Removing Barriers Part 4


As defined by the Employment Equity Act, " 'members of visible minorities' means persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour." The Employment Equity Act requires employers to identify and remove barriers to employment, institute positive policies and practices, and make reasonable accommodations to achieve representation of members of visible minorities in the employer's workforce proportionate to their labour market availability.

In spite of statutory and regulatory obligations, however, members of visible minorities continue to be under-represented in the federal Public Service. This fact was pointed out in the Treasury Board report to Parliament on Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service in 2000-2001. As indicated in that report, although progress had been made compared to previous years, the Public-Service-wide population of members of visible minorities was 6.1%, well short of the labour market availability of 8.7%.

In their March 2000 action plan entitled Embracing Change in the Federal Public Service, the Task Force on the Participation of Visible Minorities in the federal Public Service made a number of recommendations to correct this under-representation. Among the recommendations in the action plan accepted by the Government was the setting of benchmarks. For example, a benchmark of 1 in 5 has been set for the external recruitment of members of visible minorities (target date 2003). Achieving this benchmark will involve action at many levels. Applying the Principles of Fair Assessment can contribute to achieving this benchmark by helping to ensure that the competence and qualifications of members of visible minorities are fully recognized.

Information about:

i) groups listed as visible minorities on the Employee Self-Identification Form; and

ii) Embracing Change in the Federal Public Service and the Government's endorsement of the Embracing Change Action Plan, can be found on the Website of the Treasury Board Secretariat, Employment Equity Division.

Applying the Principles to remove barriers

It is important to remember that the Principles of Fair Assessment are applicable regardless of the cultural or racial background of board members, human resource personnel, or candidates. The Principles do not represent special treatment of any group. To the contrary, their application helps to ensure the fair assessment of all candidates.

The following section presents examples of how one can put the Principles into action to remove barriers that may exist in the assessment of members of visible minorities. The examples below are meant to be illustrative rather than definitive because members of visible minorities differ widely, not only between particular groups, but also within each group. Because of this diversity, the barriers that members of visible minorities may face are also varied.

The problem depicted in each example is based on a real incident or systemic barrier which a member of a visible minority may encounter. The details, including names, and endings of the stories have been modified to ensure anonymity and to illustrate how barriers can be removed.

Example of Principle 1:

When reviewing the work to be done, take into account the diverse ways in which the work can be accomplished.

Shimen Ibrahim applied for a director's job. Towards the end of the selection interview, Shimen mentioned that, because she practices Islam she would prefer to have Fridays off because this is a holy day. She also noted that, in her current organization, there was an assigned prayer room for Muslims, and she wondered if such a facility was available in this organization.

Aware of diversity in the workplace and the duty to accommodate, the Board had given previous thought to the requirements of this director's job. Board members had concluded that the responsibilities of this position could be met by someone on a flexible work schedule. Although no prayer room currently existed in their organization, they had heard of organizations that had designated a quiet room for employees to use for prayer and for accommodating other needs of designated group members. Accordingly, they advised Shimen that their organization values diversity and makes every effort to accommodate employees' needs through flexible work schedules. They noted that, if Shimen were to be identified as the successful candidate, the manager would discuss with her whatever accommodation she felt she required after making her an offer of employment.

Issues addressed in this example:

  • Recognizing the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship
  • Recognizing that work can be effectively accomplished in diverse ways

Example of Principle 2:

Ensure that all qualifications are required to do the work, and are clearly defined and barrier-free.

Helen Roy was staffing a key job that required making informal presentations to widely varied groups. The previous incumbent, Janet Yoshida, had been an exceptional speaker who could "spellbind" a group with her speaking skills. Helen thought that if she could find someone with speaking skills like that, it would be a real asset. These presentations were key to meeting the organization's objectives. With little hesitation, Helen drafted a description of the communication skills she expected of the successful candidate: "Strong presentation skills: states ideas clearly, uses an energetic and enthusiastic style of communication, and gets ideas across through the appropriate use of humour." These were the behaviours she wanted the Selection Board to look for throughout the interview, and especially during the informal presentation each candidate would make to the Board.

