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How to prevent discrimination in your workplace

Assuring your employees’ wellbeing is part of your responsibility as an employer

4-minute read

Discrimination is the act of treating a person or group less favourably than others due to their circumstances or personal characteristics such as race, age, gender, religious beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, etc. Eliminating discrimination and fostering workplace diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) should be important goals for today’s employers.

As Canada’s population evolves, businesses that fail to adapt to the changing labour force and marketplace may face talent shortages and stagnating growth.

A 2021 BDC report on labour shortages found that entrepreneurs who embraced diversity could attract more than 2 million underemployed younger workers, older workers and immigrants.

“Business owners who care about their reputation, staying competitive and doing the right thing need to put effort and resources into countering discrimination and encouraging inclusion,” says Steve Yan, Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at BDC. “Not doing so could leave you short of good workers, stunt your growth and saddle you with potential discrimination complaints.”

Yan offers six tips for eliminating discrimination and fostering diversity.

Austin offers five tips for eliminating discrimination and fostering diversity.

1. Study your legal requirements

Look into your legal obligations for combating discrimination and creating an inclusive work environment. Federal and provincial human rights legislation prohibits discrimination on race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, religion, family status, sexual orientation and other grounds. Some provinces require businesses to adopt an anti-discrimination policy as part of a broader policy on workplace discrimination and harassment.

Even if a policy isn’t obligatory, it’s still a good idea to adopt one in order to encourage an accommodating work environment. The policy should define discriminatory behaviours; outline a process for filing, investigating and documenting complaints about discrimination; and set out measures to be taken in the case of an incident.

You should also learn about any obligations for adopting employee accommodations. These may include a duty to make your workspace accessible for employees with disabilities or injuries, and adapt schedules, uniforms and menus for employees of various religions.

2. Partner with community groups

You can partner with community groups to expand your hiring among specific populations and get advice on improving diversity. For example, you can promote job openings to non-profit placement agencies that work with new immigrants or older workers.

“That community connection can help you target the best candidates more quickly,” Austin says. “They can identify people with relevant expertise, language skills and geographical location.”

3. Eliminate hiring biases

Review your hiring process to eliminate discrimination. It’s common for hiring to be biased—often unconsciously—against candidates with unfamiliar names, gaps in work history or foreign credentials.

A possible solution is blind recruitment—the removal of the name and other identifying information from résumés. It may also be helpful to entrust hiring to a panel, as opposed to a single individual.

Employees responsible for hiring should also learn how to understand non-traditional résumés and international credentials. It’s also important to evaluate candidates based on new capacities they may be able to bring to your business.

“Don’t let inadequate language skills be a barrier to hiring an excellent candidate,” Austin says. “You can support newcomer employees by offering language classes.”

Read more about how to evaluate the credentials of new immigrants.

4. Adapt your onboarding

Review your onboarding process to make sure it’s inclusive. A well-thought-out process helps ensure new hires integrate smoothly and sends a message that discrimination is unacceptable.

“You should really articulate what is and isn’t permissible as behaviour in terms of harassment, discrimination and the health and safety environment,” Austin says. “Help newcomers understand their rights. If you spend time upfront with new employees, over the long term they will be more confident, engaged and productive.”

5. Review your training and policies

Adapt your training to accommodate the needs of different workers. For example, consider training for candidates who lack some skills but could otherwise be good employees.

Diversity training may be also helpful for key personnel, such as supervisors and human resources employees. Regularly review your policies and monitor employee interactions to ensure compliance.

It can also be helpful to track your diversity performance in hiring and promoting women, visible minorities, people with disabilities and Indigenous people in your workforce and leadership.