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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
June 28, 2017
Canadian Excellence

Introduction to Equity

Facts & Questions

What is employment equity?

A program or set of activities designed to ensure an organization has equality for all its employees in areas of recruitment, hiring, remuneration, training, promotion and retention.

An employment equity program strives for:

  • A work force that reflects the diversity of the available labour force.
  • Employment systems, policies and practices that support the workforce as a whole and support the recruitment, hiring retention and promotion of designated group members.
  • Employment systems that ensure all present and future employees have a fair and equitable opportunity to develop their abilities, realize their expectations and make the best contribution possible to the workplace.

Why Employment Equity?

Employment Equity (EE) is needed to remove systemic discrimination that has traditionally disadvantaged particular groups of workers.

Systemic discrimination includes practices and policies that unintentionally have the effect of excluding persons for reasons that are:

  • Not job-related,
  • Not related to ability, and
  • Not related to the safe operation of an organization.

Systemic discrimination is illegal under human rights legislation. In addition, there is a legal requirement for employment equity itself: Employment equity is required for federally regulated companies and for organizations with 100 or more employees who do over $200,000 worth of business with the federal government.

Under represented groups referred to as designated groups in the Federal Contractors Program include women, Aboriginal or First Nation’s peoples, persons with disabilities and visible minorities or persons of colour.

These groups as a whole are disadvantaged in terms of:

  • Higher levels of unemployment and underemployment.
  • Lower pay for equal qualifications.
  • Lower participation in positions of authority.

Two-thirds of the workforce are designated group members. More than 80% of those entering the workforce for the first time are designated group members.

Age demographics of the Canadian workforce coupled with low birth rates means there are fewer workers to hoose from. Systemic exclusion of any designated group member means recruiting from a shrinking labour pool and puts limits on an organization’s capacity to seek the best and most qualified candidates.

Employment discrimination complaints make up the majority of all complaints filed with human rights commissions. The vast majority of complainants are designated group members.

The University and the Faculty Association have recognized the value of pursuing an employment equity strategy as an integral component to the pursuit of academic excellence.

What is the difference between equality and equity?

Equality is both a concept and an ideal that is a guaranteed right under The Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When the law guarantees equality, it guarantees the same law will be applied in the same way. The law also guarantees equal treatment. Legal guarantees of equality promise the law’s equal protection and benefit without discrimination.

Equality of treatment will not guarantee equal results. For example, conducting interviews in the same location for all applicants is equal treatment. But it will not guarantee equality unless the location is barrier-free. The decision to conduct interviews in a location that is not barrier-free may be neutral, but it has unequal results for different individuals or groups.

Courts have recognized that equal treatment often causes unequal results, and that sometimes creating equal results requires treating people differently from each other. This approach, which is the concept of equity, focuses on results instead of treatment and is the guiding principle behind employment equity.

Most human rights laws in Canada, including the Charter, specifically authorize employment equity initiatives.

Opening up opportunities for previously excluded groups does not amount to discrimination against those already in the workplace: employment equity does not mean choosing unqualified people, or that anyone will lose their job to accommodate members of designated groups. It means that future opportunities will have to take into account employment equity principles to ensure that no barriers exist to a position.

Employment equity is a remedy for past discrimination and requires the sharing of all opportunities.

True or False...Employment Equity conflicts with the merit principle?

There is a common misconception that employment equity conflicts with the merit principle. This generally occurs when people mistakenly believe that employment equity forces organizations to hire, promote or retain people based solely on the need to reach their employment equity goals.

The fact is that employment equity supports the merit principle. It operates on the idea that designated groups members have been excluded from opportunities for reasons unrelated to their abilities or qualifications. EE attempts to enforce the merit principle by making sure that every candidate’s qualifications are recognized, and that irrelevant factors such as race or gender are not.

Allowing employment barriers to persist is at odds with the merit principle.

Like other organizational programs, employment equity requires goals. These numeric goals are set by the organization itself and have time frames established to meet the goals. The goals are based on an analysis of how designated group members fare in the organization, as compared to how they fare outside of it.

The goals are for qualified candidates, and they are also set to change employment practices that act as barriers to finding, promoting and retaining all qualified individuals. Thus, both quantitative and qualitative goals are required.

Definition of Designated Groups

Human rights laws list a large number of protected grounds, including sex, race, colour, ethnic background and disability. Employment Equity laws are more limited. Most Canadian programs name the same designated groups:

Aboriginal persons

For the purpose of employment equity, an aboriginal person is a person of Indian, Métis or Inuit ancestry. Persons of Indian ancestry include all such persons whether they are deemed to be status or non-status Indians under the terms of the Indian Act. While persons of aboriginal ancestry are not named specifically and separately in the Human Rights Code, they are considered to be a group, identifiable by race and ancestry, which experiences disadvantage with respect to employment.

Members of Visible Minorities

For the purposes of employment equity, members of visible minorities are generally defined as, a person other than an aboriginal person who, because of race or colour, is in a visible minority in Canada.

Persons with disabilities

A person with a disability is defined as someone who experiences specific and serious barriers to employment, who requires accommodation, or who believes that a potential employer would likely consider them to be disadvantaged by reason of any persistent physical, mental, psychiatric, learning or sensory impairment. Disabilities that are not discernable and cause no work-related problems are not included in the definition of persons with disabilities for employment equity purposes.


Obviously this term does not need to be defined. Data should be collected for each designated group by gender, so that the internal pattern of employment of aboriginal women, women who are members of visible minorities and women with disabilities can be determined as well as the pattern of the overall employment of women.

Employment equity recognizes that, historically, these groups have suffered discrimination and disadvantage in employment. An employer adopting employment equity can voluntarily choose to benefit any group it desires, subject to the guidelines of the applicable human rights law in the jurisdiction.

Six Measures of Equality

1. Representation

This is the basic measure of equality. Representation is measured in terms of percentage representation of all designated groups, organization wide, and by department.

2. Occupational Choice and Distribution

This addresses the issue of occupational segregation. Achievements in this area will be expressed in terms of increased representation of women, persons with disabilities, aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities in occupations where they have traditionally been under-represented.

3. Authority and Decision Making

This measure relates to the fact that designated group members are less often represented in positions of authority. Changes in this area are expressed in terms of the number of designated group employees in supervisory, management and executive positions.

4. Job Security and Tenure

This measure addresses designated group members’ progress in accessing and retaining permanent employment.

5. Employment Conditions

This measure addresses the special employment needs of designated group members. It is the positive measures that are put in place to support increases in representation and occupational movement of designated group members. It is difficult to measure success in this area in numerical terms

6. Pay and Benefits

Reduction of the gender wage gap and establishment of equitable benefit provisions for members of designated groups are employment equality goals. Commitment to change must be made at the corporate level as compensation and benefits are a corporate responsibility. However, faculties and departments have a responsibility to eliminate occupational segregation and increase job security and tenure of designated groups as these factors contribute to inequality in pay and benefits.