Thinking that the staffing officer could help to further define this qualification, Helen sent him the draft. When she met the staffing officer later, Helen was glad that she had sought his opinion. As he explained, the communication behaviour of stating ideas clearly made good sense; the job definitely needed someone who could communicate clearly. However, the other two behaviours were rather narrow, and could present barriers to individuals and groups. For example, being energetic and enthusiastic represents one effective communication style; but there are many other approaches that can have the desired impact. For example, depending on the situation and group being addressed, a measured and thoughtful approach can be equally, if not more, compelling. As well, what is considered humorous can be different across individuals and cultures. The staffing officer suggested that the last two behaviours be replaced by: "speaking in a manner that holds the audience's attention" (this broader behaviour could capture a variety of effective communication styles), and "adapting the content and style of communication for the audience" (this behaviour would capture the requirement of speaking effectively with varied audiences).

Issues addressed in this example:

  • Lacking awareness of personal cultural assumptions
  • Consulting with individuals knowledgeable about diversity
  • Defining qualifications broadly and inclusively enough to capture the full diversity of ways in which the work can be effectively performed

Example of Principle 3:

Choose or develop assessment instruments that are valid and reliable, and that provide candidates with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications.

The Selection Board was considering what assessment approach to use to evaluate the qualification of "problem solving". They decided to reject the possibility of assessing candidates' problem-solving ability based on a review of their CVs because candidates had not been advised to highlight any particular types of accomplishments when they submitted them. Accordingly, that source of information would not be reliable. They considered the possibility of having candidates make a presentation to the Board on the most important job-related problems they had solved, after which the Board would rate each candidate. However, as one board member pointed out, some candidates from certain cultural backgrounds tend to be modest when it comes to recounting their accomplishments; as a result, that approach could put such candidates at a disadvantage. However, that disadvantage could be removed if the Board had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions after each presentation.

Building on this idea, one board member suggested a case study approach, in which candidates would be presented with a written description of problem situations typically encountered in the position. Candidates could be given time to analyze the descriptions and to prepare written diagnoses of the problems and their suggested approaches to dealing with them. Then they could describe their diagnoses and proposed solutions to the Board, after which, the Board could ask follow-up questions. This approach would provide each candidate with oral and written ways to demonstrate the qualification, and would also give the Board a chance to ensure that sufficient information was available to assess each candidate.

Issues addressed in this example:

  • Using assessment approaches that provide reliable information
  • Being aware of potential barriers in assessment approaches

This example of Principle 3 above is not meant to suggest that CVs cannot be used to screen candidates, or that asking candidates about their accomplishments is a biased assessment approach. Both approaches can be valid, fair and reliable when conducted appropriately. As well, no assessment instrument is ideal for assessing all qualifications in all situations. Each assessment instrument has advantages and disadvantages depending on the situation. For example, structured interviews can be highly valid, reliable, and fair. However, they have the disadvantage of being relatively costly in certain situations (e.g., interviews are rarely used to screen hundreds of candidates at the outset of a selection process). The choice of appropriate assessment instruments depends on many factors.

Example of Principle 4:

Provide candidates with the information that they need on the assessment process.

Manjit Kaur Dhaliwal was pleased to see the notice on the Internet announcing that a position in her area of specialization was being staffed. She decided to apply. Manjit hoped that her experience in this selection process would be more successful than her previous experience applying for a public service job. In that earlier process, she had reached the interview stage; however, the interview had not gone as well as she had hoped. Manjit had been perplexed by the Board's line of questioning about her working relationships with other employees, her problem-solving abilities, and the like. On a few occasions, Manjit attempted to switch attention to the university degrees she had earned outside Canada and the hard work that had accompanied those achievements. In each instance the Board went on to other subjects. Manjit wondered why the Board seemed to be more interested in peripheral issues than in her key qualifications, namely her specialized degrees.

