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Changing face of Canadian population challenges managements.

Changing Face of Canadian Population Challenges Managements

Employment equity--the band-wagon that helped push women communicators to the forefront of the profession earlier this decade--is steamrolling ahead in Canada. As it advances, it is paving the way for the slow rise of a new shade of practitioner: the multicultural communicator, officially referred to in IABC short-hand as the MCC.

But north of the 49th parallel on North America's vast continent, the numbers in this emerging generation of MCCs are not as high as some are anticipating given the fast-changing racial composition of the Canadian population. In 1951, fewer than two percent belonged to ethnic minorities. However, it is estimated that by the year 2001, some 15 percent of the population will be members of a visible minority group. (The 1986 Canadian census pegs their number at nine percent of the entire population of some 26 million.)

In February this year, a survey by IABC's multicultural communicators standing committee, revealed that out of 1,350 Canadian IABC members, only 43 were MCCs--or 3.2 percent. The handful had identified themselves as having multicultural backgrounds such as chicano/hispanic, black, Asian, North American Indian, Pacific Islander and Inuit. (For the entire membership of IABC, numbering some 11,000, the survey found only 360 MCCs--or 3.3 percent of the total.)

Since there are so few of them, many are asking the obvious questions: Where are these rarities to be found and who are they working for? According to a survey by the author, MCCs in Canada are finding it easier to get jobs in government or nonprofit corporations than in business.

Rosalind Franklin, a Toronto MCC employed with the Commercial Travellers' Association of Canada, believes that the three levels of government are doing well in recruiting the "newbreed communicator" because they are regularly updating their employment equity guidelines.

"This fosters a more accessible atmosphere for the employment of qualified MCCs," says Franklin, who was the first public relations coordinator ever appointed by the 115-year old nonprofit association with 35,000 sales professional members across Canada.

"The public sector is where one would first find positive enhancements in the workplace, so the fact there are more MCCs working--and being hired--in the government sector is not surprising," observes MCC Chitra Reddin, a professor of public relations at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, NS. She left her job as a communication manager at the accounting firm of Peat Marwick in Toronto four years ago to pursue an academic career.

Reddin, who is currently finishing a textbook, "Public Relations in Canada," adds: "It seems to me that if governments were to go ahead and legislate mandatory hiring goals for minorities in the private sector, they would still allow private employers several years to pursue these voluntarily before enforcement is carried out."

In the City of Toronto, Ont., Canada's largest business city, the municipal corporation has been pursuing affirmative action in its hiring. Wendy Forbes, self-described as "a person of mixed race," was recently appointed to coordinate the "1989--The Year for Racial Harmony" program. The job involves communicating with and motivating neighborhood groups, the trade unions and business associations to become better community neighbours.

On a year's leave from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where she is a publicist, Forbes notes that the city government "did move early and fast to deal with the realities of an ethnically diverse population." (According to 1986 Canadian census statistics, some 20 percent of the city's population belong to "visible minorities.") The city has, since 1981, expanded its equal opportunity program to ensure equal access to jobs for racial minorities.

Toronto's initiatives in multicultural programming have caught the eye of other major Canadian cities. This past spring, Toronto Mayor Art Eggleton, meeting with hundreds of his colleagues at the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Vancouver, B.C., affirmed his commitment to get more minorities onto the civic payroll. Supporting him at a news conference, the mayors of Vancouver and Montreal, P.Q., declared that they intended to fight racism and remove all the blocks to job opportunities for visible minorities.

This year, the Ontario provincial government is following through on its June, 1987 announcement to expand its employment equity philosophy--previously applicable only to women--to attract more racial minorities as well as francophones, aboriginal peoples and persons with disabilities, to its annual internship drive, as well as to its stable of other human resources programs.

The second largest employer in the country's most prosperous province--with some 80,000 employees--the provincial government reorganized this 100-job program to increase the number of persons from those groups, targeting recent university graduates in a wide range of disciplines. Included, however, were two Cdn. $28,300-a-year communication jobs in the provincial ministries of the environment, and agriculture and food.

