Removing Barriers Part 5


The Employment Equity Act defines Aboriginal peoples as "persons who are Indians, Inuit or Métis." The Treasury Board "Employee Self-Identification Form" provides the following definition:

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.

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 Aboriginal peoples in the employer's workforce proportionate to labour market availability.

When the federal Public Service is examined as a whole, representation of Aboriginal peoples meets labour market availability (See the Treasury Board Secretariat Annual Report, Employment Equity in the Federal Public Service 2000-2001.) By helping to ensure that the competence and qualifications of Aboriginal peoples are fully recognized, applying the Principles of Fair Assessment can contribute to both maintaining the representation of Aboriginal peoples and removing barriers to their advancement.

Annual reports on the representation of employment equity designated group members can be found on the Web site 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 Aboriginal peoples. The examples below are meant to be illustrative rather than definitive because Aboriginal people differ widely, not only between particular groups, but also within each group. Because of this diversity, the barriers that Aboriginal people may face are also varied.

The problem depicted in each example is based on a real incident or systemic barrier which an Aboriginal person 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.

Mary Malcolm, a Métis with 12 years experience as an office administrator for a major petroleum company, decided to apply for a federal public service job that would provide new opportunities and challenges. Mary's Settlement is only eight kilometres from her current workplace. As well, her extended family is her main support, enabling her as a single mother to maintain her rather stressful, but well-paid position. If she were successful in applying for the new job, she would need to move to a new community.

In the interview for the new job, Mary asked about the possibility of a compressed work week and the availability of day care. The board members had not given previous thought to the possibility of a flexible work schedule for this position, but responded that, if Mary were offered the position, the manager would discuss with her whatever accommodations needed to be made. Regarding day care, they noted that, although no such facility existed in their building, day care was available nearby. As well, human resource personnel could put her in touch with an organization that supplies information on local day care providers. In their deliberations later, the Selection Board identified Mary as the successful candidate. The manager's review of the position's responsibilities indicated that a flexible work schedule was possible.

Issues addressed in this example:

  • Recognizing the duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship
  • Recognizing that work can be 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.

Jules Mukula was preparing to staff a vacant middle management position. The incumbent would be responsible for providing service to the public through a large staff of administrative personnel. In considering the responsibilities of the position and the qualifications required, Jules reviewed the job description. He also looked at the Statement of Qualifications that had been used when the job was staffed three years ago and noticed that his predecessor had specified the qualification of a university degree in business administration.

In Jules' view, the job did require an excellent understanding of business administration; specifying such a degree would eliminate less qualified applicants. However, thinking about it further, Jules realized there were other ways to obtain a sound knowledge of business administration. For example, this knowledge could be obtained through other types of educational programs and through on-the-job experience. In fact, in Jules' view, on-the-job experience could sometimes be a better "teacher". Jules also thought about the pool of job applicants in the area, including the sizeable Aboriginal community. Based on his dealings with the community, Jules knew that some had a university degree, while others were graduates of band management courses offered by universities, and also had experience working with private sector companies and Aboriginal organizations. Requiring a university degree could exclude excellent applicants who had, in Jules' view, the equivalent of a university degree in business. Based on these considerations, Jules decided to specify "a university degree in business administration, or an acceptable combination of education, training, and/or experience."

Issue addressed in this example:

  • Specifying the qualifications required to do the work broadly enough to include the full diversity of qualified applicants

The Standards for Selection and Assessment provide for alternatives to university graduation for positions outside the Scientific and Professional Category. For further information on providing alternatives to post-secondary training and to university graduation, please consult the Standards.

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.

Yvon Gagnon, a human resources consultant, was preparing to recommend options for assessing the qualification of "service orientation" for a program officer job. The position involved considerable contact with the public, and occasional dealings with clients who could be very vocal in expressing their dissatisfaction with services received. Yvon initially thought that a role play might be an appropriate approach. For example, a Selection Board member could take the role of an unhappy client who was highly confrontational. The Board would then have the opportunity to see which candidates would lose their composure, and which candidates would successfully address the client's concerns.

