity in the workplace:

  • Online: if you have an online presence, use it. Highlight your commitment to diversity on your website, on social media pages and in your e-mail signatures.
  • Reports and Newsletters: Include your diversity strategy or a short statement that highlights your commitment to diversity when you communicate with clients.
  • Promotional Materials: Show your commitment to diversity by including pictures of diverse groups in your promotions materials; include your diversity statement.
  • In job Ads: Include a statement about your commitment to diversity in your job ad.
  • In your work Environment: Post your diversity statement where everyone can see it. Hang up posters and wall art that highlights diversity.
  • Employees: The best way to communicate your commitment to an inclusive environment is through your employees. Actively seek, hire, develop and promote diverse employees in your organization.


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Respectful Behaviour

Respectful behavior in the workplace is a critical element of creating a welcoming and inclusive work environment. In a respectful workplace

  • employees are valued
  • communication is polite and courteous
  • people are treated as they wish to be treated
  • conflict is addressed in a positive and respectful manner
  • disrespectful behavior and harassment are addressed

Employers, supervisors, managers and employees, must always show respect for each other. Respect in the Workplace is enhanced when:

  • all employees are aware of and understand that disrespectful behavior in the workplace is a serious issue that can negatively affect their fellow employees and their work environments;
  • policies and procedures are written to prevent and respond to disrespectful behavior;
  • support is available and accessible to employees affected by disrespectful behavior;
  • ways are found to resolve issues when they first arise; and
  • when avenues of recourse to employees subjected to disrespectable behavior exist.

Consider developing an anti-bullying/harassment policy which outlines that employees will:

  • engage in workplace behavior that is respectful of others
  • respect the diversity brought to the workplace by all employees
  • create and maintain a respectful workplace through fostering respectful behavior towards others
  • challenge disrespectful or inappropriate behavior when it happens
  • report any incidents of disrespectful behavior to the supervisor/manager


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Personal and Systemic Biases

To build and maintain an inclusive workplace it's critical that your organization 'walk the talk' about diversity. To do this it is important to be mindful of, and combat the damaging effect, of bias.

Personal bias is the act of favoring one group over another. It is a result of existing beliefs and incorrect assumptions based on our expectations about behaviors rather than actual behavior.

Some examples of cultural differences that may cause unintentional bias are:

  • Body language can be interpreted differently in different cultures. For example, in Canada eye contact is associated with honest communication. When it does not happen some may take it as a sign of evasiveness when in fact that person may be from a culture that makes less eye contact or even considers it aggressive, rude, or a show of disrespect ..
  • Religion: In many cultures, religion is a more dominate part of life than it is in Canadian culture. Some cultures celebrate different religious holidays and customs than yours
  • Personal Appearance: Grooming and attire vary from country to country and culture to culture. For example, some people may wear attire such as a headdress as part of their custom and beliefs.

It is important to recognize and respect these differences and to question assumptions.

Systemic Biases also need to be recognized and removed. These are rules, policies or practices for recruiting hiring and promoting people that indirectly disadvantages and prevents employment opportunities for protected groups. These unintentional biases will have an adverse effect on your strategy for building an inclusive environment.

There are many resources on the web that can help you to recognize and combat both personal and systemic bias.


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Managing a Diverse Workforce

Considerations for employers for successfully attracting and diverse workers are provided in the "Finding Workers" pages of this HR toolkit. This section explores considerations for managing and retaining diverse workers.


Developing a Work Environment

A focus of any manager is to help employees reach their full potential. To do this it is important to develop a work environment in which individual differences and unique qualities are respected and valued. Some key points to consider in achieving this are:

  • Making sure that information about position openings and developmental opportunities are accessible to all employees.
  • Creating a mentoring program that matches new employees with more experienced workers.
  • Encouraging the development of trusting relationships that will enhance the workplace.
  • Offering diversity training.
  • Providing continuous training.
  • Monitoring office humor to ensure that jokes are not in bad taste.
  • Tracking hiring, pay, development and promotional patterns.
  • Having clear policies and procedures in place.
  • Having an open door policy on diversity issues.
  • Creating an environment that is welcoming and open to differences.
  • Leading by example.
  • Getting feedback from new hires on their experiences within the company and finding out whether they have had any problems or issues.
  • Listening and being flexible.
  • Ensuring that planning of events and schedules is done with recognition of important holidays for people with different ethnic backgrounds and religions.
  • To assist you in creating and maintaining a diverse workplace, this article will help you explore some of the unique aspects and possible considerations associated with the following diversity groups.


