Saturday, August 01, 2009

Denying discrimination

Sometime ago, I received a letter in my inbox here in Toronto saying that “the new Filipino can compete very well with citizens of even first class countries who’ve had first class education in Ivy League schools.” The letter-writer was quoting from an earlier report published by a Philippine business advisory firm who interviewed the CEO’s of top companies in the Philippines about their assessment of the country’s economy.

Later, I was told that he was organizing a new group of young Filipino professionals in Toronto for the purpose of rebranding the group as part of the new and successful global Filipino, which corresponds with the Philippine government’s latest plan to market Filipino knowledge workers overseas. This group is heavily steeped in information technology and many of its prospective members are equipped with MBAs and PhDs.

It was gratifying to know that young Filipino professionals migrating to Toronto are on the rise. Thirty years before, most Filipino immigrants to Canada had only a BA or BS under their belts but many of them weathered the pitfalls and traps that gathered along the uneasy trail of the new immigrants’ transition period and eventually made inroads in their careers, whether a second one or in their original career path.

But what continues to perplex me was the seeming confusion among these young Filipinos about their integration in Canada’s workforce. At one point they lament that their academic credentials—those diplomas earned from Philippine schools—are not being recognized by Canadian employers. They also bewail their work experience in the Philippines not being given due credit because Canadian employers prefer actual work experience in Canada.

An advisor for the group further explained that these newcomers are having problems in adjusting to Canadian society and corporate culture because their schools [in the Philippines] did not prepare them for work in Canada where their degrees would not be recognized.

Something appears dissonant in this group’s argument or purpose for rebranding themselves.

If today’s young Filipino professionals can compete with those armed with foreign academic credentials or foreign citizens schooled in their backyard, why do they have difficulty convincing Canadian employers about the worth of their education?

Why are they blaming their schools in the Philippines for not preparing them for Canadian integration?

The above questions may sound being too critical but necessary for us to gain a fuller understanding of the issues at hand. We have to open up the issues in order to engage in an honest and intelligent dialogue which will help in illuminating our perception of what besets our young professionals in their job or career search and what practical advice we, their elders who have walked on the same paths before, can offer.

It is quite obvious that the group is ignoring or does not heed the results of various studies that have been conducted by reputable organizations concerning the impact of racial discrimination in employment of minorities, especially newly-arrived immigrants. A Ryerson University study, for instance, pointed out that racial discrimination in employment in Canada is an affront to the principle and aspirations of equality for all its citizens.

The study also highlighted that minorities, although they constituted the largest number of new entrants to the workforce, have not fared well in the labour market. New immigrants, according to the study, continue to sustain a double-digit income gap and higher rate of unemployment.

“Not only does it rob the economy of a valuable resource in a competitive global environment, it undermines the competitiveness of Canadian business at home and abroad,” the study underscores.

To be in a state of denial will not help this group effectively identify the ways through which young Filipino professionals, with only Philippine credentials to bank on, can fully integrate into the Canadian employment sector where their qualifications are given due weight and their compensation fairly corresponds to their skills. At most, the group will become a weekly or monthly get-together over a few drinks. The leaders of the group may not have great expectations in the outcome of their efforts since they have their Canadian MBAs in the first place, thus they are marketable and in demand, compared to their poorer Filipino cousins who were trained in Philippine schools.

The other inconsistency about this group’s initiative is their avowal that the Philippines did not prepare them in joining the Canadian labour market, hence why their academic credentials are not recognized.

This is a preposterous argument. The Philippine educational system, in the first place, is not designed to produce graduates for overseas employment. If that were the case, then all Filipinos who find work overseas or migrate to foreign lands or their foreign employers should be asked to reimburse the Philippine government of its expenses in providing them with their training and education. This would also make it even easier for foreign governments to simply reduce their education budgets and rely more on foreign hiring, which is similar to rich countries poaching on the rich manpower pool of poor and developing countries. Shoppers Drug Mart, for one, has been criticized for its practice of targeting skilled pharmacists from South Africa and bringing them over to Canada. The same with the practice of the United States and Canada of raiding Philippine schools for nurses to fill up the shortage of nurses in many of their hospitals.

Opening up opportunities for employment in the Canadian labour market must begin with the conscious recognition and acceptance that racial discrimination is still prevalent in the employment of minorities, particularly new immigrants. Until such time that all vestiges of racism are eliminated, equality in employment will always remain an elusive dream, a noble policy, yet unattainable.

At the same time, new immigrants and minorities must always be vigilant in demanding equal treatment in the workplace and anywhere in the whole spectrum of Canadian society. The success of a few professionals is not the most reliable yardstick for integration; at most, it only shows cracks in the glass ceiling because the whole barrier to equality remains intact.

Many second-generation Filipino-Canadians have tasted the sweet smell of success in their chosen careers, whether in government or in the private sector. There is no doubt that their upbringing and education in Canada positioned them well to achieve success. However, it is the plight of the new Filipino immigrants, professionals or skilled workers that really causes a big concern, because like the Filipino immigrants of old, they have to struggle against discrimination in employment and in the workplace.

The idea that we are discriminating against ourselves borders on the ludicrous. That we are the ones to be blamed for our own sorry mess. This kind of thinking which is being perpetuated by this group of new Filipino professionals is very worrisome. For one, it goes against the grain of truth exposed by the findings of reputable surveys about discrimination in employment, and puts down people whom they brand as “losers,” those who are victims of discrimination. They don’t realize that most victims of discrimination are real and actual casualties of a racially biased and inequitable system and not mere concoctions of the imagination, or what they call “victim mentality.”

We should not allow success to turn us into behaving like beasts, without compassion for those who lose or fail or fall in between the cracks. The recent collapse of well-entrenched Wall Street companies that thrived on greed should be a constant reminder to all of us that winning or amassing wealth is not everything.

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