As he thought about developing a rating guide for such a role play, Yvon's initial idea was that appropriate candidate behaviour would involve dealing professionally and assertively with "the client". However, Yvon then recalled that certain candidates from varied cultural backgrounds, such as Aboriginal peoples, may deal with confrontation in other, equally effective, ways. Yvon realized that the rating guide would need to accommodate a variety of effective ways to deal with "the client."

Issue addressed in this example:

  • Recognizing that a variety of behaviours can produce equally effective results

Example of Principle 4:

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

When staffing a vacant position, a federal organization decided to seek Aboriginal applicants from across the country, rather than limiting the search to the major city where the organization was located. Accordingly, they placed ads in Aboriginal newspapers and used a variety of other means to attract Aboriginal applicants.

The recruiters thought that, outside major cities, Aboriginal applicants might be less familiar, on average, with federal selection and assessment processes than those who lived in major centres with a large federal presence. So they decided to provide an information package to all applicants that briefly described the selection and assessment process. The package provided such information as: type of assessment instruments (e.g., multiple-choice test, interview); qualification(s) measured by each instrument; details of administration (e.g., duration, group or individual test); and an indication of how the assessment results would be used (e.g., whether some results would be given greater weight than others). Because one of the assessment instruments was a test from the Personnel Psychology Centre of the Public Service Commission (PSC), the package included a fact sheet on the PSC test that provided sample questions and answers. Following standard procedure, the organization also provided a telephone number for applicants to call for further information.

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.

Al Fox had spent most of his life living and working with Aboriginal peoples. He had gained a reputation as a skilled and reputable worker through his experience in numerous short-term government contracts and seasonal work in many industries. Al applied for a vacant position in the federal Public Service, and was subsequently interviewed. Although he had never experienced such a lengthy and formal interview process, he felt confident that the interview had gone well.

In their deliberations after the interview, however, Selection Board members decided that Al was not qualified for the position. They were concerned about Al's self-confidence and sincerity based on: his failure to maintain eye contact with them, his hesitancy to offer details about his proposed solutions to practical problems that the Board presented, and his reluctance to describe his personal successes in the workplace. There was also a shared concern that Al had not held a permanent long-term position; as one board member stated, in his view, this work pattern indicated instability and unreliability.

A few months later, when one of the board members attended a workshop on diversity, she learned that, in traditional Aboriginal culture, limited eye contact can mean respect for decision-makers and persons with authority, individual accomplishments are not highlighted, and in formal or semi-formal situations, such as an interview, answers may be brief, with little, if any, elaboration. As well, work histories of some Aboriginal candidates that may appear to be "spotty" can actually be the result of limited availability of work, or government contract conditions, such as limited funding, rather than poor work habits. Accordingly, board members should disregard eye contact, probe for more information in the interview and/or use reference checks, and avoid jumping to conclusions about work history.

Issue addressed in this example:

  • Lacking awareness of personal cultural assumptions
  • Failing to recognize the influence of culture on communication
  • Lacking awareness of the need to adjust information gathering approaches and consider other sources of information

Example of Principle 6:

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

After completing an interview and stepping out of the room for a brief break, Selection Board members noticed their last candidate for the day, John Ermineskin, sitting in the waiting area. On reconvening after the break, one board member remarked to the others: "I guess we'll wrap up this last interview fairly quickly. Mr. Ermineskin doesn't seem to be too interested in the job." When asked the basis for this statement, he replied: "Look at his clothes; anyone who arrives for an interview dressed in a baseball cap, jeans and running shoes can't really want the job. It's disrespectful. And don't tell me that culture has anything to do with it. Our previous candidate was also Aboriginal, but he was very well dressed in a suit and tie."

The other board members disagreed with him, noting that wearing a suit and tie to an interview doesn't necessarily mean that the person is seriously interested in the job. They pointed out that different cultures have different ideas about appropriate attire for a job interview and, even in the same culture, people can have different views on this. Most fundamentally, they noted that what a candidate wears to the interview is irrelevant since the Board should assess qualifications, not manner of dress. As one board member noted: "Mr. Ermineskin may prove to be the most or the least qualified candidate; we won't know until after we've interviewed him."

Issue addressed in this example:

  • Being aware of personal cultural assumptions
  • Being aware of individual differences within a given cultural group
  • Evaluating candidates based only on factors related to the work
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