Final Report - Employment Equity: Employment Systems Review

Publication Type
Corporate Publications
Subject Matter
Human Rights

HR4-87/2022E-PDF

From September 2021 to July 2022, the Canadian Human Rights Commission conducted an Employment Equity Employment Systems Review, and this report highlights the findings and the results. This report focuses on the experiences of Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, Black and racialized persons, women, and members of the 2SLGBTQI community.

Executive summary

Background

From September 2021 to July 2022, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC or "the Commission") conducted an Employment Equity Employment Systems Review, and this report highlights the findings and the results. This report focuses on the experiences of Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, Black and racialized persons, women, and members of the 2SLGBTQI community.

Methodology

The Employment Systems Review methodology followed the process outlined in The Employment Equity Act, which includes both quantitative and qualitative approaches, as outlined in the activities below. An analysis of the findings across the different lines of enquiry provides information related to whether there are systemic barriers for the equity-seeking group members.

The methodology included the following activities:

  • Review of background documentation: Key human resources and strategic documents were reviewed to obtain a better understanding of the CHRC context.
  • Policy review: The main human resources policies relevant to employment equity were reviewed to identify potential bias to equity seeking groups, and ways to strengthen the policies from an employment equity perspective.
  • Data analysis: A review of representation and distribution of designated group members as compared to the other employees provided an indication of the extent to which appointment, promotion, and retention is equitable.
  • Consultation: Consultation was carried out with 32 employees between February and June of 2022 and over two phases, which represents 15% of the total population. The participation in the consultation was on a voluntary basis following a Commission-wide call-out and was designed to cover all designated groups, to include employees from all Branches, to include regional and headquarter feedback, to cut across all organizational levels, and categories, to cover a range of tenure, and to ensure employees with English and French as a first language were included.
  • Employment Equity Advisory Group: The Decolonization and Anti-Racism Consultation Committee (DACC) was used as an advisory group to the employment systems review. The group was consulted throughout the process to ensure all key issues for review were identified, and to provide feedback on the key findings.

Results

Workforce analysis

In 2020/21 CHRC met its employment equity targets for all four Employment Equity groups (See Table 1), including for Indigenous Peoples.

Nonetheless, the challenge for CHRC is that as a small organization, for some of the equity seeking groups, the departure of one or two employees can have a significant impact on representation, hence CHRC should anticipate these departures in its employment equity planning.

Also, given how close representation is to Labour Market Availability (LMA) for some groups, when updated LMA data comes out from the Census data and the Canadian Survey on Disability, gaps may be identified where there are currently no gaps.

Another consideration is that CHRC has many employees who belong to more than one equity-seeking group, which means that the departure of one employee could have an impact on lowering representation across two or more employment equity groups.

In terms of distribution, equity-seeking groups members are fully represented at the EX-level. There are some gaps in the other categories, however there are no noteworthy clusters. The details are not presented in this report due to confidentiality considerations given the small numbers.

Policy review

Through their external audits the CHRC provides guidance and oversight related to human resource policies to departments and agencies public service-wide; as such it was anticipated that their own policies would be in excellent shape, and this was the case.

As the public service is currently planning for the return of employees to the workplace following mandatory work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission should ensure that employment equity considerations are at the forefront of decisions, as while remote work was made necessary due to the global pandemic, a corollary effect has been that the opportunity to work remotely has also been a positive accommodation to some employees who are members of equity seeking groups.

Employment equity awareness

There is a very high awareness of employment equity at the CHRC, due in large part to its complementarity with the nature of the mandate and the work of the Commission in human rights. Most employees had a sophisticated understanding of the principles of employment equity and were aware of the Anti-racism action plan and the employment equity initiatives being implemented within the Commission.

Informal work culture

There were mixed results in response to questions about the informal work culture at CHRC. Informal culture was defined as how people speak with each other, whether there are sexist or racist jokes, whether employees find themselves in circumstances where feel uncomfortable or disrespected by conversations, language and/or terminology, either in a meeting or during side conversations and social interactions.

