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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.

1. Educate your employees about discrimination

Encourage your workers to respect each other’s differences. Train managers and supervisors on how to respond to discrimination in the workplace.

There are many free resources out there to help you get started. For example, BDC offers the 4 Seasons of Reconciliation class free to all Canadian entrepreneurs.

2. Develop a business policy that prohibits discrimination

Make it clear to everyone in your organization that any form of harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated. Outline how you will respond to any evidence or complaints of inappropriate behaviour and ensure you enforce it consistently and properly. Should any issues arise, be sure to deal with them promptly and confidentially. Review the policy on a regular basis to ensure it remains effective.

For example, think about building an internal code of conduct with direct input from employees. This will help communicate values and expected behaviours at work. Articulating differing levels of “inappropriateness” with examples of harassment of increasing severity can be helpful.

You can download our free code of conduct and zero tolerance policies to help you get started.

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.

”We all have biases,” says Yan. “The key is to recognize those biases and ask yourself how you can prevent them from influencing you.”

Employees responsible for hiring (as well as all employees in your organization) should learn about unconscious bias and how to identify their own. “Some biases are not as visible as others,” says Yan. “For example, ageism involves stereotyping or discriminating against older adults and young people alike. Another example is how we might screen introverted interviewees compared to those who are more extroverted. It’s important to evaluate candidates based on the capabilities they bring to your business.”

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,” Yan says. “Help employees understand their rights. If you spend time upfront with new employees, over the long term they will be more confident, engaged and productive.”

5. Ensure your training and policies are inclusive

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.

Regularly review your policies to ensure they are still relevant and monitor employee interactions for compliance. For example, embrace a hybrid or flex work model that offers people the flexibility to balance their personal and professional lives. “Family commitments are different for everyone,” says Yan. “For example, it’s common to find members of ethnocultural communities living in multigenerational homes where they care for young children as well as elderly parents. Consider expanding the definition of family as more people today feel family goes beyond bloodlines to folks who are deliberately chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love.

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

6. Establish employee resource groupes (ERG)

ERGs are made up of employee volunteers across the organization who drive inclusive change and provide insights about diverse employees and clients. They allow people to get together to discuss ideas and concerns, as well as provide insights to others.

“ERGs create safe spaces for employees to be their authentic selves,” says Yan. “We have several of these groups at BDC, each one focusing on a different aspect of diversity including women, visible minorities, LGBTQ2+ and more. Giving them the opportunity to share their perspectives on diversity, equity and inclusion inside the business and without has resulted in tremendous positive change.”

Next step

Learn more about Canada’s historical relationship with Indigenous peoples and the painful realities brought to light by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada with the free 4 seasons of reconciliation course.

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