News and Announcements

"Just Be Yourself" Not Viewed a Viable Option by Many Visible Minorities in the Workplace

New Catalyst study findings reveal workplace fit, negative stereotyping, and preconceptions of leadership qualities are barriers to career advancement for visible minorities

According to a new study examining workplace fit and stereotyping in corporate Canada, many visible minority managers, professionals, and executives believe that they need to “Canadianize” themselves in order to get ahead. For some that means downplaying ethnicity and speaking English or French without an identifiable accent in order to succeed in the Canadian workplace, the study reveals.

In this fourth report of its groundbreaking research series on visible minorities in corporate Canada, Career Advancement in Corporate Canada: A Focus on Visible Minorities ~ Workplace Fit and Stereotyping, Catalyst identifies issues that impact career advancement for visible minorities, focusing specifically on crucial aspects of how these groups fit into the work environment, what they experience as stereotyping, and how they are perceived as leaders.

The Catalyst study underscores that visible minorities  are critical to the performance of Canadian companies and firms in an increasing global and competitive marketplace, now and in the future. With this in mind, the report provides recommendations on how Canada’s largest businesses can create inclusive environments in which visible minorities and the organizations which employ them can succeed in better utilizing their talents and reap the full benefits of diversity.

“As Canadians, we celebrate all that diversity brings to our country and communities,” said Deborah Gillis, Vice President, North America, Catalyst. “But when the message delivered to visible minorities working in our largest businesses is that they must blend in to get ahead, the potential to fully leverage diversity as a source of competitive advantage is being compromised.” 

Key findings from the study include:

  • Advancement for visible minorities may necessitate their downplaying aspects of their cultural background, such as having an identifiable accent that does not “fit” the prevailing image of leaders in their organizations.
  • Some East Asians and South Asians who felt they understood Canadian idioms and were familiar with Canadian culture, particularly those whose families had been in Canada for generations, expressed comfort with how they fit within Canadian business organizations. However, other visible minorities stated that their chances of acceptance and promotion at work are tied to how “Canadianized” they are.
  • East Asians reported being stereotyped as “hard working but not sociable” while South Asians reported being considered “outsiders” and “foreigners” in spite of the length of time they had spent in Canada.
  • Blacks faced a dramatic difference in workplace challenges as compared to their South and East Asian colleagues. More negative stereotyping and an extremely limited number of similar role models combined to create a sense of isolation and limited opportunities for black managers, professionals, and executives.
  • In multicultural workplaces, “political correctness” can impede advancement of visible minorities to the extent that it makes it difficult for organizational members to address arising tensions.
  • While many organizations are committed to building inclusive work environments, imperfect execution of diversity programs can hinder career advancement for visible minority managers, professionals, and executives. An added barrier is that white/Caucasians are more likely to believe that diversity efforts are successful than are blacks or Asians.

“The market has diversified extensively in the last five years,” said Zabeen Hirji, Chief Human Resources Officer at RBC, the lead sponsor of the study, “And we've understood that to serve the market, we need to hire the market. Companies with talent management systems that capture the full value of diversity are more likely to attract and retain the best. Achieving full diversity is a journey that requires ongoing dialogue and focus inside organizations and across our communities. As the Catalyst study shows there is still a great deal of work to be done.”

To help Canadian organizations fully leverage the diversity and talent of their visible minority employees, Catalyst recommends:

  • Organizations create inclusive environments where visible minorities can spend less time focused on overcoming stereotypes and more time on contributing to organizational performance. Senior leaders can develop inclusive workplaces by building a strong business case, addressing the concerns of majority groups, and ensuring that leadership competencies are clear and allow for a variety of styles.
  • Recognize that negative stereotyping exists in the workplace and address it. Avoid political correctness or politeness as a barrier to dealing with this problem.
  • Visible minorities should aim to familiarize themselves with their organizations and be prepared to navigate less-than-perfect workplace environments. Changing an organization is a long-term activity, and realistically many visible minority managers, professionals, and executives will find themselves employed in business organizations that are less than fully inclusive. 

RBC is the study’s lead sponsor. Deloitte and Touche LLP and IBM Canada are the participating sponsors. The Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration is the supporting sponsor.

To review the Catalyst study and a complete account of recommendations, please visit For more information, please contact Charmain Emerson, Building Blocks Communications, 416-588-8514 (work), 416-857-9401 (cell), [email protected]; or Susan Nierenberg, Catalyst, 646-388-7744 (direct), 212-514-7600 ext. 333 (work), [email protected]


Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization working globally with businesses and the professions to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and the support of more than 370 member organizations, Catalyst is the premier resource for research, information, and trusted advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women’s advancement with the Catalyst Award.