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By Zakeana Reid

While many Canadian organizations are actively seeking ways to increase their diversity and inclusion (D&I), those covered by the Employment Equity Act seem stuck working towards compliance, consequently neglecting the bigger picture of becoming an inclusive employer.

Likely, if your organization falls under the Act, you already have many programs and policies to support D&I. There is great value in what you have already implemented, but you may be missing vital elements that can transform what you have into an approach that will have a real strategic impact on your organization.

These elements include:

• Getting D&I onto the leaders’ radar as a business value to the organization
• Communicating with all levels of your staff about the impact of diversity and inclusion, not just equity and compliance
• Understanding the complete demographics of your organization so that you can include everyone and see where you have gaps that need to be addressed
• Researching best practices to take your compliance-based program and move it to a proactive, strategic D&I program

Getting diversity and inclusion on the leaders’ radar

In the report prepared by Deloitte Australia and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance, the authors found that focusing on both D&I will increase employee engagement to positively impact business outcomes.

Until leaders in your organization understand the business impact of D&I, they will likely remain focused on the compliance aspect of your employment equity program. The benefit of complying with the Employment Equity Act is that it helps organizations increase representation by decreasing barriers and implementing special accommodations. However, it divides teams into “them” versus “us,” rather than empowering disadvantaged groups, or improving feelings of inclusion within your organization.

Having leaders’ commit to implementing D&I as part of the organizational strategy is critical if you want to advance your program from mere compliance. There are tools available to help you have that conversation with leaders. Review the toolkit Locking in Your Leadership, which is available on the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) website, There are also tools to help you conduct a comprehensive inclusivity survey.

Conducting your employment equity workforce analysis is an arduous task, but it is the data you need to identify gaps and create your program.


If you have been relying solely on the tools provided through the Government of Canada website, you may not be having the impact with your organizational leaders that you could. The templates provided are generic and have little more than the bare minimum that you must communicate to your staff. Additionally, they are difficult to find.

To help build interest and understanding among your staff, look for ways to make the language more inclusive. While it is important that your employees understand what employment equity is, it is just as important that you communicate that D&I of all employees is the end goal, not simply compliance with a government mandate.

Use a variety of methods to communicate your D&I messages to your staff and ensure you are doing the following:
• Targeting different audiences – leadership/management, unionized staff, front-line staff and professionals
• Using a variety of voices – message from “the top,” HR communication, management speaking notes for meetings, town halls
• Asking for help and involvement from your communications team and diversity champions throughout your organization

Know your staff

To effectively communicate with staff, you must know them. Conducting your employment equity workforce analysis is an arduous task, but it is the data you need to identify gaps and create your program. This is also the data that leaders need to make decisions about how to allocate resources for recruitment, training and development and succession planning. Reference the workforce analysis data frequently when meeting with your leaders, and make sure that they understand the value of these numbers.

The biggest issue for most employers is that they are held accountable to data that is both out-dated (availability numbers based on Canadian Census data) and voluntary (representation numbers based on their employee self-identification questionnaires (SIQ)). One suggestion for increasing voluntary disclosure as a member of a designated group is to redesign your SIQ.

For each self-identification question, provide three options: yes, no and prefer not to answer. Those who choose not to answer certain questions are telling you much more about your organization than someone who answers a simple yes/no or fails to complete the entire questionnaire. They are telling you that they’re not comfortable. Their lack of comfort indicates that you have some more work to do on communication.

Additionally, consider asking more demographic questions beyond the four employment equity categories. This will demonstrate to your staff that you are looking beyond legislative compliance to broader D&I within the organization, and you will give everyone a way to be counted and included. Remember to inform your staff that self-identification is voluntary. Outline how the data will be used to remove barriers, create more responsive human resources and benefits programs to support staff.

Know what others are doing

The Global Diversity & Inclusion Benchmarks: Standards for Organizations Around the World (GDIB) is a free tool available through the Diversity Collegium website and is invaluable for providing information about how organizations around the world are implementing D&I initiatives.

While the information provided in this article and in the free resources may seem overwhelming, they can assist you in prioritizing the activities required for your organization to move from employment equity compliance to embracing D&I as a strategic priority.

Zakeana Reid is senior director, Western Canada for the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. 

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