Policy brief 2: Better supporting equity groups
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How to better support the 4 equity groups (women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities) protected under the Employment Equity Act (the Act)?
- What legislative, regulatory and program changes do we need to support equity groups?
- What are key workplace barriers faced by the 4 equity groups?
- What best practices can help remove barriers and improve labour market outcomes for equity groups?
- What roles could other organizations, such as unions, employer associations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community based organizations play in promoting employment equity?
A core objective of the Act is to help recognize and remove barriers to employment faced by designated groups and to adopt measures to correct their underrepresentation in the workplace.Footnote 1 (Please see the Overview and Backgrounder for a discussion on the origins of the Act).
Barriers to employment
The Government of Canada, researchers, and stakeholders from implicated communities have identified key common barriers across the 4 designated groups under the Act, as well as specific barriers to each designated group. See Annex – Policy Brief 2: Barriers to Employment Equity for employment equity groups under the federal jurisdiction of barriers that are common as well as those barriers specific to each group.
The 4 designated groups face intersectional challenges arising from multiple identities (gender, age, class, religion and ability). For example, the gender wage gap is notably wider for Indigenous women, women with disabilities, racialized women, and newcomer women.Footnote 2 Meanwhile, racialized women face greater barriers to work, and well-paid work, than racialized men non-racialized women and non-racialized men.Footnote 3
Key indicators or predictors of barriers to employment (some interrelated) include the following:
- lower earnings or wages
- employer policies and practices with respect to domestic and home care obligations
- under-representation in management and executive positions
- hiring and retention challenges
- limited career advancement, and
- social stigma (for example, being presumed to be helpless or dependent)
Business case for diversity and inclusion
Given that the human rights case for diversity and inclusion has been made and well accepted over the years, this particular section focuses on the business case for diversity and inclusion. Please see the Overview and Backgrounder for context.
Labour market discrimination undermines the principle of equal opportunity and slows economic growth. Breaking down barriers to employment equity may not only be a moral or legal duty. It also presents an economic opportunity for all Canadians to reach their full potential in the labour market while improving Canada’s economy. The Government of Canada’s Budget 2021 acknowledges that ensuring “every person has the opportunity and the support to participate fully in the economy will raise the incomes of Canadian families and benefit the country as a whole.”Footnote 4
There is a need for conclusive research and data on the net benefit of employment equity to both employers and the Canadian economy. Some studies found a positive relationship between diversity and performance. Hiring under-represented and historically excluded groups increases demographic diversity. In turn, this adds value to the organization through increased performance, marketplace understanding, creativity, team problem-solving, leadership effectiveness and global relations.Footnote 5 Other studies point to a negative, mixed or context-specific relationship between diversity and inclusion within organizations.Footnote 6 The impact of diversity on organizational performance can depend on the type and size of an organization, diversity practices (internal and external) and training on diversity management.
However, with respect to the Canadian economy, research suggests that:
- bridging the employment and employment income gaps between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous people could boost the Canadian economy by roughly $28 billion (a 1.5% boost in the country’s gross domestic product)Footnote 7
- making facilities and workspaces more physically accessible would allow more persons with disabilities to access the job market or to work more hours (leading to an increase in Canada’s real Gross Domestic Product of over $16.8 billion by 2030)Footnote 8
- bridging the gender employment and pay gap could inject up to $150 billion into the Canadian economy by 2026Footnote 9
- parity of full-time employment opportunities and pay for immigrant workers similar to that of Canadian-born workers, may:
- grow the economy by $13 billion
- increase personal incomes by approximately $13 billion, and
- increase employment levels by approximately 400,000Footnote 10
Legislative and regulatory context
The review of the Act is taking place amidst broader legislative and regulatory measures being undertaken by the Government with respect to enhancing equity, diversity and inclusion in federally regulated workplaces.
In Budget 2018, the Government of Canada dedicated $3 million of spending over 5 years for pay transparency measures. This funding was to address wage gaps in the federally regulated private sector. In 2019, the Government of Canada presented an amendment to the Act, which was followed by amendments to the Employment Equity Regulations in order to implement pay transparency measures.
Pay Transparency will raise awareness of wage gaps faced by the 4 designated groups in the federally regulated private sector. Federally regulated private sector employers covered by the Act will be required to report their salary data using a new methodology. Employers will begin recording this information in their annual reporting on employment equity for 2022.
Canada will be the first country to make this information publicly available for employers with 100 or more employees covered by the Act.
The data will:
- help reduce wage gaps
- shift the business culture and assumptions towards greater equality, and
- lead to better outcomes for workers and their families
On October 29, 2018, the Government of Canada tabled the Pay Equity Act in Parliament as part of the Budget Implementation Act, 2018, No. 2. The Pay Equity Act received Royal Assent on December 13, 2018.
The Act is complemented by the Pay Equity Regulations (the Regulations) which prescribe key elements and details required to ensure that employers, bargaining agents and employees are able to fulfill their duties and obligations under the Act. The Pay Equity Act and Regulations came into force on August 31, 2021.
The Pay Equity Act introduced a new proactive pay equity framework to ensure that workers in federally regulated workplaces receive equal pay for work of equal value. The new framework applies to federally regulated public and private sector employers with 10 or more employees, including parliamentary workplaces and the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ offices.