Many spoke of the CHRC having a respectful and professional culture, where they had no negative experiences to report. They had experienced respect at all times, in both their interactions with colleagues and in their observed experiences of others.

Many spoke of the CHRC as being an organization where, when others may say or do something that they find inappropriate from an employment equity perspective, employees are able to raise this immediately without fear of repercussions, and the issue is quickly resolved, often with an apology and new learning about what is more appropriate. This is very much a best practice and speaks to a healthy workplace.

Some employees spoke of having managers who are open and proactive in discussing:

"With my DG and Director, at every meeting there is an emphasis on racial equality and the fight against stigma. It is front and centre in all of our group conversations. At our Branch level meetings there is always some component to race relations and how we are progressing."

While none of the employees consulted reported hearing overtly racist or sexist comments directed at them by colleagues or managers, what they did experience were indirect negatively suggestive comments about race, or toward those with parenting responsibilities. In some of these situations employees did not speak up for fear of negative repercussions.

Some employees, while they themselves were treated with respect, frequently overheard inappropriate language used by their colleagues when describing others, who were not CHRC employees. This was disconcerting, and employees consulted noted it is antithetical to the deep social justice values that attract people to become CHRC employees.

CHRC leadership reported being aware of these situations and described several steps they have been taking to eliminate this behaviour. Some employees noted that they have seen improvements to this workplace issue.

Development and training

Many employees consulted said that they do have access to development opportunities in support of their career development and that their managers are very supportive. These equity-seeking group members believe they have the same opportunities as others.

Nonetheless there was consistent feedback that certain CHRC employees are favoured for informal talent management; and some employees said they are overlooked even when they have had discussions with their managers about their desire for similar development opportunities.

"I wish there were more discussion about career progression. I don't want to be in one position until I retire; I see others selected, and when I ask I am told there are no opportunities for myself. While some people seem to be in the know, I don't know how to prepare."

While this was seen as an obstacle to career development by the employees consulted, this was not linked to employment equity, as the "favourites" were from diverse communities, although the impact affects other equity seeking group members careers and their workplace experiences.

Women

Feedback about support to mothers (parents/guardians) was mostly highly positive. Employees did not feel that there would be any negative consequences to asking for, making arrangements for, and taking maternity/parental leave, and then later when requesting flexibility in their work hours to respond to parental responsibilities.

However, this was not unanimous - some mothers believe they were seen as less valuable as employees when they had to take time off for family responsibilities. Some women said they are sent conflicting messages, for example their leave is approved, but then their manager continually asks them to log-on for work.

People with disabilities

Most employees who had requested accommodation said that it was provided willingly, and without hesitation.
Some employees and managers did note that if the accommodation is not a routine request, the process can be cumbersome and lengthy, and that improvements are needed in this respect.

Some pointed out that the greatest risk being their mental health due to the huge volume of work and noted that in their view managers are not taking proactive measures to address this by reducing workload/extending deadlines.

Indigenous peoples

Indigenous peoples did not report any experiences of overt racism. They described a workplace that was routinely respectful.

Some employees identified the need for more and continued education and sensitization for CHRC employees related to the experience and history of Indigenous peoples, as it was not uncommon to hear comments from colleagues that, while not offensive or intentionally inappropriate, demonstrate a lack of understanding of Indigenous peoples and the corresponding appropriate (respectful) vocabulary.

Black and racialized persons

As mentioned above, most Black and racialized employees consulted did not report any experiences of overt racism. They described a workplace that was routinely respectful.

Findings across equity-seeking groups

Some themes that are common across all designated groups, not included in other parts of this report are as follows.

More sensitivity is required when engaging employees in employment equity initiatives.
  • As is often the case with small organizations, when the organization seeks the participation of equity-seeking group members for corporate initiatives, there are a finite and often small number of designated group members to ask. Some of the equity-seeking group members who have been asked, shared that the approach was not done in a sensitive way, in that they did not think they had a real choice about participating, and did not think they could decline without potential negative repercussions.

