Last year I was asked to lead the Employment Equity Compliance Assessment program for SAP Canada.  For those unfamiliar with Employment Equity, it’s a program with mandatory participation for those with Federal Contractor status.  The first step to compliance was to survey the employee population.  In this survey we identified employees who fell into the four protected groups in Canada: Aboriginal People, Disabled people, Women and Visible Minorities. Once these groups are identified the results were further analysed based on the National Occupational Class (NOC) codes.  Next, we were asked to create a listing of short- and long-term numerical goals to address any representation gaps.  Then all of it got submitted and shortly thereafter: approved.  While this entire process sounds daunting… and it can be… it’s an excellent way to get data to build a concrete diversity strategy.  But it’s not without its flaws.

“It’s an excellent way to get data to build a concrete diversity strategy. But it’s not without its flaws.”

Our survey results were not incongruent with industry averages, yet I still found myself questioning the approach and its effectiveness at creating diverse and inclusive workplaces.  It’s very difficult get analytical insight from the survey numbers.  Employment Equity analysis doesn’t offer employers solutions to resolving their gaps in equity, it just identifies that they exist and asks employers to commit to resolving them.  While this is no doubt still a powerful tool in challenging systemic issues in equality, finding best practices on breaking down those barriers is still a very real problem.

Workplace legal compliance consultant, Tomee Sojourner challenges us as employment equity professionals in her article on Reflections on Employment Equity: Smooth Sailing or Rocky Road?  to generate fresh sustainable efforts to directly address intersectional and diverse forms of racism in the workplace. For those not familiar, intersectionality is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of discrimination and how these interact on multiple levels.  This means that when investigating gaps in employment professionals who support employment equity must look beyond more than simply the Protected Group status.  This means listening to the voices that come from those groups.  Challenge accepted.

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We need to rethink this thing. Here are my thoughts:

The first step is in developing an intersectional mindset on bridging gaps in employment of Protected Groups within organisations.  This involves looking at the experience in a macro view of the workplace.  Take Aboriginal employees as an example.  There is a small group of aboriginal employees to hire from, especially those with professional skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  Taking an intersectional approach means that we must consider the additional cultural and social issues aboriginal people face when entering STEM.  This changes the challenge in hiring Protected Groups from a recruitment issue to an employability issue and an access issue.  Instead we have to explore ‘making’ talent pools rather than fishing in them.  It forces us to critically identify barriers to employment these individuals face when preparing themselves to enter the workforce, existing structures that may prevent them from being considered as a candidate and how we can ensure these individuals have access to roles within our organisation.

The second step is to recognize that Employment Equity data is actionable data.  In our analysis, SAP was downright progressive in our employment of Visible Minorities.  It would be easy to move on from this because there is no gap. That’s a missed opportunity to understand our workforce.  We should ask: why are we so successful?  Is this is largely due to the pervasiveness of our programs which allow individuals to immigrate to Canada?  If so, this could be a shareable best-practice.

“Employment Equity data is actionable data”

We can ask more questions on this so we can calibrate our processes to be more inclusive. Part of that is listening to the cacophony of voices that represents the multicultural workforce. For those who don’t know: the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) has been tasked to act on behalf of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Employment and Social Development Canada to conduct nationwide consultations with employers, or their representatives, on existing Employment Equity legislation in Canada.  I was honoured by the opportunity to participate in this national discussion.  I am excited to see if the work that the CCDI is doing can tap into the needs of Canadians to provide a system of equality that considers more biological, social and cultural categories in assessment.

For now, we’ll work on the third step in my personal process: action.  Please let me know in the comments any cool solutions or best practices that you’ve come up with.

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