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Inclusive workplaces 5 min read

5 steps towards achieving a culturally inclusive workplace

How do you start when you don’t know where to start? It’s a common question for both Canadian business owners and the newcomers seeking employment with them.

And it’s one that southern Ontario-based Achēv is helping both to overcome.

“Beyond the sweeping impact of COVID, there are two additional social economic factors at play today that will transform the workforce – growing labour shortages across many sectors and the focus on building a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment,” says Achēv CEO, Tonie Chaltas. “Newcomers to Canada play a critical role on both fronts. However, these benefits will not be achieved if organizations do not commit to creating a culturally inclusive workplace. Everyone has a role to play in this journey – newcomers, leaders, and employees.’ 

Achēv is a leading charitable organization in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) delivering employment, newcomer, language and youth services. In addition to working with newcomers and Ontarians, they collaborate with over 3,500 local employer and community partners to ensure they have the tools and capacity to support others.

The organization recently joined forces with Canadian Western Bank (CWB) to offer a series of complimentary workshops for people leaders and newcomers. Participants increase their understanding of cultural inclusion, hear about the lived experiences of newcomers, and engage in a discussion around how they can take action. 


Did you know?:


6 barriers faced by newcomers in the workplace

  1. Policies, processes, and practices
  2. Minority change agents
  3. Tokenism
  4. Insufficient resources
  5. Lack of accountability and commitment
  6. Absence of evaluation and monitoring
Tania Amaral is Achēv’s Manager of Newcomer and Employment Services. She says launching these workshops helps to address a significant need. Over 80% of newcomers in the GTA are BIPOC. And in Peel Region, where Achēv is headquartered, you’ll find one of the most culturally-diverse communities in Canada. 

“Newcomers are often misinformed about the skills and steps that are needed to enter more higher-level positions. They might also not have an accurate portrayal of the current landscape of the labour market — or know what sector they want to get into and what those steps are,” she says. “So, for some newcomers, it’s a bit of an awakening.” 

Chaltas says there are also misperceptions on the employer side.  

“There’s an inherent bias towards the ‘Canadian employment experience’. Our role is to help employers see that newcomers bring a breadth and depth of experience that others may not,” she says. 

"For example, despite having all this experience, newcomers often end up having to take ‘survival jobs’. This means you can end up with someone with a broad range of complementary skills in addition to their main area of expertise. For an employer, there’s significant value in that."  

Amaral agrees. “One could argue that a newcomer employee is just that much more motivated to do the job – and do the job well. This person has been job searching for
several months. Give them a chance and they will not let you down.”  

Recognizing that recruitment processes contain many inherent biases, Chaltas adds  that HR departments are now looking for ways to remove these biases. “One easy step is to remove names and addresses in the early stages of searches,” she says. “This information may work against otherwise qualified and motivated candidates.”


5 steps for employers to get started

“Employers are recognizing they don’t know what they don’t know,” says Chaltas. “I’ve found a really powerful way that organizations can get started on their learning journey is to participate in sessions like the ones we’re providing with CWB’s support.” 

In addition to actively seeking out education and awareness opportunities, Chaltas and Amaral offer these 5 steps for employers to get started with onboarding, welcoming, and supporting newcomers into a culturally inclusive workplace.


  1. To know where you need to go, you need to first understand where you’re at.

    Before you start planning, get the data, do the survey, find out the issues, Chaltas says. She suggests engaging Employee Represented Groups (ERGs) to help inform any planning as you move forward, and that regardless of how you engage your employees, the bottom line is to do it – and to truly listen: “It’s important to hold listening events where you’re meeting with employees in safe environments, where you’re learning about their lived experiences in the workplace. You can’t write a plan to address challenges without understanding what those challenges are. You need to hear it in the words of the employees. Once you have that, then you can start developing a plan to move forward.”

  2. Come up with a plan – and expect it to change. “Look at the fundamentals: where are we now, where do we want to be, how do we get there, how do we know when we get there,” says Chaltas. She also cautions against getting caught up in creating the perfect plan. “Sometimes good is good enough. And that plan is going to go through many, many iterations as you continue to listen and learn from your employees and connect with what’s really going on with them. None of this is stagnant.”
  3. Don’t try to boil the ocean. It’s ok to start small. Chaltas suggests zeroing in on a few critical things that are really important to get right in your first year. “Identify the few things that will make the biggest impact, and focus on getting that right,” she says. Adds Amaral, it’s important to remember to communicate and celebrate your wins to your employees, no matter how small they may seem. “Each win, each success is another step towards where you want to go, so make sure you take a breath and recognize that,” she says.
  4. Know that you’re going to make mistakes – and admit when you do. “It’s a tough journey. As leaders we strive to get it right all the time, but the reality is that sometimes we don’t,” says Chaltas. “Have self-compassion, admit the mistakes, learn from them, and move forward.”
  5. Change isn’t going to happen overnight. “Try to avoid getting into the mode of just simply checking off your list of to do’s and thinking your job is done,” says Amaral. Adds Chaltas, “I think sessions like what we’re offering should be embedded into a company’s approach to building an inclusive culture. The need and the learning is continuous. What we’re trying to do is change age old patterns. This is behaviour and culture change and that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a multi-year journey. And we believe these kinds of sessions are an important part of an employer’s ongoing commitment to change.” 

Employers and newcomers can learn more about barriers in the workplace and how to overcome them by connecting with Achēv. For those in the GTA, signing up here for one of Achēv’s fall/winter partnered sessions with CWB is a great place to start.