    It should be noted that often these initiatives are to be carried out 'off-the-side of their desks', meaning that there is no additional compensation for these activities and employees have to find time for the additional duties without any adjustment being made to their regular workload.
A need for more emphasis on "people management" skills for senior managers and leaders.
  • Many employees observed that the people who are promoted to senior leadership positions are people who are technically sound and have a track record of working long hours (overtime) but may lack well-developed human resource management skills. These are the managers who generally are demotivating to work for, and specifically were reported to exhibit discriminatory behaviours.

    CHRC leadership reported that they are aware of this issue, and are taking proactive steps to ensure employees are supported by good leadership.
Safe spaces.
  • Equity-seeking group members were asked about the extent to which they have 'safe spaces', managers and/or colleagues they can turn to who can assist if they think they are experiencing discrimination or oppression. Most of the employees had someone to turn to for support and to help resolving situations of disrespect, harassment, and/or discrimination. Examples were provided where this worked well and the employee was satisfied with the process and the outcome.
  • Some employees expressed fear of speaking out about negative experiences, believing that that they could lose their job, and/or confidentiality would not be maintained - this trend was raised by employees - that confidentiality is not always maintained, as evidenced either by their own experiences, or when learning confidential information about colleagues - information that in their view should not have been shared with them.
Faith-based communities.
  • It can be an effort for some employees to get time off for their religious holidays if they are not Christian holidays, although employees said they are eventually granted the time. It was suggested that CHRC develop a policy that can normalize and facilitate these requests.

Employee representatives

During consultation with union representatives, priority issues were raised, in particular the volume of workload, which was reported as being an urgent concern and the lack of transparency and fairness in staffing processes. While both of these issues apply to all employees, it was also highlighted as being an issue that is being raised by equity-seeking group members.

Recommendations and observations

CHRC has senior leadership support at the Chief Commissioner level and has implemented many best practices in employment equity. Nonetheless the following recommendations and observations are made:

  1. More effective response to ad hoc accommodation requests. All requests are easily approved, and routine requests are generally responded to very well. However, when addressing requests that may be more complex or are new to CHRC, the response can be lengthy, cumbersome and not as effective as it could be. CHRC should invest the time and resources to develop a protocol for responding efficiently and effectively to all accommodation requests, which includes engaging with the employee about their needs and options, ensuring the manager takes the lead in the process (and doesn't leave it to the employee), and periodic follow-up with the employee to ensure the accommodation is meeting their needs and to see if any improvements could be made.
  2. Increased communication related to talent management and staffing processes. The results of the Employment Systems Review did not identify differential treatment of employees because they belonged to an equity seeking group. There is a consistent employee perception that arbitrary decisions are being made about which employees are provided career development opportunities and career advancement, and this was highlighted by unions.

    A more formalized and structured approach to talent management, combined with ongoing communication about staffing plans and decisions is a best practice that can go a long way to improving the work environment at CHRC for all employees, including equity seeking group members. It should be noted that increased communication about staffing decisions should be complemented by a strong talent management program where employees are supported by managers in identifying development areas and opportunities.
  3. Right-size workload expectations. While excellent measures have been instituted, such as encouraging employees not to work evenings and weekends, there has not been the necessary corresponding adjustment to volume of work and/or deadline expectations. Employees are under great strain, and those from equity seeking groups, for example those with family responsibilities and people with disabilities, are disproportionately affected. Unsustainable workload expectations is seen as a public-service-wide problem, nonetheless, CHRC must find ways to better support employees mental health.

Observations

The Commission leadership has accurately identified that successfully achieving their anti-racism goals will have to integrate culture change principles, and these were in evidence during the Employment Systems Review. These principles include clear communication, quickly responding to situations of alleged harassment and/or discrimination, investing in time and resources to support anti-racism initiatives, and planning to effect change over the long-term.

To successfully effect the level of excellence in anti-racism the CHRC has set as its goal, the Commission will have to maintain the comprehensive and long-term focus and resist the pull of competing pressures and priorities; this is a common risk that derails anti-racism efforts.

CHRC has implemented some positive initiatives to support employment equity, and these should continue.

