Employment Equity

Equity is the guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all. It requires the identification and elimination of barriers that prevent the full participation of some individuals and groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations in the social areas of employment, the provision of goods and services, as well as living accommodations. Redressing unbalanced conditions is needed to achieve equality of opportunity for all groups.

Employment Equity is a program designed to ensure that all job applicants and employees have a fair chance in the workplace. It is achieved when no person is denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to their abilities.

An employment equity program attempts to achieve:

  • A workforce that reflects the diversity of the available labour force
  • Employment systems, policies and practices that support the recruitment, retention and promotion of designated group members
  • Employment systems that ensure all employees have an equitable opportunity to develop their abilities, realize their expectations and make the best contribution possible to the workplace

Historically, examinations of occupations, careers patterns, and unemployment rates have indicated serious disparities between the labour force experiences of members of the designated groups (women, visible minorities, Aboriginal (Indigenous) persons, and persons with disabilities). To address these disparities, the Canadian government passed into law a set of regulations, the Federal Contractors Program (1986) and the Employment Equity Act (1996), to ensure that no one is denied employment opportunities and benefits for reasons unrelated to ability. Employment equity ensures that systemic barriers faced by designated group members are identified and eliminated.

The term ‘systemic barriers’ refers to situations, policies and/or practices, which unfairly exclude members of the designated groups from taking part in the workplace. These “barriers” are varied and can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • sexism, racism or prejudices which manifest in the workplace
  • physical barriers which prevent persons with disabilities from accessing or participating fully in the workplace
  • lack of access to education or training
  • lack of accommodation of family responsibilities (caregivers of young children or elderly parents)
  • impact of child rearing responsibilities on the tenure and promotion process
  • "chilly climate": environment which has the effect of excluding or undermining a person or a group of people in a working environment
  • lack of awareness of cross-cultural issues (particularly in communications)

The Federal Contractors Program (FCP) was initiated by Cabinet in 1986. The FCP applies to provincially regulated employers with a workforce in Canada of 100 or more employees. Specifically, the FCP applies to contractors – those provincially regulated employers which receive federal government goods or services contracts of $200 000 or more. As a condition of bidding on federal contracts, contractors are required to certify in writing their commitment to employment equity. Contractors that do not honour their commitment to employment equity and are found non-compliant with program criteria may lose the right to receive further federal government contracts.

Affirmative Action is a process by which equality in the workplace is achieved through the active elimination of systemic discrimination. Affirmative Action measures are pro-active, temporary measures designed to remedy the effects of discrimination against members of the designated groups, Aboriginal (Indigenous) peoples, persons with disabilities, visible minorities, and women. Affirmative Action through an Employment Equity program strives to "level the playing field" for all employees.

No, the purpose of employment equity is to hire qualified candidates; it is not to hire unqualified workers simply to meet numerical goals. Employment equity respects the ‘merit principle’ and encourages the selection, hiring, training, promotion and retention of qualified individuals.

"The biggest injustice is to treat equally things which are unequal"- Aristotle.

Experience and social research show that equality of rights or equal treatment is not sufficient to achieve equality of opportunities in society and in the workplace. This is why employment equity programs have been created, to overcome these inequities and to enhance employment opportunities for members of the designated groups. Employment equity means treating everyone with fairness, taking into account people’s differences. Instead of quotas, employers set targets for measuring progress in hiring workers from the four designated groups.

Systemic discrimination occurs when groups of people are excluded from the workplace for reasons not related to job requirements. It results from entrenched policies or practices that are part of the normal operation of employment systems which unintentionally discriminate. Often hidden, systemic discrimination has an adverse affect on Aboriginal (Indigenous) peoples, persons with disabilities, visible minorities, and women.

Managers assume that because the workplace is a university, the best candidates for clerical positions are those with a university degree.

This constitutes systemic discrimination because the job requirements for clerical work can usually be met very well without a university degree. The degree requirement may exclude many qualified people.

In 1984, Judge Rosalie Abella was commissioned by the Government of Canada to examine equality in employment. The Commission on Equality in Employment, 1984 (The Abella Commission) found that individuals from four designated groups experienced systemic discrimination and were excluded from equal participation in the labour market. As a whole, they experienced higher levels of unemployment or underemployment, lower pay for equal qualifications and lower participation in positions of authority. The four designated groups are:

  1. Women

  2. A person with a disability has a long-term or recurring physical, mental, sensory, psychiatric or learning impairment and who consider themselves to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of that impairment, or believe that an employer or potential employer is likely to consider her/him to be disadvantaged in employment by reason of the impairment and includes persons whose functional limitations owing to her/his impairment have been accommodated in her/his current job or workplace. Examples of disabilities include, but are not limited to the following:

    • Co-ordination or dexterity impairment (difficulty using hands or arms)
    • Mobility impairment (difficulty moving around, for example, from one office to another or up and down stairs)
    • Blind or visual impairment (unable to see or difficulty seeing)
    • Deaf or hard of hearing impairment (unable to hear or difficulty hearing)
    • Speech impairment (unable to speak or difficulty speaking and being understood)
    • Other disability (including learning disabilities, developmental disabilities and all other types of disabilities)
  3. An Aboriginal person is a North American Indian or a member of a First Nation, a Métis, or Inuit. North American Indians or members of a First Nation include status, treaty or registered Indians, as well as non-status and non-registered Indians.
    • North American Indian/First Nation
    • Métis
    • Inuit
  4. A member of a visible minority group in Canada is someone (other than an Aboriginal (Indigenous) person as defined in 3 above) who is non-white in colour/race, regardless of place of birth. Examples of visible minorities/racialized groups include the following:
    • Black
    • Chinese
    • Filipino
    • Japanese
    • Korean
    • South Asian/East Indian (including Indian from India; Bangladeshi; Pakistani)
    • East Indian (from Guyana, Trinidad, East Africa, etc.)
    • Non-white West Asian, North African or Arab (including Egyptian; Libyan; Lebanese; Iranian, etc.)
    • Non-white Latin American (including indigenous persons from Central and South America, etc.)
    • Person of Mixed Origin (with one parent in one of the visible minority groups listed above)
    • Other Visible Minority Group

There are a number of ways to measure equity in the workplace. These include:

  • Representation Rates – This is the basic measure of equity. Representation is measured in terms of percentage representation of all designated groups, organization wide and by department
  • Occupational Distribution – Occupational segregation can often be an indication of inequity in the workplace. Designated group members have been traditionally under-represented in certain fields/occupational areas
  • Authority and Decision Making – This measure relates to the fact that designated group members are frequently less represented in positions of authority such as supervisory, management and executive positions
  • Job Security and Tenure – This measure addresses an employee's progress in obtaining and retaining permanent employment
  • Employment Conditions – This relates to the measures put in place to support increases in representation and occupational movement of designated group members
  • Pay and Benefits – Establishment of equitable benefit and pay provisions for members of designated groups is a goal of employment equity.

The concept of diversity goes beyond the historical employment equity legislation enacted both in federal and provincial jurisdictions. Employers that value diversity recognize the contributions that individuals from diverse groups can make to their organizations. Diversity-friendly organizations are totally inclusive. These organizations don't just tolerate those who are different, but celebrate the differences of their members.

According to the International Personnel Management Association's Benchmarking Committee, "diversity efforts in the workplace facilitate the exchange of new perspectives, improve problem solving by inviting different ideas, and create a respectful, accepting work environment." Surveys have demonstrated a positive impact on high performance where leadership teams include a diversity of ages, ethnicity, and gender. A diverse workforce also can improve organizational productivity and creativity. While managing a diverse community can be a challenge, there is also potential for great accomplishment. The key for employers is to make diversity an asset within the organization.

The Canadian labour market is undergoing deep, fundamental shifts due to an aging population, a growing demand for highly skilled workers, and an increasingly diverse population. Approximately two thirds of the Canadian population aged 15-64 are made up of people from the four designated groups targeted by the Federal Contractors Program (women, visible minorities, Aboriginal (Indigenous) persons, persons with disabilities).