A need to 'Canadianize' to get ahead

Lose accent, culture to succeed, visible minorities believe

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Don Butler, Canwest News Service - OTTAWA - Some managers from visible minority believe they have to shed their culture and even their accent to succeed in the Canadian workplace, according to results of a study to be released today.
The study by Catalyst, an international organization that works to advance opportunities for women in business, is based largely on 19 focus groups, involving managers, professionals and executives at companies across Canada.
Some East Asian and South Asian participants -- particularly those born outside of Canada -- said they believe they need to "Canadianize" in order to get ahead.
As defined by focus group participants, that refers to a lessening of attachment to their own ethnic or racial group, as well as picking up mannerisms, idiomatic expressions and other features of the Canadian "mainstream."
It also includes speaking English or French without an identifiable accent to fit the prevailing image of leaders in their organization, they said.
Speaking with an accent was seen as a barrier to advancement, especially if their jobs required them to speak to their colleagues or with the public.
The study found the ability to share a common discourse -- including knowledge of Canadian culture -- was seen as important in establishing rapport with colleagues and successful networking.
Some East Asian and South Asian participants said they perceived that visible minorities in their organizations who looked, behaved, dressed and spoke like their white colleagues were more likely to be successful.
By contrast, black participants were more likely to believe their race, rather than their culture, was a barrier to advancement.
All three visible minority groups reported encountering ethnic or racial stereotyping in the workplace.
East Asians reported being stereotyped as quiet, passive and hard-working, but not particularly sociable, while South Asians spoke about being viewed as outsiders, even though many were born in Canada. "They reported being treated as 'foreigners' in the workplace," the study said.
Black participants reported encountering "credibility-based stereotypes" -- that they were lazy and lacked vital skills -- the study reports.
The findings are significant because by 2011 immigration is expected to account for all of Canada's net labour-force growth, the study says. Currently, three-quarters of people immigrating to Canada belong to visible minority groups.
According to the 2006 census, one in five Canadians was born outside the country. Two-thirds of those speak a language at home other than English or French.
The study found signs of a possible backlash against visible minorities among some white focus group participants, saying they expressed "a certain amount of resentment toward company efforts made on behalf of visible minorities."
The study, sponsored by the Royal Bank, Deloitte and Touche and IBM Canada, is the fourth is a series of Catalyst reports on the status of visible minorities in the workplace.

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