Continue with:

  • Having the catalyst for achieving employment equity results as a priority at the Chief Commissioner level.
  • Support to the anti-racism/anti-discrimination committees (e.g., DACC) and networks, and providing financial and human resources to support employment equity initiatives.
  • Working toward a diversity and inclusion plan that is developed in consultation with employees and unions and is regularly updated.
  • Ensuring workforce representation reflects labour market availability and takes into account the need for proactive efforts given the small size of the organization and possible new targets with updated availability data.
  • Employment equity education and sensitivity training across all groups.
  • Seeking union input and feedback on employment equity plans and activities.
  • Continuous tracking and monitoring of numerical targets and the experience of the workplace for equity-seeking group members.

1. Background

From September 2021-July 2022 the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC or "the Commission") conducted an Employment Equity Employment Systems Review, and this report highlights the findings and the results. This report focuses on the experiences of Indigenous peoples (Aboriginal peoples), Black and racialized persons (members of visible minorities), people with disabilities (persons with disabilities), women, and members of the 2SLGBTQI community. Note the first four are designated groups as identified in the Employment Equity Act, and 2SLGBTQI employees have been included as they are an important equity-seeking group.

2. Methodology

The Employment Systems Review methodology followed the process outlined in the Employment Equity Act, which includes both quantitative and qualitative approaches, as outlined in the activities below. An analysis of the findings across the different lines of enquiry provides information related to whether there are systemic barriers for the equity-seeking group members.

During the course of the Employment Systems Review, in May 2022, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the Public Service Commission released guidance for the conduct of Employment Systems reviews, and the methodology suggested by the central agency aligns with the approach taken in this Employment Systems Review.

The methodology included the following activities:

  • Review of background documentation: Key human resources and strategic documents were reviewed.
  • Policy review: The CHRC has a number of documents that guide corporate human resources activities and inform decision-making. The main human resources policies relevant to employment equity were reviewed. See Appendix A for a list of the key policies reviewed. CHRC will be provided with detailed feedback on each policy, separately from this report.
  • Data analysis: A review of representation and distribution of designated group members as compared to the other employees provides an indication of the extent to which appointment, promotion, and retention is equitable. A review of employment equity data was conducted for the last 10 years. This was followed by a detailed analysis of demographic employment equity data for the last three fiscal years and included a review of representation by designated group, Branch and occupational category; as well as external recruitment, promotions and separations. CHRC did not have significant regional presence, with 95% of employees based in the National Capital Region.
  • Consultation: Consultation was carried out on a voluntary basis following a Commission-wide call-out with a total of 32 employees over two phases, which represents 15% of the total population. The first included key stakeholders including the Chief Commissioner, key human resources staff working on employment equity, union representatives, and network chairs. These individuals were identified for their senior level responsibility for employment equity and/or their knowledge about employment equity at CHRC.

    The second consultation phase included additional senior managers, directors, human resources personnel, equity-seeking group members, and union representatives through both in-person and/or telephone interviews and four group discussions.

    The voluntary consultation was designed to cover all designated groups, to include employees from all Branches, to include regional and headquarter feedback, to cut across all organizational levels, and categories, to cover a range of tenure, and to ensure employees with English and French as a first language were included. To identify employees, a Commission-wide call-out email was sent out, and employees who expressed interest were included in the consultation, while ensuring there was an appropriate demographic distribution across each of the equity-seeking groups. The consultation sample was not a statistically representative sample, nonetheless it represented a fulsome portion of all employees.
     
  • Employment Equity Advisory Group: The Decolonization and Anti-Racism Consultation Committee (DACC) was used as an advisory group to the employment systems review. This Advisory Group was comprised of representatives from the equity-seeking groups, the equity and diversity champions, and human resources. The group was consulted throughout the process, as key stakeholders to ensure all key issues for review were identified and to provide feedback on the key findings.
  • Analysis of results: The data from all the lines of enquiry listed above were assessed to identify whether there were any potential employment equity systemic barriers. During the Employment Systems Review the feedback received was highly consistent across the different data sources and within each data source. The main issues identified through the consultation were validated with the Human Resources project team, and with the Employment Equity Advisory Group.

