Cayman’s diverse workforce

When considering diversity in the workplace in the Cayman
Islands, many people think in terms of nationality.  With more than 110 nationalities represented
here, most workplaces resemble a mini-United Nations gathering.
 

However, the diversity in Cayman’s workplaces goes far
beyond just nationality, and also includes factors such as culture, gender,
race, education, religion, political alliance, wealth and even language to a
certain extent.

Difference is implicit in the concept of diversity and
having so much difference in workplaces can and does create conflict.

But there
are advantages to having diversity in the workplace as well, says Samantha
Nehra, president of the Cayman Islands Society of Human Resources Professionals,
who believes diversity in the workplace should be embraced and fostered.   

“Diversity brings different perspectives, which in turn
brings innovation and creative thinking,” Nehra says.

“If we all think the
same, problem solving is a problem! The most successful organisations actively
embrace and promote diversity in their employee base because they know they
will get better results.”

Mario Ebanks, the senior consultant and project leader of
Premier Solutions Group and former president of the Cayman Islands Society of
Human Resources Professionals, calls the Cayman Islands “a rich global melting
pot of cultures and nationalities”. 

With
all of Cayman’s diversity, Ebanks says it’s important that staff members
understand each other and can work together for the good of the business.

“As a
service economy, it is important that all employees who are providing these
services to visiting and international clientele are efficient and working as a
unified and focused team,” he says.

However, getting a diverse workplace staff working together
takes some effort, Nehra says.

“Organisations must have cultural and diversity
awareness programmes. If they do not, there is a potential for misunderstanding
between employees, which can then lead to conflict.”

Dealing with conflict 

Julie McLaughlin, the director of mediation and facilitation
services at Solutions Ltd., says diversity breeds conflict. “Many interpersonal
conflicts in the workplace result from the varying ways different people view
the world,” she says.

“We generally respond best to people who are like us
because we can better understand their behaviour. However, when people are
different from us, we may not understand them or trust them as much.”

However, McLaughlin says conflict can be good for a
business, if it is managed well.

“One of the major myths about conflict is that
it is always negative,” she says.

“Yes, unmanaged workplace conflict drains
organisational resources as significant amounts of time, money and emotional
energy are spent dealing with conflicts at the expense of focusing on job
expectations and responsibilities.  However, conflict in the workplace is
not always bad.”

Working through conflict in constructive ways can create
fresh insights that result in unique solutions, McLaughlin says “the distinction
between bad conflict and good conflict comes in terms of how it is managed.

Especially when working with diverse individuals within a group, if conflict
created by group members’ differing viewpoints and opinions – upbringing,
culture, race, experience, education, occupation, socio-economic class, etc. –
are highlighted and managed effectively, the resulting discussion can act as a
catalyst for progress and a positive tool for growth.”

Celebrating diversity 

Nehra says that organisations that prescribe to best human
resources practices often have strong diversity and cultural awareness
programmes in place.

“They celebrate different customs, indulge in foods from
different nations during organised socials or lunches, share stories of their
upbringing and also have Cayman culture and heritage programmes,” she says.

“This promotes harmony and acceptance of differences. Without such programmes
there is always the potential for misunderstandings.”

As part of a celebrating diversity policy, McLaughlin says businesses
should consciously create a workplace environment where employees are
comfortable voicing different constructive opinions.

“Not only does this
encourage more fluid communication, but also allows for the positive results of
the ensuing conflict to be identified, managed and optimised.”

Orientation  

Ebanks is a big advocate of orientation programmes for new
employees.

Over the years, Ebanks says he’s seen and developed several
successful orientation programmes that have contributed to the job satisfaction,
productivity and retention of good employees. He’s also recommended a national
orientation programme be developed to provide a comprehensive guide to incoming
first-time foreign workers, similar to what the Education Department provides
each year for new teachers.

“This cultural orientation programme would also include the
Department of Tourism and the National Cultural Foundation,” he says.

“If
Caymanians understand their non-Caymanians co-workers better, and if
non-Caymanian employees better appreciate the finer details of the Caymanian
culture and sensitivities, then I feel that this would be a recipe for
transforming the collective service delivery and productivity of the Cayman
Islands from good to great.”

Some organisations already try to sensitise foreign workers
to Caymanian culture, Nehra says.

“I have seen organisations that provide
a tour of Cayman for new employees, taking them to the National Archive, Pedro
Castle, the [National] Museum and local restaurants like Champion House as part
of their orientation programme,” she says.

“This is particularly useful for
expat employees.”

But such programmes aren’t only for expatriates. Nehra says
she knows of one organisation that has a half-day programme where all types of
diversity is explored, including age, genders, politics, personality
and more.

Government policies 

The Cayman Islands Government indirectly tries to promote
nationality diversity through the Immigration Law Regulations by favouring
applications from a wider nationality base. 
 

The real aim of these policies is to prevent any foreign
nationalities from having too large a presence here. As a result, getting a
work permit approved for someone from a country that already has thousands of
other people here can be more difficult than getting one for someone from a
country that only has small number of work permit holders already here.

In addition, the points system for the Permanent Residence
Assessment awards more points to applicants who have fewer countrymen here on
work permits.

The reasoning is discussed in the Immigration Regulations
(2010 Revision).

“The Board may take into consideration the desirability of
granting permanent residence to applicants with different backgrounds and from
different geographical areas in order to maintain a suitable balance in social
and economic life of the country,” it states.

These policies have the effect of encouraging employers to
recruit from the widest national range, with the one provision being that
applicants should have a basic understanding of the English language, both
spoken and written.

Although Cayman Islands law allows for certain kinds of
discrimination in the workplace when it comes to hiring – namely the preference
of Caymanians over non-Caymanians – legislation that outlaws discrimination on
the basis of gender was introduced in June 2011. 

The Gender Equality Bill makes it illegal for
anyone to discriminate in hiring, pay or workplace opportunity on the basis of
a person’s gender, with a few exceptions based on the type of job sought.

Women have been prominent in most workplaces in Cayman for
decades, but the legislation further ensures gender diversity in all but a few
jobs.

With regard to age, the
government civil service and some private sector companies, particularly in the
finance industry, require retirement at the age of 60. 

However, many private sector businesses
retain employees beyond the age of 60 and there’s been a trend in the civil
service in recent years to extend the employment of key civil servants through
post-retirement contracts.