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Other Potential Sources of Foreign Workers


Immigrants and International Workers

People who travel abroad to live, study and work are courageous, innovative and hopeful. Understanding the many aspects of culture will help you identify and remove barriers that unfairly prevent people from succeeding and will help you get the most out of your employees, your, team and your company.

Some unique aspects that you may encounter with new immigrants and international workers in the workplace are:

Immigrants and foreign workers bring energy, expertise, technical skills and the drive to innovate to the workplace. For business that want to enter or become more competitive in global markets immigrants bring connections to their places of origin and an understanding of the rules and culture of international business, market opportunities, and language.

International students attending colleges and universities in Nova Scotia are eligible to work off-campus for up to 20 hours per week during regular semesters and full-time during semester breaks. They are also permitted to work full-time during their work-term semesters. Employers from all types of businesses also recruit foreign workers to meet temporary labour shortages.


Immigrants may also:

  • lack prior Canadian work experience
  • have foreign education, work experience and professional credentials that are not officially recognized in Canada
  • have limited understanding of the Canadian work culture and of the English language


Suggestions for you as an employer are:

  • Be aware that a self-managed career may be a new concept for certain cultures. Some individuals may find self-promotion and networking difficult. Be sure to take these into consideration when considering employees to develop and promote.
  • The provision of a buddy/mentor system for newly hired immigrants may ease the transition into the workplace.
  • Strong role models in management positions will assist in helping immigrants become aware of workplace expectations.
  • Be aware that communication can be affected by cultural factors. For example, in some cultures not making eye contact is a sign of respect.
  • It may be more difficult to match skilled immigrants into high demand positions. Keeping an open mind and providing extra support may be advantageous to you.
  • Immigrants may encounter some language barriers. Arrangements may need to be made to help the immigrant worker acquire additional language courses in English. It may also be helpful to explain the meanings of some of the commonly used words, phrases and acronyms that are used in the workplace.

There are many support services and agencies that provide employment services to New Canadians.

These organizations also provide supports and recommendations to employers of immigrants. Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, for instance, provides the following language training.

English for Work 

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Aboriginal Peoples

Aboriginal employees working in a non-aboriginal workplace sometimes report the feeling of being outsiders. Like any other employee, if an Aboriginal employee does not feel accepted he or she will likely be less motivated and less likely to performance at the top of their game. It is also quite possible that they will leave your company.

Some unique aspects that you may encounter in the workplace are:

  • Some people comment that they are uncomfortable because they have no knowledge about aboriginal people and are fearful of saying something to offend them. This may leave Aboriginal employees to feel isolated in the workplace.
  • Differences in communication, styles, such as making eye contact, can cause misunderstandings.
  • Some Aboriginal peoples are sometimes hesitant to address issues with their employer and may opt to leave their jobs rather than confront the issue.

Suggestions for you as an employer are:

  • Work on developing trusting relationships so that individuals do not feel isolated in the workplace
  • Educate staff about the history and culture of aboriginal groups. Connections Career Centre Aboriginal Cultural Awareness training in the workplace at no cost to employers.
  • Pair a new Aboriginal employee with a mentor to provide a 'go to' person to lean on for support, to ask questions, to orient them to the company culture, etc. This is a good idea for all new employees.
  • Become more aware of Aboriginal issues.
  • Be sensitive to social issues
  • Be aware of the role of the family
  • Consider sponsoring events that are designed to educate and create awareness about the Aboriginal Culture and other diversities.
  • Be accessible in case support is need.
  • Build a more diverse workforce.
  • Allow time for cultural activities.

Click here for a list of First Nations contacts in Nova Scotia.

For more information concerning aboriginal peoples and employment please visit The Aboriginal Canada Portal.


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African Nova Scotians

Nova Scotia has the largest indigenous Black population in Canada. According to the 2006 Statistic Canada Survey, there are 19,225 African Nova Scotians in the province. Of this number, 45 per cent are below the age of 25 and 82 per cent of those above the age of 14 are 3rd generation Canadian, demonstrating that African Nova Scotians have a long and shared history in Nova Scotian. Hiring African Nova Scotians is an excellent way to meet your employment needs.

There are more than 48 African Nova Scotian communities, each very diverse with various talents and skills. African Nova Scotian communities have not always had equitable access to employment options and as such employment service agencies were created to increase partnerships in employment and training thus increasing employment opportunities for Nova Scotians.