"The response from the 'designated groups' has been excellent," reports Ann Welsh, manager of marketing and communication, whose Human Resources Secretariat is coordinating the program for the more than 20 ministries where the interns are being assigned.

"In addition, the government has been adjusting all its various employment equity programs to make the Ontario Public Service more representative of the public it serves," says Welsh.

Deborah Etsten, manager of planning and publications at the agriculture and food ministry, notes that multicultural communication "has become increasingly important for us and the internship program helps us to achieve our goals in this area."

During the ministry's recent celebration of "Agri-Food Week," the communication branch, recognizing that the urban and non-farming communities included large numbers of persons from various ethnocultural backgrounds, sent out media materials in Italian, Chinese, Filipino, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek. To do that, the branch spent an additional $2,400 for translation, but according to Etsten, "that is essential if we are going to reach our target audiences with messages (other than in English and French--Canada's two official languages) that reflect and respect the ethnic diversity of Ontario."

The federal government--the country's largest employer--also has made strides in recruiting MCCs. For the past three years, it has been successfully running the Visible Minority Employment Program. "It's doing well," says Aloma Lawrence, Ontario Regional chief of the employment equity program. "In fact, the program underwent some changes last year and has been extended to March 1993."

According to her, some 1,300 persons are employed by the federal government as "part of the information services occupational group." Fifteen offices of the Public Service Commission of Canada--the federal government's human resources agency--process applications for vacant positions in areas such as research and evaluation, writing, editing, public relations, media relations, audio-visual services and employee communications.

But while governments in Canada have been taking the lead in promoting the public good--and the careers of MCCs in the process--through employment equity programming, the private sector is trying to catch up.

Private Sector Plays

Catch-up

At AT&T Canada in Scarborough, Ont., MCC Dianne Bernez says her appointment as manager of marketing communication in 1984--one year after the New York-based head office set up a Canadian subsidiary--was "in keeping with the fact that employment equity is part of the company's operating philosophy."

The company, which markets computers, networking and communication products in four provinces, has established criteria to ensure the hiring of minorities in many areas--not just in communication, Bernez says.

Although there are no formal guidelines on affirmative action at Canada's largest do-it-yourself retail chain of auto accessory stores, print communication manager Leo Guiyab says "the historically people-oriented style of management in the company has opened doors for me." Guiyab, who started as a writer in the company in 1978, now heads a 17-person department which prepares marketing newsletters and other promotional materials for 402 Canadian Tire Corp. associate stores nationwide.

Barriers?

Concerned Canadians studying the whole issue of job access and mobility for "visible minorities" say that the challenge for those hiring communicators pivots around one major issue: the level of communication skills of the potential MCC.

Notes Roger Feather, ABC, a senior editor at The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company in Toronto: "In most of Canada--outside of French-speaking Quebec province--the main barrier for aspiring MCCs is about skills.

"Many potential MCCs cannot get a job in the field because they don't have a sufficient command of either the technical communication skills (English language writing, for example) or basic communication skills, such as listening, understanding and speaking English," notes Feather, a recipient of IABC's Chairman's Award in 1985-86 and a former educator who helped launch the IABC/Toronto chapter-sponsored course in corporate communication at Centennial College in Scarborough, Ont., in 1979.

"From the employers' viewpoint, these skills or the lack of them are often the problem, though I recognize that in a few instances, other issues such as discrimination based on race and other factors may play a part," adds Feather.

Sociology professor Paul Anisef, Ph.D., of York University, in North York, Ont., agrees with Feather. "Conversely, if a person--irrespective of ethnic background--does have a capacity to write well in English, he or she may still need to get the credentials required for entry into a profession such as public relations.

