Systemic racism impacts almost every aspect of life in our society and combating it directly is not a future imperative, but a current one. For workplaces looking to make an impact, recognizing the problem is great, but true progress is the result of concrete action. Turning the tide of inequality will involve sustained effort, creating conditions for success before, during, and after an employment.
Eliminating Recruitment Bias
The recruitment process provides an opportunity to increase diversity in the workplace. However, too often conscious and unconscious bias results in minority candidates being passed over. Seeking diversity in recruitment is not only a moral imperative, but a business one. Casting a wider net will result in a deeper pool of prospective candidates and a more diverse staff not only improves office morale but provides a variety of viewpoints from which to draw.
To receive a more diverse set of applicants, companies should promote their job openings in a wider range of places, while also appealing to a more diverse pool of candidates by positioning themselves as a company that values diversity, inclusion, and equity. Those responsible for hiring decisions should work to be aware of their own bias. A well written job description can be the basis for objective hiring and can combat the tendency for people to simply hire those that remind them of themselves. Last, but not least, technology can be used to filter applicants based on written test results or other objective measures, de-emphasizing name, year of birth, and other factors that can lead to discrimination.
A Holistic Approach to Diversity in the Workplace
Simply waiting for diverse candidates to emerge ignores the reality that inequality of opportunity begins far in advance of the job search. While Black Lives Matter dominated the headlines in 2020, Canadians were also forced to grapple with the legacy of systemic inequality that has affected the Indigenous peoples of Canada throughout our country’s history.
In an effort to recruit and develop Indigenous talent, some companies have taken a proactive approach to fostering success before, during, and even after employment.
Many large employers have created outreach programs in an effort to create stronger ties and increase recruitment efforts within Indigenous communities.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada employ a department elder who provides advice and guidance to Indigenous students working at the department, while offering a recruitment initiative designed to provide opportunities for students to transition to the workplace after their education is complete.1 Health Canada’s Aboriginal Employee Development initiative provides career management services and a summer student program that helps students gain public service experience.1
Toronto lawyer Ryan Watkins also favours a community approach, advocating for a greater degree of participation from lawyers at schools and career fairs. A reported 3.2% of Ontario’s lawyers are black, a troubling statistic that Watkins would like to see addressed.
“In some communities, they’ve never encountered a lawyer before. And so, bridging that gap to put a human face on the profession, I think we need more of that,” Watkins says.2
Diversity Goals and Partnerships
Efforts to ensure diversity in the workplace must come from the top down and extend past good intentions into the realm of quantifiable results. Calgary’s Shaw Communications have established an Executive Diversity Committee that is responsible for building talent pipelines and increasing the representation of women, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities.1 The company tracks the results of this program on a quarterly basis through a diversity index.
Canadian companies that wish to access the untapped resource of unemployed and underemployed individuals with intellectual disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorder can do so in conjunction with the Ready, Willing and Able program. The organization’s website states that “Experience-based evidence from organizations around the world proves that organizations can build engaged, efficient and high-functioning teams through inclusive hiring.”3
Fostering inclusiveness and positioning employees for career development can benefit greatly from ongoing support initiatives. Home Depot and PepsiCo Canada, both of whom incidentally partner with Ready, Willing and Able, have invested in employee support programs.
Home Depot’s ‘Women in Leadership’ initiative offers speed mentoring sessions and other professional development events which aim to improve career opportunities for female employees. 1
PepsiCo, also organizes ‘mentorship circles’ for their female employees in the form of their Women’s Inclusion Network. In addition to this employee resource group, they maintain five others: Mosaic (Afro-Heritage), EnAble, Asian Network, EQUAL (LGBT), and Connect (multi-generational). 1
Companies are expected to develop and sustain programs and actions designed to promote diversity, equality and inclusion. Those who do so in a meaningful way will be rewarded with a productive workforce and high employee morale. Those who fail to live up to this expectation will suffer through sub-optimal company culture and a damaged reputation in the marketplace.