The City of Vancouver tapped cultural competence
For Wendy Au, the equation is simple.
“To meet your customers’ needs, you have to really understand your customers,” says Au, an elegant and gracious woman who has over three decades of experience with city administration.
“Our customers are the residents of the city. Today, for 52% of Vancouver residents, English is not their mother tongue. To serve them well, simply translating programs into other languages isn’t enough. For effective design and implementation of our programs, we need staff who really understand all the cultures in our very diverse city,” says Au.
“For example, how do you ensure that neighbourhood planning meets the needs of the women who live there, when women from certain cultures aren’t culturally encouraged to attend the kind of meetings where we traditionally solicit input? Our staff have devised some very clever workarounds to obtain the feedback we need, so that we make the best use of taxpayer dollars. But our staff could only do that because they have the cultural expertise,” Au explains.
That’s why the City of Vancouver considers integrating immigrants into their workforce essential. In fact, the city has been a local leader in immigrant integration over the past several decades. Au sees it as a process which starts from the top.
“You need committed leadership, and you have to reallocate resources. To make it work, we’ve done training throughout the organization, and we’ve also hired people who can help do the bridging,” says Au.
Another factor is that the City of Vancouver is facing a demographic crunch. Approximately 35% to 40% of the City’s employees will be eligible to retire in the next five to ten years. However, instead of seeing this as a crisis, Au sees it as an opportunity to recruit staff from diverse backgrounds who will be able to relate to — and effectively serve — the City’s increasingly diverse population.
“We want people to feel proud that Vancouver is their city, and to do that, people have to feel that they are welcome, and that their needs as citizens are being met. We are well on our way, and over the next ten years it’s only going to get better,” Au concludes with a delighted smile.