3. Results

The results are presented under the following headings, which correspond to the employment systems review requirements under the Employment Equity Act.

  • Collection of workforce information
  • Workforce Analysis
  • Review of Policies
  • Employment Equity Accomplishments
  • Employment Equity Plan (Diversity and Inclusion Plan)
  • Employment Equity Committees
  • Employment Equity Awareness
  • Consultation
  • Employment Equity Records

3.1 Collection of workforce information

The importance of self-identification is included in all letters of offer.  Additionally, a biannual reminder email is sent to all employees, encouraging them to self-identify or to update their self-identification information, as required.  The email includes instructions and is supported by information about the benefits of self-identification. As of March 31, 2022, return rate is 100%, and response rate is 94% (only 6% of eligible employees provided a “no response” submission).

CHRC has plans to engage in more proactive self-identification campaigns.

3.2 Workforce analysis

The expectation is the CHRC's employee population reflect the number/percent of employees in each of the four Employment Equity groups who are available to work in Canada. Employment Equity targets are based on Workforce Availability (WFA) data driven from the 2016 Canadian Census and the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability. WFA data is produced based on potential job applicants who are qualified for different types of jobs. This is noteworthy as there was a common misperception expressed during the consultation that employment equity targets are not based on merit; more specifically that WFA does not take qualifications and type of work into account.

While this report focuses on top-level data, note that CHRC has detailed occupational data, to inform its Employment Equity planning.

Table 1 - As of March 31, 2021 - Total 218 Employees CHRC
Women Indigenous peoples Black and racialized persons People with disabilities
CHRC LMA CHRC LMA CHRC LMA CHRC LMA
69.7% (152) 60.5% Supressed for confidentiality 3.7% 20.6% (45) 15.0% 14.6% (36) 9.0%
Table 2 - As of March 31, 2020 - Total 212 Employees CHRC
Women Indigenous peoples Black and racialized persons People with disabilities
CHRC LMA CHRC LMA CHRC LMA CHRC LMA
70.3% (149) 60.6% Supressed 3.7% 18.4% (39) 15.2% 14.6% (31) 9.1%

In 2020/21 CHRC met its employment equity targets for all four Employment Equity groups, including for Indigenous Peoples (See Table 1). Representation was the same or better than for 2019/20 (See Table 2), and the gap for Indigenous peoples was closed.

At the time of writing this report, preliminary data was available for 2021/22, and if the final numbers are similar, the positive trend continues.

Nonetheless, CHRC has a challenge and some considerations to keep in mind. The challenge is that as a small organization, for some of the equity seeking groups, the departure of one or two employees can have a significant impact on representation, hence CHRC should be prepared for such departures.

One consideration is that given how close representation is to Labour Market Availability (LMA) for some groups, in particular for Indigenous Peoples (see Table 1), when updated LMA data comes out from the Census data and the Canadian Survey on Disability, gaps may be identified where there are currently no gaps.

Another consideration is that CHRC has many employees who belong to more than one equity-seeking group, which means that the departure of one employee could have an impact on lowering representation across two or more employment equity groups.

Distribution: In terms of distribution, employment equity designated group are fully represented at the EX-level. There are some gaps in the other categories, however there are no noteworthy clusters. The details are not presented in this report due to confidentiality considerations given the small numbers. (CHRC Data from March 31, 2020)

Regions: CHRC is primarily Ottawa-based. In March 2021, over 95% of positions were located in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Promotions and Separations: Promotion and separation data were reviewed; however, they are not presented in this report due to confidentiality considerations given the small size of the organization.

3.3 Review of policies

Through their external audits the CHRC provides guidance and oversight related to human resource policies to departments and agencies public service-wide; as such it was anticipated that their own policies would be in excellent shape, and this was the case. Some updates were needed in terms of the terminology used (for example "his" and "hers" should be gender neutral). There were few other areas for improvement recommended, and these were provided to the CHRC as a separate document.

As the public service is currently planning for the return of employees to the workplace following mandatory work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission should ensure that employment equity considerations are at the forefront of decisions. Once the new approach to work is adopted, the policy related to flexible work (working from home and flexible work hours) should be updated to reflect the new approach to work.