"Credentials are becoming more and more a gateway to the more prestigious jobs in the labor market," says Anisef, who has studied the "accessibility problem" for minorities wanting to enter the corporate communication field, and who, with his wife Etta Baichman, has written a book, "What's Up, Hey!" that deals with job qualifications.

The coordinator of Centennial College's corporate communication program notes that the number of students "of a visible minority background" enrolling into the two-year course for the past 10 years has been sporadic. Says Gary Schlee, ABC: "Our screening is based primarily on writing, and if English is not the applicant's first language, then he or she is at a great disadvantage.

"The question I am addressing now is: Can we devise training that capitalizes on their idiomatic use of language and still gives them the skills to be effective, clear communicators," he says.

Lowering Standards of Entry?

Canadian MCCs interviewed by the author say they are opposed to lowering entry standards, citing such a move by law schools in Canada to do so.

For instance, some well-known law schools recently decided to place little weight on LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) scores. Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, have announced that they are relaxing admissions criteria to attract more visible minorities into law.

"There might be some extenuating circumstances in which (lowering entry standards) would apply--that's what it might take to give Canada's native peoples the chance they deserve--but overall, it is not consistent with professionalism," says MCC Moses Kanhai, ABC, a communication manager for the past 16 years at SaskPower, the provincial hydro utility in Saskatchewan.

"As for me, I'd like my effectiveness as a professional communicator to be recognized, and if I have any difficulties in the marketplace, it'd be because there are certain obstacles in people's perceptions that are preventing them from seeing the qualities I offer."

Other hiring managers say it's futile trying to train someone who "can't even pass carefully designed entry tests." Canadian Tire's Leo Guiyab says: "Lowering standards will not help us, MCCs, or IABC. The bottom line, for me, when I am hiring, is whether the person can do the job. If the candidate can't pass the entrance test--let alone the course exams--I can't see how they can survive on the job."

A similar stand is taken by one who hires communicators for the Royal Bank of Canada, Canada's largest banker. "In recruiting staff for our corporate communication department, the overall criterion we bear in mind is whether that person can perform the functions assigned to the position which can help the bank move forward," says David Grier, a vice-president and senior advisor of public affairs, based in Toronto. "So it matters little what the ethnocultural background of a candidate is."

The Future

In separate interviews, MCCs agree that they bring what one called "the third eye" view to improving communication in organizations. "MCCs can bring added value," says professor Chitra Reddin. "Such communicators offer a broader perspective, flexibility, the power to bridge gaps and bring together diverse and multiple viewpoints.

"Such qualities are essential to successfully manage change and communicate more effectively in today's highly complex and interdependent global environment," she claims.

Says Leo Guiyab: "I find that an additional cultural background is an asset in managing people, considering that the workplace is getting more and more multicultural in makeup. Needless to say, I believe we all bring our culture, in varying degrees of depth and perception, to the very real world of work."

Business Can Do More

"Business, for example, can do this by establishing scholarships and exchange programs specially for MCCs at universities," says professor Reddin. "As well, we can be more active in promoting the opportunities and rewards of our profession through schools, universities, media, government agencies to reach and tap potential MCCs."

And Toronto City Corporation's Wendy Forbes agrees most wholeheartedly. On the verge of completing a plan to enlist the Toronto business groups to work more closely with the community, she tells Communication World: "I see the role of business--the power base--as one of leadership. They are in a position to influence a lot of people, to hire more visible minorities in every area of their enterprises.

"If they take this leadership role in alleviating some of the pressures associated with the currently unsettling race relations climate, this is going to look good for them," says Forbes. "Even if they do it for no reason than a PR gesture, that's good for me, and I think it's good for most of the community as well."

For Forbes and Reddin and the others, the view is that the employment equity bandwagon for MCCs must forge ahead in the face of a changing cultural landscape. As Canada enters the 1990s, they say it should be helped along--much more than is the case now--by both government and business in a fruitful partnership.
COPYRIGHT 1989 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Yuen, John
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Words:2336
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