Click here for a list of the groups and organizations dedicated to creating and promoting change for African Nova Scotians. 

A list of employment service agencies helping African Nova Scotians connect with employers in Nova Scotia can be found by clicking here.


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Young workers bring new perspectives to the workplace. They represent the future of businesses. Employers are examining their management practices to ensure that they hang on to their young employees

Keep in mind the following:

  • Youth have many opportunities to choose from so employers need to appeal to their interests.
  • Pay may not be as important to youth as lifestyle.
  • Youth are focused more on their careers and look for ways to reach their career goals.
  • Youth are very independent and see this as an extension of their individuality.
  • Youth dislike routine and if they are placed in a routine job they can become uninterested and unfocused.
  • Youth are more concerned with skill and knowledge based opportunities than long term job security.
  • Ongoing feedback is critical to youth.
  • Youth are technologically savvy and use technology tools as part of their work and lifestyle.
  • Youth expect their work environment to be sociable, fun and flexible.
  • Youth are very comfortable in a diverse workplace.


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Acadians and Francophones

Acadian and francophone workers bring a linguistic and cultural diversity to the workplace. Bilingualism in the workplace is a significant advantage in today's global market. There are Acadian communities throughout the province; with the five largest being: Argyle, Clare, Ch├ęticamp, Isle Madame, and Halifax.

Some points to keep in mind about Acadian and Francophone workers are:

  • While most Acadian and francophones are able to communicate orally in both English and French, this may not be the case for written communication. This question should be addressed at the time of an interview.
  • Acadian and Francophone workers value the importance of community.
  • Awareness of cultural and social issues.

Awareness that Acadian and Francophone workers can also identify themselves with other diversity groups; e.g. Women or Older Workers.


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Women make up a significant number of our population yet they remain underemployed in traditionally male dominated jobs. The underrepresentation of women in these fields has more to do with cultural perceptions, stereotypes, and expectations that people have about women than ability or competence. Educational institutions are working hard to change this and are graduating more and more women with credentials in non-traditional fields.

Some of the unique aspects you may encounter when hiring women workers are:

  • Women often experience conflict between working and having a family.
  • Adequate and affordable childcare is sometimes lacking.
  • Women often experience a lack of sensitivity with regard to their work and home life demands.
  • Women often lack supportive workplace policies and practices.

Suggestions for supporting women in the workplace are:

  • Offer a flexible range of work options that works for the individual staff member.
  • Be able to respond to the changing needs of individuals.
  • Ensure that supervisors are attentive to the needs of women and act as role models.
  • Ensure that women on maternity / parental leave feel connected to your organization to ensure a smoother transition upon their return. If women make the choice to not return, leave the door open to ensure that they feel welcome to return, when and if they choose to do so.

The Hypatia Association supports gender equity in Science Trades and Technology. Hypatia works directly with community organizations, employers, educators and government agencies and to address the policies, systemic barriers, and institutional practices that limit the participation of women in these fields. Please click here for information on services that Hypatia provides to help employers recruit and retain skilled women.

The following organizations also provide support on employment and other issues of concern to women in Nova Scotia:

Women Unlimited

WEE Society


Women's Centres Connect


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Older Workers

People are enjoying better health and living longer; as such they may not wish to retire from the work force or they may wish to take on a part time job once they have reached retirement age.

Many employers are making adjustments to their workplace to maintain their older workers.

The START Program, which is an Employment Nova Scotia initiative provides funding supports to eligible employers to hire eligible individuals requiring work experience or apprenticeship support.  Contact an Employer Engagement Specialist at your local Nova Scotia Works Employment Services Centre more information 


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Managing Multiple Generations

Differences among generations are one of the greatest challenges facing managers today.

The Canadian workforce today encompasses four separate generations working side by side. Different generations of workers have different attitudes towards how and why they work. By understanding some of the differences affecting the workplace you will be better able to meet the needs of individuals in each generation.

Workplace differences include:


Structured set up Flexible set up
Stable Changeable
Financial incentives Variety of incentives
Work for others Self-employment
Large Corporations Small businesses or units
Hierarchical Participatory
Education is complete Life-long learning
Focus on product Focus on customer service
Error is tolerated total quality management control
Longer-term employment More frequent employment changes
Status quo, business as usual Emphasis on productivity and innovation



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