How companies handle diversity takes centre stage at Montreal conference

Montreal conference tackles issues of diversity
WATCH: An international conference exploring issues of diversity is underway at the Université de Montréal. As Global's Phil Carpenter reports, delegates say progress has been made – but it should not be taken for granted.

As the international Equality, Diversity and Inclusion conference is being held at Université de Montréal — a first in North America — delegates say there is still a lot of work to be done.

“It is handling all types and forms of diversity and what we call intersectionality — the intersection between different types of diversity,” explained Tania Saba, the conference chair and professor of industrial relations at Université de Montréal.

The preliminary results of an international diversity survey were released on Friday.

The one-year study was done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Companies in six member countries, including organizations in Quebec, were evaluated to find out how diversity is managed.

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“Because regularly there are efforts in these countries to manage diversity but we don’t know comparatively how they are doing,” said Mustafa Ozbilgin, a researcher who helped with the study.

“Having a comparative analysis can maybe transfer good practices from one country to another.”

He says initial findings are concerning because while diversity is increasing and will continue to increase, companies are poorly prepared to deal with it.

What is alarming, according to Ozbilgin, is a similar survey conducted more than a decade ago found companies were more prepared to handle diversity in the workplace. One reason for the setback is the global political climate, he said.

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“We have male leaders strutting their stuff and not caring so much about the others, the marginal others as they say.”

One solution is for social movements to help corporations, and some are asking for it, he said.

“They also tell us, regrettably, that they don’t have the knowledge to accommodate,” Ozbilgin explained.

“They don’t monitor it, they don’t manage it well.”

He adds that there also needs to be less division and conflict among social movements.

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“For example Black Lives Matter movement, combining with LBGT movement creating this intersectional solidarity to push the agenda for better regulations.”

While progress has been made and there is an assumption that there will always be progress, Ozbilgin said that assumption appears unfounded.