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A diverse workplace

A majority of employers think their organization is committed to a diverse workplace

Cristina Lavecchia, Editor, HRinfodesk, published by First Reference, September 2016

On February 14, 2016, HRinfodesk conducted a poll asking readers whether their organization is committed to a diverse workplace. A majority responded “yes” (64 percent), 20 percent said that they are “working on it” and 13 percent responded “no”. The remainder of respondents went as far as saying that they “don't know” or “don't care”.

Organizations, including employers, have a number of legal obligations under human rights legislation. Included in this responsibility is ensuring that the workplace is healthy and inclusive, and free from discriminatory or harassing behaviour. By running an organization that is not inclusive, employers run the risk of not only losing valuable employees and not attracting potential good quality employees, but also the danger of a potential human rights complaint.

It's in the numbers

Employers should be mindful of the changing demographics in their province and throughout Canada, in order to ensure that their organization is able to suitably respond.

According to Statistics Canada:

  • Migratory increase is the main source of Canada's population growth. Between 2001 and 2011, migratory increase accounted for close to two-thirds of Canada's population growth. The remaining growth came from natural increase (i.e. the difference between births and deaths). It has been predicted that in the decades to come, migratory increase could become a more important source of population growth in Canada.
  • There is a decline in the number of young people about to enter the labour force for each person exiting. As of July 1, 2013, there was one person aged 15 to 24 (approximating the population about to join the labour force) for each person aged 55 to 64 (approximating the population about to exit the labour force). With the aging of the population, the ratio of 15 to 24 year olds to 55 to 64 year olds is expected to decline during the next 10 years. Potentially there could be more people leaving the labour force than entering it.
  • Most immigrants, in 2012, were admitted to Canada because they were considered to be more likely to stimulate the economy. In 2012, 62.4 percent of all immigrants admitted to Canada were part of the economic category of the immigration policy. The principal applicants were selected for economic reasons. That is, they were considered to be more likely to stimulate the economy or integrate into the labour market given their age, education level and knowledge of Canada's official languages.
  • The overall labour force participation rate is to decline. Although projection scenarios imply a decline in the overall participation rate in the upcoming years, higher participation rates for specific groups could limit the scale of the decline. That is, if labour force participation of women, persons aged 50 and over, immigrants and members of visible minority groups were to increase, this could have more of an impact on the projected decrease than changes in the components of population growth (i.e. fertility, immigration and mortality).

Maintaining a diverse workforce

Given the knowledge of the above numbers, diversity in hiring has come to be viewed as the "thing to do”. Employees with diverse backgrounds and experience can certainly add to the employer's awareness of cultural and economic trends (The Human Resources Advisor).

Now that employers may have employed a more diverse workplace, how can employers effectively maintain it? The following outlines just a few tips employers should consider:

  • A diverse workplace does not mean just providing a workplace that is culturally and racially diverse, but also diverse in age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.
  • Become familiar with, and acknowledge special days, religious holidays and events such as Rosh Hashanah (Oct. 3) International Day of Persons with Disabilities (Dec. 3), Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), just to name a few.
  • Give employees the opportunity to provide feedback. This will help foster an environment of inclusion, as well as combat discrimination, in the workplace.

Human rights issues

Human rights legislation was established to protect individuals from discrimination and harassment. Its objective is to guarantee people equal treatment regardless of their personal characteristics (i.e. age, sex, religion, marital status, etc.).

Ensuring a healthy and inclusive workplace, which includes ensuring its employees' human rights are protected, will also help maintain a diverse workforce. To point employers in the right direction to an inclusive and diverse workplace, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) suggests that employers should implement a strategy to prevent and address human rights issues, which should include:

  1. A plan for preventing, reviewing and removing barriers
  2. Anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies
  3. An internal complaints procedure
  4. An accommodation policy and procedure
  5. An education and training program

According to the OHRC, an effective strategy will combine all of the above parts and should include commitment from senior levels of an organization and consultation with employees. The OHRC further advises that any policies, plans and procedures should be:

  • appropriate for the size, complexity and culture of the organization, and that it is essential that they are communicated effectively to employees and other people in the workplace.
  • reviewed and revised regularly so they stay up-to-date and effective.

The majority of the provinces have their own human rights commission, which provide useful resources for employers in relation to diversity and employment equity. Links to the commissions and such resources are as follows:

Alberta Human Rights Commission

British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal

Manitoba Human Rights Commission

New Brunswick Human Rights Commission

Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission

Northwest Territories Human Rights Commission

Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission

Prince Edward Island Human Rights Commission

(Quebec) Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse

Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission

Yukon Human Rights Commission