A few weeks after submitting her application for this second job, Manjit received a call from the human resources office to set a time for an interview for the job. After setting the interview date and advising her that the interview would last an hour, the staffing representative asked Manjit if she had any questions about the process. Manjit took the opportunity to recount her earlier interview experience, and to ask whether she could expect this Board to ask questions about her university degrees and academic achievements. The staffing representative then remembered that in certain cultures, employers place considerable emphasis on academic achievement. He indicated the qualifications that the Board would be assessing in the interview, and how these related to information in the Statement of Qualifications for the job. He also took the opportunity to outline the general nature of selection processes in the Public Service, and to highlight the importance of reading the Statement of Qualifications in any selection process. Manjit appreciated the information; and the staffing representative made a mental note to himself that in future when booking interviews, he would make a point of providing candidates with information on the qualifications that would be assessed in the interview.

Issue addressed in this example:

  • Providing information to reduce pre-existing gaps in candidate familiarity with the assessment and selection process

Example of Principle 5:

Gather assessment information in a way that provides all candidates with an equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications.

When the candidate, Ken Roberts, entered the room, board members were mildly surprised. From the candidate's name, they had expected to meet a white person. However, Mr. Roberts did not appear to be white. Some board members thought that he might be Asian, others thought that he might be Middle Eastern, or biracial. Knowing that culture affects people's behaviour, they were now less sure about how Mr. Roberts might behave in the interview. As well, some board members were less sure about how they should behave towards him. Should they greet him in a certain way to make him feel welcome? Were there other things they should do, or avoid doing, to help him feel at ease? Following the lead of the chairperson, they shook his hand and greeted him warmly.

As the interview got underway, board members noticed that the candidate answered questions confidently and in sufficient detail, without additional prompting. Some board members thought that he paused for an inordinate amount of time before answering each question. These board members were not sure what to make of this, and the silence made them feel uncomfortable. As the interview progressed further, they continued to allow him sufficient time to collect his thoughts before answering, and his responses continued to be complete. In turn, board members who had initially felt uncertain about how to behave began to feel more comfortable. They remembered that making assumptions about a person's culture based on such characteristics as name, appearance or accent can be misleading. They also recalled that no one can know every culture and sub-culture, and that there is no "recipe" for behaviour toward members of a particular group. By being themselves and showing respect for each candidate, and for differences in communication styles, board members were able to give all candidates an equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications.

Issues addressed in this example:

  • Trying to categorize and make assumptions about a person based on a name or visible characteristics
  • Adjusting your behaviour to the candidate, while still being yourself and demonstrating respect

Example of Principle 6:

Evaluate candidates' qualifications based on work-related assessment criteria, avoiding sources of potential bias.

Karen Moran was a hard-working and highly effective manager. As a result, she had moved quickly from her first entry-level position to her current responsibilities, and often served on Selection Boards.

One day, when reviewing evaluations of candidates with other board members, she realized that there was often a discrepancy between her rating and others'. When black candidates performed poorly, Karen's ratings were lower than those of other board members, although when black candidates performed well, her ratings were similar to the ratings of others. She wondered why: "Are other evaluators too generous, and my evaluation is correct? Or are they correct, and I am too harsh?"

She took some time alone and reflected further: "I am black myself. I value hard work and competence, and don't appreciate it when people assume that I got where I am because of a special program rather than my competence. So, perhaps when I see black candidates, I expect them to be like me, and I ask too much? Perhaps I have a different standard for them? Could it be that my judgments are also influenced by race, even though I have fought my whole life against racist assumptions?" So Karen started thinking about how she could check this out and, if she found that she was applying a different standard, how she could control it. She came up with the following strategy. When assessing candidates who are black, I'll ask myself: "What if this person were a member of another race? Would my evaluation be the same?" Unless the answer is "Yes, I would make the same evaluation," but there is a possibility that my evaluation is not objective. If that is the case, I'll do the evaluation again, based solely on work-related criteria.

Issues addressed in this example:

  • Racial issues interfering with the accurate evaluation of candidates
  • Using self-reflection and "what if" questions to increase the accuracy of assessment
  • Focusing on work-related qualifications

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