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The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of collecting diversity, equity and inclusion data on immigrants

Organizations rarely collect data on immigrants within their workforce – it's a missed opportunity on inclusivity and recruitment


The BlackNorth pledge asked business leaders to commit to a series of a measures that address systemic racism, confront unconscious bias and remove barriers preventing Black employees from advancing within their companies. (Rawpixel.com/Adobe Stock)

It is well-known by now that there is a strong business case for hiring immigrants at every level of an organization.

Immigrants — who make up 46 per cent of the GTA labour market — bring skills, innovation, new perspectives, and international business knowledge that will help shape an organization’s performance and success.

But how can employers know how they are doing when it comes to leveraging the international talent available to them?

It is actually challenging to answer this question.

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Recently, TRIEC published a new report that looked at the role middle managers play in building immigrant-inclusive teams in the workplace.

One of the findings within the report is that companies often do not collect data on whether immigrants have an equal chance of getting hired or promoted as non-immigrants. This is because inclusion strategies usually do not define immigrants as a distinct equity group.

There is plenty of evidence to show that being an immigrant affects an individual’s career prospects.

Recent studies show that having an international degree and/or work experience affects the likelihood of getting hired, how much an individual will earn and whether they will climb up the career ladder.

These employment and earning gaps are compounded for those with intersectional identities — such as racialized immigrants and immigrant women.

Middle managers make or break immigrant-inclusive teams: report

Are you immigrant-inclusive?

Collecting and analyzing data on whether an organization is immigrant-inclusive — it fosters an environment where immigrants feel that they belong and can put their full skill set to use — and could help level the playing field. And it’s in an organization’s best interest to do so.

Data and insights can help tell an organization where it is on its inclusion journey. Having this data at an aggregate level can highlight any bottlenecks that are preventing an employer from effectively leveraging immigrant talent.

The question on data about immigrant employees is sometimes not about “why” it should be collected, but about “how.”

Below is a set of recommendations and ideas for organizations who want to build a more accurate picture of whether they are making the best of the international talent in the labour market.

Take intersectionality into account

Most people have intersecting identities that uniquely shape their experiences in the workplace. Collecting data on just one or two of these identities may not paint a full picture of where an organization is on its inclusion journey.

For example, gathering data on gender might show how many women are represented in senior positions, but it would not show the representation of women immigrants or racialized women.

This is why it is important to collect and compare data on a range of different equity groups.

Ensure data compliance and privacy

Data collections should be conducted in line with privacy principles and applicable legislation, such as the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code).

The Code allows the collection of data on place of origin, citizenship, race as well as other facets of identity — as long as this is intended to track and tackle discrimination, inequalities and systemic barriers.

Another well-known legislation in this area is Bill C-25, which requires federally incorporated public companies to report on board and senior management diversity for women, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and racialized people.

Beyond legislative requirements, anonymity is critical for employees to be able to comfortably share their genuine thoughts and feedback around inclusion.

Why Canada needs more than 400,000 immigrants per year

Measure inclusion as well as diversity

Diversity is easier to quantify and measure than inclusion — but it should not be taken as a proxy. Having a diverse talent pipeline doesn’t necessarily mean an organization is inclusive.

It is important to ensure that employee engagement surveys and other tools are designed to measure inclusion — the extent to which people of diverse backgrounds can bring their whole selves to work and feel that they belong.

Be open and transparent about what the data shows

After analyzing the data and identifying the gaps (or progress), organizations should share this information clearly across all levels, highlighting how they plan to address any challenges in hiring, professional development and promotion processes, and celebrating achievements.

Inclusion is a journey and not an end state, and no organization will get everything right the first time.

But keeping colleagues updated through timely data will demonstrate an organization’s ongoing effort and commitment.

Act on the data to see progress

Why is data on diversity, inclusion and representation collected? To ensure that the organization can eliminate any existing barriers and create more opportunities for different groups like immigrants.

Upon collection, organizations need to act upon the data and insights provided by employees, so that they see that their thoughts, inputs and feedback matters — and are driving change.

Showing employees that the organization is taking action will in turn galvanize their support for inclusion efforts, which will make them more likely to succeed.

Adwoa K. Buahene is CEO of the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC).