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What we need to build a more inclusive future

Human resources management expert provides insights on gaps and best practices in addressing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the workforce.

As Canadians celebrate both Pride Month and Indigenous History Month, June seems like the perfect time to reflect on the different aspects of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) – how we’ve worked to implement EDI in our lives and practices and the work we still need to do. One area that has seen attention over the past decade is how EDI practices can be beneficial for institutions and businesses.

Eddy Ng
Eddy Ng

Eddy Ng, the Smith Professor of Equity & Inclusion in Business and an expert in human resources management, focuses his research on how we can promote EDI in workplaces across Canada. He recently spoke to the Gazette about how the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened existing gaps and what current research says about hiring and management practices to promote EDI.

How did COVID-19 increase gender related inequalities?

First, women are disproportionately affected by business closures (e.g., retail, hospitality, service-oriented work) and hence they suffer in employment and income in relation to men. The aggregate number of hours worked by women decreased significantly, and the number of women owned businesses declined as a result of the pandemic. Thus, the gap employment and income gaps between men and women widened.

Also, pre-existing conflicts between work and family responsibilities magnified during COVID-19. Women shoulder a disproportionately larger share of household chores and caregiving. School and daycare closures have forced a third of working women to consider quitting their jobs. A noteworthy point of observation, women are less represented in senior management and leadership roles – which tend to be more pandemic-proof. 

We hear about post-pandemic economic recovery and a shortage of skilled workers. However, Indigenous and Black workers still struggle finding jobs that are consistent with their professional competencies. Why?

The post-pandemic recovery has seen a boom in the tech sector and sectors that are adaptable, but Black and Indigenous workers still are underrepresented in tech and other booming sectors such as banking and financial services, STEM professions, and information and communications technology. Historically, Black and Indigenous workers have lower levels of educational attainment and possess job skills that are prone to automation. Simply put, Black and Indigenous workers have not been set up for success in new economy jobs and in remote or “pandemic proof” careers. To address employment gaps, we need to have policies aimed at preparing Black and Indigenous populations for the new economy, and industry commitment as partners in the training and employment of severely underrepresented racialized workers.

Individuals are differently impacted based on a combination of factors (race, citizenship, gender, class, sexual orientation etc.). Do existing EDI practices address intersectionality?

Intersectional marginalized identities tend to be invisible; the Black lesbian small business owner is grouped with other Black small business owners. EDI policy surveys tend to address identities that are measurable or quantifiable, thus individuals with intersectional identities don’t receive the same attention. To address this, policy makers need to decompose aggregate data or collect better data. The challenge, as reported here, is getting individuals to respond to policy questions. Alternatively, equity policies should be as broad as possible to ensure that individuals with multiple struggles are able to receive more comprehensive support.

Hiring practices that aim to foster diversity and inclusion are frequently criticized based on the hypothesis that they might favour minorities and fail to find the best candidates for a position. Is that a fallacy? Why?

Hiring for diversity and hiring for excellence are not in conflict with each other. Hiring the "best" candidate implies there is a singular view of what is the best, established by the dominant group, so we are reproducing the dominant group perspective. This is why it is important to have targeted hirings so that we are not crowded out by dominant group views. Meritocracy and picking "the best" favour the dominant group that establish the rules. 

What strategies are successful in creating more diverse and inclusive hiring processes and promoting EDI in workplaces?

In comparing firms that are covered under the Employment Equity Act with those that are not, research shows that firms having to comply with public policies do better in hiring for diversity. Public policies create visible accountability across firms. Research also shows that leaders who create accountabilities for diversity goals, lead more diverse organizations. Implicit bias training, however, does not work well for several reasons. First, bias training tends to emphasize the negative (i.e., remedial training), generating skepticism and resistance among participants. Thus, bias training does not change attitudes or behaviours. Second, hiring managers don’t like to be told whom to hire. People tend to rebel against rules when discretion is taken away from them. Third, bias training, when improperly conducted, can reinforce stereotypes and undermine its very own purpose in removing biases.

We already have the knowledge and skills on how to become more diverse and inclusive. What is lacking are motives. Accountability and incentives provide that motive. Once we have the critical numbers in diversity, demographic faultline weakens and organizational climate shifts to one that is more accepting of differences.