with Stephen Hammond
Tip #13 — UNDERSTANDING EMPLOYMENT EQUITY — 2
Less than two years after Judge Rosalie Abella presented her findings to the government in a report entitled "Equality in Employment," the federal government announced the Federal Employment Equity Act (which covered federally regulated companies with one hundred employees or more), a Federal Contractors program, and an employment equity policy. Since then, the federal government has reinforced and enacted new legislation to ensure that the principles of employment equity continue. These programs mean that if your business falls under federal jurisdiction (banks, airlines, etc.) or you have a sizable contract with the federal government, you have to show the government you are an equal opportunity employer and have actual programs in place to prove your policy is more than mere words.
How does this relate to your workplace if you aren’t covered by federal regulation? Depending on your provincial, territorial or municipal jurisdiction, you may have employment equity requirements of your own. If you don't, all Canadians, including employers, must abide by the requirements of a human rights act or code, and these often spell out or allow for programs equivalent to employment equity. In other words, even if your provincial human rights code does not force you to have employment equity programs, it may allow you to do so voluntarily. This is also true with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Hence, employment equity is meant to level the playing field, and when the playing field is too uneven, employers are allowed to create special programs that can deal with past or present wrongs. For example, an employer can set up a special recruitment drive encouraging women to apply for work in a male dominated workplace. All women would still have to meet the needed criteria, but the employer could spend some time seeking out women to apply. Another example could involve creating a mentor program for Indigenous employees already on the job, as a way of assisting them in keeping their jobs, and making sure they don't receive negative attention based on stereotypes.
Lots of people regard these types of special programs as reasonable, while others consider them unfair interventionist programs, and that gets their goat. Even where we believe in equal opportunities, most of us have difficulty understanding how severe the barriers are for people traditionally outside the mainstream employment process. So inevitably, some look at employment equity programs as favouring designated groups rather than levelling the playing field.
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me there were massive quota systems going on in Canada, I'd be writing this from my beach-front mansion in Tahiti. Yes, there are cases where workplaces actively make spaces available for people in designated groups. But more often, there is nothing even closely resembling a quota system at work. After a few people swore on their mother's grave that "x" organization is not hiring white males, I called up “x” to find the real story. I discovered each time that either it was greatly exaggerated, or there was no truth at all to such rumours.
Here's an example. Often people tell me there is a hiring freeze for white males in the RCMP. The reality is that there is a strong push to recruit Indigenous Canadians, in hopes they'll address crime and crime prevention within Canada's fastest growing population group. The RCMP holds open a number of places while recruiting Indigenous people, but in the end, after they've hired officers who meet the necessary criteria, Indigenous people make up a small percentage of the officers hired. Most new RCMP officers look a lot like me: white male (except they're younger and in better shape). The reality is a long way from the perception that white males need not apply.
1) Want to know where you stand? - as not all employers want to. Some employers want to (or have to, if part of the contractors program) know how many people working for them are part of the designated groups. This allows you to see how you're doing compared to the employable population base in your area. Some employers don't want to get into the numbers game, so just go right into breaking down barriers and hope the results will come.
2) Identify some simple programs - to help reflect the community. There are many simple things to be done, such as active recruiting or advertising to attract people from various communities and backgrounds. If you want more women in a male dominated workplace, then you can set up programs to give women more information about the skills required or help them through a maze that perhaps many men already know about.
3) Educate employees - else the rumour mill will do it for you. And badly. If you change criteria to get people in the door, let employees know. And be sure to spell it out. If nothing is changed, so there are still important standards, then let employees know that. Otherwise they'll assume all standards have been tossed out the window and the people being recruited are lesser candidates.
This is TIP #13 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors.
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