3.4 Employment equity accomplishments

Over the last few years the CHRC has been pursuing a proactive anti-racism agenda, with the goals of improving the work environment for all employees, especially those who belong to an equity seeking group; and it includes increasing representation of these groups, with a focus on Black, Indigenous and people of colour employees. Efforts have included training, employee consultation, and the development of an action plan the covers a comprehensive range of activities.

3.5 Employment Equity Diversity and Inclusion Plan

In September 2021 the CHRC developed an Anti-Racism Action Plan which was developed with specific activities identified to 2023. The intention is to use the feedback and recommendations from this Employment Systems Review in the development of an Employment Equity Plan. That said, the activities in the existing action plan cover the main areas typically addressed by an Employment Equity Plan, and the Commission has not delayed in addressing the key areas, such as providing resources to support new initiatives, proactive recruitment to maintain full representation, and more structured and deliberate talent management.

3.6 Employment equity committees

The Decolonization and Anti-Racism Consultation Committee (DACC) serves as the hub for employment equity issues at CHRC. This committee meets regularly.

CHRC has also appointed a focal point to support the implementation of the employment equity and anti-racism agenda. A senior executive was appointed in 2020 to carry out this work.

3.7 Consultation

The qualitative phase included: key stakeholder interviews with senior managers and key employees in the CHRC; as well as confidential one-on-one interviews with employees; and group discussions. The purpose of the consultation was to identify whether there are systemic barriers affecting the representation of employment equity group members, and adversely affecting their day-to-day work environment.

3.7.1 Employment equity awareness

There is a very high awareness of employment equity at the CHRC, due in large part to its complementarity with the nature of the mandate and the work of the Commission in human rights. Most employees had a sophisticated understanding of the principles of employment equity, and were aware of the Anti-racism action plan and the employment equity initiatives being implemented within the Commission.

3.7.2 Informal work culture

There were mixed results in response to questions about the informal work culture at CHRC. Informal culture refers to how people speak with each other, whether there are sexist or racist jokes, whether employees find themselves in circumstances where feel uncomfortable or disrespected by conversations, language and/or terminology, either in a meeting or during side conversations and social interactions.

Many spoke of the CHRC having a respectful and professional culture, where they had no negative experiences to report. They had experienced respect at all times, in their experiences with colleagues and in their observed experiences of others.

Many spoke of the CHRC as being an organization where, when others may say or do something that they find inappropriate from an employment equity perspective, employees are able to raise this immediately without fear of repercussions, and the issue is quickly resolved, often with an apology and new learning about what is more appropriate. This is very much a best practice and speaks to a healthy workplace.

Some employees spoke of having managers who are open and proactive in discussing their commitment to a respectful anti-racist, anti-discrimination workplace, and these managers actively encourage employees to speak up if they experience any inappropriate behaviour or comments, and employees said they believed this to be genuine offer and they would speak up if a situation presented itself.

"With my DG and Director, at every meeting there is an emphasis on racial equality and the fight against stigma. It is front and centre in all of our group conversations. At our Branch level meetings there is always some component to race relations and how we are progressing."

While none of the employees consulted reported hearing overtly racist or sexist comments directed at them by colleagues or managers, what they did experience were indirect negatively suggestive comments about race, or toward those with parenting responsibilities. These comments were reported as being directed at their competence and/or commitment to work when they have to leave to attend to family responsibilities.

Some employees gave examples of having their professional advice being consistently dismissed, and the employee's assessment is that the reason is likely due to racism and/or sexism. In none of the situations provided, did the employee feel they could address the person who had made the comment, without potential for negative repercussions on their work environment and/or career.

Some employees, while they themselves were treated with respect, frequently overheard inappropriate language used by their colleagues when describing others, who were not CHRC employees. This was disconcerting, and employees consulted noted it is antithetical to the deep social justice values that attract people to become CHRC employees.

CHRC leadership reported being aware of these situations and described several steps they have been taking to eliminate this behaviour. Some employees noted that they have seen improvements to this workplace issue.

