to address harassment, bullying and discrimination

 with Stephen Hammond

Tip #28 — GAINING AN UNDERSTANDING OF EMPLOYMENT EQUITY HISTORY - 1

It isn't necessary for Canadian businesses to go as far as adopting what most people think of as affirmative action, or quotas. As long as there are no hidden, perceived, or real barriers to employment or services, there is no problem. Only when prejudice and stereotyping result in discrimination do governments step in to regulate equity and fairness so that every citizen has equal access to the same opportunities. Therefore, programs have been created in an attempt to redress discrimination in employment. I think it's important workplace leaders know the Canadian as well as American requirements so they understand the reasoning for equity programs and realize the employment benefits.

 

The American experience is very different and a contrast to what we have in Canada. Despite the fact that the American civil war saw an end to slavery, many African Americans, not just in the South, were denied basic rights into the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the civil rights movement and resulting historical changes to the law. Affirmative action grew out of a desire to achieve equality of results, not just equality of opportunity. While the fourteenth amendment of the U.S. constitution guaranteed equal protection under the law, getting real equality often proved illusive. In 1965 at a commencement address at Howard University, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of the need for "equality as a result," not just equality of opportunity. He said:

 

"You do not take a person who for years, has been hobbled by chains, and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, 'You are free to compete with all the others,' and still justly believe that you have been completely fair."

 

President Johnson and then President Nixon issued executive orders to provide equal opportunities in federal employment and with contractors, based on race, creed, colour, national origin and gender.

 

In Canada, the federal government was looking to examine its own employment deficiencies around June 1983, when then-Employment Minister Lloyd Axworthy created a Royal Commission with Ontario Judge Rosalie Abella at the helm (Abella then went to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada). Judge Abella was to "inquire into the most efficient, effective, and equitable means of promoting equal employment opportunities" in Canada. The result? An examination of eleven federal crown corporations and corporations wholly owned by the Government of Canada.

 

In October 1984, when Abella presented her findings to the government in a report entitled "Equality in Employment," she outlined the wide-ranging and systemic problems facing many Canadians looking for equal employment opportunities.

 

"If...we are not always sure what 'equality' means, most of us have a good understanding of what is 'fair.' And what is happening today in Canada to women, native people, disabled persons, and visible minorities is not fair. It is not fair that many people in these groups have restricted employment opportunities, limited access to decision-making processes that critically affect them, little public visibility as contributing Canadians, and a circumscribed range of options generally. It may be understandable, given history, culture, economics, and even human nature, but by no standard is it fair."

 

She defined the obstacles as higher unemployment, higher over-qualification, occupational segregation, lower wages and limited opportunities for promotions, noting that overall the problem was "systemic."

 

To begin correcting these systemic inequities, Abella proposed employers concentrate on breaking down the barriers that get in the way of true employment opportunities, rather than trying to fill job quotas. She urged employers to examine how they recruit, train, evaluate, advance and even lay off employees. She directed them to look at their pay, benefits, and other components of operation to uncover barriers to the designated groups.

 

It is not that individuals in the [employment equity] designated groups are inherently unable to achieve equality on their own; it is that the obstacles in their way are so formidable and self-perpetuating that they cannot be overcome without intervention.

 

 

SUPERVISORY SUGGESTIONS:

1) Identify barriers - as they are often subtle. They might not be easy to see, so it's best to work with a team who is committed to employment fairness. There are many audit tools around, so you don't have to re-invent the wheel. You may be surprised as to how many barriers to true employment equity there are.

 

2) Set out a plan - to break down the barriers. You can list the things that get in the way of an equitable workplace, such as: broaden where we find candidates; use questions that aren't culturally and gender neutral; ensure the workplace is harassment-free - that sort of thing.

 

3) Prioritize and set deadlines - as this gives you something to work towards. Prioritize those things you can get to the easiest (or perhaps the most difficult) and then work towards a better result. When you've achieved a level of success (because you've already decided what success looks like before hand) then find some way of acknowledging it. We hear of too many failures and not enough successes.

 

This is TIP #28 of 52 WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors. 
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