Turning Your Cultural Background Into An Advantage

Leverage the knowledge, customs and perspectives provided by your unique heritage.

 Turning Your Cultural Background Into An Advantage

By Mark Swartz


There is diverse culture in Canada, more so in its many cities. It’s in the top 10 countries with the most foreign-born residents. Over seven million people (including many born here) speak a language from a different country, and there are hundreds of ethnic and religious groups.

Still, those of divergent cultures or nationalities often feel pressure to fit in. In many cases – such as being able to speak at least one of our official languages, and abiding by local laws – this is essential.

Yet by trying to blend too much, a richness of experience, perspectives and knowledge may get lost in translation. Preserving this uniqueness, and leveraging it in work situations, can actually give minorities a leg up.


The Outsider Advantage

It can be challenging to grow up in a minority group or be an immigrant. There may be prejudice and exclusions to overcome. Plus conflicting customs to deal with. This adversity, however, can build character. People who are used to surmounting obstacles tend to be problem solvers with added resilience.

Coming from a less common culture or heritage also brings varied ways of thinking, communicating and interacting with other people. That can provide diversity-minded employers with a fresh perspective.


Leveraging Ethnicity and Nationality When Job Hunting

Maybe you’ve heard advice to make your resume less “ethnic.” That might have some merit if you believe employers will screen you out in error, based on their assumption you lack Canadian experience or proper language skills.

But what if you target employers where your heritage language and customs are valued? Like in companies that export to nations of similar persuasion. Or who want to open doors to ethnic markets here at home.

Public sector jobs are a good opportunity as well. They promote diversity-hiring as part of their mandate.

Another tip: when networking for employment, try starting with members of your cultural communities. Having common background can aid in establishing rapport. This stronger bond could result in more (and better) referrals.


Using Your Advantages at Work

Once you get a job, try to connect there with other cultural minorities. Ask them how they’ve been able to leverage their uniqueness. In addition, see if they have suggestions on how not to feel isolated, which can happen if other employees are mostly from majority groups.

Then set your sights on adding value via your distinctiveness. Some examples follow:


Become a Minority Specialist

Stay tuned to the specific concerns and trends of interest to your community. Ask your minority friends what motivates them to choose between various products and services. Blog about these matters and throw in your own opinions.


Serve As A Bridge To Your Community

Your employer may be eager to reach new target audiences. You can serve a vital function beyond becoming a minority specialist. Specifically, you may be able to provide introductions to potential customers and vendors within your cultural group. Or teach sales staff about customs to observe when prospecting in your community.

Beyond that there may be translation to assist with. Negotiations to advise on. Multicultural marketing efforts that need your expertise (including targeted social media campaigns).


Get Involved in Diversity Inreach

Does your employer already have diversity initiatives at work? If so, you can contribute your time and effort. If no such initiatives exist, start up an in-house diversity panel or multicultural group.

Share different ways of problem solving and grievance settling. Explain how you might see things from a different point of view. Introduce novel ways of relating to others.


A Coat of Many Colours

Whatever your ethnicity, country of origin, colour or culture, you can make good use of your differences. Workplace diversity is something to celebrate.

Take advantage of Canada’s openness to people from all backgrounds. Promoting your heritage can help you stand out and fit in.