Word exercise

As part of the consultation process, a random sample of employees interviewed were asked to complete a Word Exercise. This was done at the very start of the consultation, before any discussion took place about their experiences, hence before the Employment Systems Review questions could introduce bias into the responses.

The results of this exercise can be helpful in contextualizing the feedback received, as the focus on an employment systems review is often on potential obstacles and barriers, more than on the positive elements in the workplace.

The results of the CHRC Word exercise show that while there is still work to do to support employees and improve the culture, many employees enjoy their overall working experience.

Choose the 3 words that best describe your personal experience with the culture (formal/informal) at CHRC.

Table 3 - Results of the word exercise - Total employees: 17
Word Choices Total Experience qualifier
Supportive 10 Positive
Respectful 7 Positive
Exciting 6 Positive
Professional 6 Positive
Stressful 5 Negative
Demotivating 5 Negative
Fair 4 Positive
Driven 3 Positive or Negative
Competitive 2 Positive or Negative
Goal-Oriented 2 Positive
Energetic 1 Positive
Hostile 1 Negative
Innovative 1 Positive
Bullying 1 Negative
Aggressive 0 Not applicable
Oppressive 0 Not applicable

3.7.3. Development and training

Many employees consulted said that they do have access to development opportunities in support of their career development and that their managers are very supportive. These equity-seeking group members believe they have the same opportunities as others.

"I am very fortunate to have good directors who have invested in my training and see the work I do and have advanced my career. It is a very nice place to work."

Nonetheless there was consistent feedback that certain CHRC employees are favoured for informal talent management; and some employees said they are overlooked even when they have had discussions with their managers about their desire for similar development opportunities. This handpicking of employees is perceived as being arbitrary, as employees say the reasoning behind such decisions are not convincingly communicated to staff (if communicated at all), and the favoured employee who gets the opportunity is not always an obvious choice (e.g., they may not have the most experience, or the most relevant experience, or they may not have the required language profile).

"I wish there were more discussion about career progression. I don't want to be in one position until I retire; I see others selected, and when I ask I am told there are no opportunities for myself. While some people seem to be in the know, I don't know how to prepare."

While this was seen as an obstacle to career development by the employees consulted, this was not linked to employment equity, as the "favourites" were from diverse communities, although the impact affects other equity seeking group members careers and their workplace experiences.

While it was not seen to be a systemic employment equity barrier, it is reported here given the significant number of times this issue was highlighted during the consultation. In the absence of communication from managers about staffing decisions, some racialized employees provided anecdotal examples of situations where they thought they were overlooked due to their race.

Another issue that was raised was French language training as it is seen as a common barrier to career advancement, in particular for senior level positions. A number of equity seeking group members reported having had challenges in receiving approval from their managers to take language training, due to ongoing high workload.

3.7.4. Women

Feedback about support to mothers (parents/guardians) was mostly highly positive. Employees did not feel that there would be any negative consequences to asking for, making arrangements for, and taking maternity/parental leave, and then later when requesting flexibility in their work hours to respond to parental responsibilities.

However, this was not unanimous – some mothers believe they were seen as less valuable as employees when they had to take time off for family responsibilities. Some women said they are sent conflicting messages, for example their leave is approved, but then their manager continually asks them to log-on for work.

Some noted that CHRC has women in leadership positions who did not have children, and do not make an effort to be supportive of those who are managing family responsibilities as well as work.

As mentioned below, under Inflexible workload, it was reported that the CHRC default expectation is that to do well and to get ahead, employees are expected to put in a lot of extra hours. Women with family responsibilities and employees with disabilities noted that this impacts on their career opportunities.

3.7.5. People with disabilities

Most employees who had requested accommodation said that it was provided willingly, and without hesitation. None of the employees consulted had managers tell them that requested accommodations were too costly or make an issue about the cost of accommodation.

Some employees and managers did note that if the accommodation is not a routine request, the process can be cumbersome and lengthy, and that improvements are needed in this respect.

