Diversity and inclusion are a moral and ethical obligation, not a social gift.
As time goes by, Halifax is becoming a more and more vibrant and diverse community hub in the Maritimes. It is the largest city, an economic driver, and a major logistical centre. As this trend rapidly grows, we are starting to see product and service providers targeting these diverse customers and clients with custom marketing messages and advertising. Universities, real estate agents, banks, lawyers, car dealerships, and of course municipal, provincial, and federal politicians are speaking directly to immigrants and newcomers.
This is a sign of change and an acknowledgement of the growing and significant weight immigrants and newcomers carry, including their influence on the economy and in politics in Halifax and across the region. It was no surprise to me to hear radio stations and see TV and print outlets represent newcomers and devote time and space to sharing their stories.
My Halifax Experience is one of many publications attending to the immigrant and newcomer experience in Halifax, and now across the region with its sister brand My East Coast Experience. But it’s the only media brand specifically focused on celebrating immigrants who choose to stay and build lives here. It’s hard to believe this is the 10th edition!
Thinking about this 10th edition milestone means thinking more deeply about diversity and inclusion. These ideas are easy to agree on but hard to implement in their true spirit. We need to move diversity and inclusion beyond another checkmark in organizations’ agendas and start to look at them as a moral and ethical obligation rather than a social gift equal to being polite by opening the mall door or using good table manners. We must also outgrow the notion that immigrants and newcomers should just be grateful for any opportunity, regardless of how insignificant it is, or how poorly matched to their knowledge base and experience level.
Diversity and inclusion in all our institutions—public, private, and NGOs—are two of the core pillars to open our communities to the world and open our city and province for business. Our schools, universities, governments, and businesses must prioritize diversity and inclusion if we wish to aggressively counter the perception that “MTV” (Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver) are more immigrant-friendly, welcoming, and fair in addressing unemployment and underemployment. We should stop looking at immigrants and newcomers as “high risk hires”. Let’s acknowledge our hidden biases and have an honest look at the evidence and statistics.
If you ask most newcomers and immigrants what their main challenges are, no matter how long they have been here in our city, they will tell you three things: Finding a person or an organization willing to hire them, not being taken advantage of, and not being driven to underemployment. Being treated with respect means having access to equal opportunities.
I get dozens of requests from newcomers asking for help or advice, which I always try to support given that I was in the same place once. Here is my advice, which is the total opposite of the advice I was given many years ago: For your first local job, try as hard as you can not to accept any job just to “get your foot in the door”. This may haunt you down the road if you are keen on resuming your previous career. There is a common and disappointing tendency to ignore or dismiss international experience, regardless of how significant it is, in favour of only local or recent experience. Know your self worth, project it, and attain it. It will not be given to you—you must fight for it yourself.
In honour of the 10th edition of My Halifax Experience, let’s add an “H” for Halifax to “MTV”. And let’s remove CFA (come from away) from our vocabulary. Let’s take this mission on ourselves as a genuine priority, not just a box to be checked.