The new framework requires employers to:
- establish a pay equity plan, within 3 years of becoming subject to the Pay Equity Act, that analyzes differences in compensation between positions that are mostly held by women and those mostly held by men, that are found to be of equal value
- increase the compensation of those positions that are mostly held by women in order to eliminate differences in compensation identified within the plan, and
- revise and update their pay equity plan at least every 5 years to ensure that no gaps have been reintroduced and to close them if they have
The Pay Equity Act also created the position of the Pay Equity Commissioner, housed within the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), to administer and enforce the Act. The Commissioner, supported by the Pay Equity Unit, plays a key role by assisting workplace parties in understanding their rights and fulfilling their obligations, including through the development of tools and education materials, investigating complaints and considering applications, and facilitating the resolution of disputes. Employers must submit annual statements to the Commissioner regarding their pay equity plans.
On October 16, 2019, Karen Jensen was appointed as a full-time member of CHRC. She was reappointed effective October 1, 2020. When the Pay Equity Act came into force, Ms. Jensen’s appointment provided for her to become the first federal Pay Equity Commissioner, who will oversee the new framework.
Leading practices to remove barriers
The Government of Canada, researchers and stakeholders from implicated communities (including, unions, employer associations and NGOs) have identified some leading practices and potential measures to address barriers to employment equity for each of the designated groups. There may be need for further research in order to test the efficacy and effectiveness of some of the practices outlined below.
Not all women experience the same barriers and challenges. Therefore, the Government of Canada incorporates an intersectional lens in policy and program development through Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA +).Footnote 11
It refers to an approach which takes into account the multiple barriers and challenges faced by women workers who belong to various social groups. The GBA+ analytical lens allows for policy development that accounts for intersectional experiences to better pinpoint and address barriers to employment for women.
Given that the penalty of motherhood and impact of having children is borne largely by women, Budget 2021 recently announced funding (19% of the budget) for a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system, in partnership with provincial, territorial and Indigenous partners.Footnote 12 The Canada-wide initiative is expected to “directly create jobs for women and will support women's labour market participation and their responsibilities as caregivers.”Footnote 13 The Canada-wide early learning and childcare system recognizes and seeks to “address the burden of unpaid work on women, to facilitate women’s participation in the paid labour force, and to create good jobs in sectors of the economy where women work.”Footnote 14
The CHRC has identified practices that employers in Canada can use to recruit and retain Indigenous employees.Footnote 15 These leading practices include:
- applying application screening process that takes into account lived-experience or career gaps
- applying robust anti-discrimination/anti-harassment policies and anti-harassment training for managers and employees, and
- promoting more widely all opportunities (including senior management positions) throughout the organization
Within Canada’s public service, leading practices to reduce barriers to Indigenous workers include:
- establishing specialized recruitment programs (for example, pursuing outreach at Indigenous educational and employment events)
- acknowledging and including Indigenous cultural practices, including the ability to speak an Indigenous language, knowledge of current and historical Indigenous-Canada relations and political landscape
- providing targeted skills training especially to Indigenous youth that is aligned with Indigenous views of youth and autonomous living
- promoting mentorship programs, Indigenous networks, professional development opportunities and leadership programs for Indigenous employees, and
- providing education to public servants on the history of Indigenous Peoples, intercultural competency, conflict resolution, anti-racism and human rights as per recommendations from Call Action #57 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action
Persons with disabilities
Leading practices to improve employment outcomes for persons with disabilities include:
- adopting inclusive recruitment practices, by writing job postings that welcome diverse applicants engaging with community partners involved in employment supports for persons with disabilities and ensuring that software and platforms used in the application process are fully accessible
- addressing physical barriers to educational and employment institutions (for example, inaccessible infrastructure and buildings)
- addressing systemic barriers (for example, social stigma and discrimination)
- promoting and participating in educational models that build skills through experiential learning and access to real workplaces (for example, paid internships and co-op placements)
- harnessing existing innovative technology to benefit students and employees with disabilities by providing access to classrooms and workplaces (for example, text-to-speech, speech-to-text and work software)
- cultivating “disability confidence” where employers have the knowledge and ability to create inclusive and accessible work environments for their employees (this requires leadership, engagement and training throughout the organization)
- developing a policy, in consultation with employees with disabilities, to ensure that required accommodations are provided in a timely manner (for example, reduced work hours, modified or different duties, a modified or ergonomic workstation, option to work from home, access to specialized equipment), and
- ensuring retention and career development opportunities for employees with disabilities, including fair and equitable access to career development tools and promotion opportunities
Leading practices to support members of visible minorities or racialized groups in entering and progressing in Canada’s labour market include:Footnote 16
- implementing anti-racism, bias, diversity and inclusion training for employers, hiring managers and employees
- building informal avenues to employment for visible minority groups and offering more professional networking opportunities
- promoting transparency practices, like anonymous recruitmentFootnote 17
- offering internships for youth who lack work experience, including summer work programs for racialized youth
- examining and studying underlying factors and obstacles to the employment, retention and promotion of racialized youth, such as bias and racism, and
- generating senior executive level commitment to take the necessary steps to ensure the equitable diversification of staff from an anti-racism perspective
This document has outlined some background and considerations that the Employment Equity Act Review Task Force can take into account as its members engage stakeholders on the issue of supporting employment equity groups.
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