with Stephen Hammond
Tip #14 — UNDERSTANDING EMPLOYMENT EQUITY — 3
When Canadian employers want to better reflect their community, they usually just implement programs to level the playing field. However, when there is a quota system, its existence stems from years of human rights neglect that the tribunals and courts will no longer tolerate. One of the earliest examples in Canada happened many years ago. In 1987 women made up 13% of employees in non-traditional jobs throughout Canada. However at the Canadian National Railway (CNR), it was only 0.7%.
Years earlier, the Quebec group, Action Travail des Femmes complained to the Federal Human Rights Commission, stating that CNR was discriminating against women in their hiring and promotion practices. The Commission set up a Human Rights Tribunal to consider a "class" complaint after 155 complaints had been lodged against CNR by February of 1982. When proceeding to the Supreme Court of Canada, then-Chief Justice Brian Dixon maintained that evidence clearly established that Canadian National's recruitment, hiring and promotion policies "prevented and discouraged women from working on blue collar jobs." In fact, CNR's pattern of discrimination against women was widespread.
- Virtually excluded from the out-reach recruitment programs
- Not given information about filling non-traditional positions
- Strongly discouraged from applying for non-traditional jobs, and strongly encouraged to apply for secretarial jobs
- Not told clearly the qualifications needed to fill certain jobs
- Required to take physical tests of strength that no man was asked to take
- Expected to have welding experience for jobs where no welding took place
- Subjected to sexual harassment and comments that implied they were taking work away from men
Therefore, in 1987, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a decision of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, ordering CNR to hire one woman for every four non-traditional jobs filled until they got to the national average of women in non-traditional jobs in Canada.
The federal Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court of Canada wanted to ensure women were given the same opportunities as men at CNR. Yet, this case is often misunderstood or misstated with many Canadians thinking CNR was forced into an affirmative action program to hire women or to give them preferential treatment for some kind of politically correct experiment. Instead, this decision was designed to correct the outrageous discrimination women had faced for decades at this company. As Dixon emphasized, the program was "designed to break a continuing cycle of systemic discrimination" and to "ensure that future applicants and workers from the affected group will not face the same insidious barriers."
1) Take a hard look - and it might not be pretty. I heard a saying that whomever discovered water wasn’t a fish. When it's around us, we often don't see it and when it comes to barriers that disadvantage certain groups, that usually means those barriers have created an advantage for others. If you're part of the advantaged group, it's tough to give up that advantage.
2) Talk to those affected - in a reasonable way. You don't want a town hall meeting to bring everyone together, but you can ask questions of those who got in or those who are having trouble getting in. And just listen without getting defensive.
3) If you have problems, fix them - before someone else forces you to. Don't get caught with a long drawn-out complaint when you have the chance to make changes yourself. Learn from the mistakes of others and avoid the bad publicity.
This is TIP #14 of 26 BI-WEEKLY TIPS for managers and supervisors.
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