Another type of accommodation that doesn't fall under the routine category, are ad hoc events and activities that are organized for teams, such as retreats, celebrations, teambuilding exercises etc. At times these events are not planned using a disability lens, for example planning a physical activity with no alternative or adapted activities for those who might have difficulties with mobility.

Some employees with disabilities reported that they are reluctant to ask for needed accommodations particularly in the context of a selection process, as they are concerned that it might be a factor against them when the selection decision is being made. Many employees spoke about the leadership team having employees they treat as "superstars", and the employees with disabilities said that if they are not one of the superstars, then they are even more disinclined to ask for an accommodation.

Reasonable accommodation

Under the Employment Equity Act, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to employees, when requested. The results of the Employment Systems Review are presented as follows:

Online access

Some employees highlighted the need for improvements for website accessibility (e.g., use of HTML, image descriptions).

Ergonomic support/technical aids

When requiring accommodations such as ergonomic equipment or technical aids, this was reported as always being granted by the manager, and in most situations the employee did not experience any reluctance from the manager.

However, in terms of obtaining the required accommodation, this was reported as being inconsistent, in that employees thought that the speed and (bureaucratic) ease with which they received the required accommodation was dependent on how proactive individual managers chose to be in facilitating the accommodation.

The process was often described as being disjointed.

"The system is not well organized for taking care of you."

Mental health

The view of CHRC's record related to mental health was mixed.

The CHRC leadership has instituted some practices aimed at supported mental health well-being, for example encouraging employees to switch off on evenings and weekends and having no-meetings on Fridays. There was mixed feedback on this, some viewed this as all positive while others found it increased their stress as they viewed it as a shortened work week with reduced hours to meet. Regardless, all employees appreciated the sentiment, and the encouragement to switch off from work.

Some pointed out that the greatest risk to their mental health is the huge volume of work and noted that in their view managers are not taking proactive measures to address this by reducing workload/extending deadlines.

Employees provided examples to support their feedback that the CHRC is typically more effective at accommodating physical accommodation than accommodation requests related to mental health.

Flexible work

Alternative work arrangements are available to CHRC employees, such as banked time, flexible work hours, compressed work weeks, and working from home. These arrangements can be beneficial for women who are balancing family commitments with work, and for persons with disabilities who may be more productive when working from home and/or can use the flexibility provided to facilitate appointments. The feedback received was that access to these accommodations were very much driven by the personal preference of individual managers.

Pre-pandemic, some managers were either amenable or encouraging of employees working from home when appropriate, and others, while they usually granted it, through subtle remarks and attitudes, made employees feel uncomfortable about asking for the flexibility.

Some employees also noted that the readiness with which working from home was granted appeared to be related to the seniority of the employee, that is, senior managers were favoured when it came to working from home, and the assumption was that senior employees are in fact working, while more junior employees suspected their managers didn't really believe they were working when granted this flexibility.

Some employees with young families, and persons with disabilities, have found the post-COVID-19 work from home protocol has been a very positive experience. Their hope is that in future managers will now better understand that working from home can be highly productive, that there will be easier access to the opportunity to work from home. Some employees were very apprehensive anticipating the return to work.

Inflexible workload

The CHRC is seen as a workplace where the demanding workload (well beyond official working hours) is a given and is also seen to be closely tied to which employees are identified for career opportunities and advancement, e.g., those who put in the most hours are most likely to get ahead.

This unrelenting pace of work was reported as to posing obstacles for employees, in particular employees with some types of disabilities, and employees with family responsibilities. Through the consultation many women and persons with disabilities highlighted the exponential impact of the unrelenting (and at times unrealistic) pressure created by typical workload expectations.

Many employees consulted commented that their view is that CHRC leadership see individual employees as being "replaceable", and they speculate that this is why the workload is not addressed.

3.7.6. Indigenous peoples

As mentioned above, Indigenous peoples did not report any experiences of overt racism. They described a workplace that was routinely respectful.

Some employees identified the need for more and continued education and sensitization for CHRC employees related to the experience and history of Indigenous peoples, as it was not uncommon to hear comments from colleagues that, while not offensive or intentionally inappropriate, demonstrate a lack of understanding of Indigenous peoples and the corresponding appropriate (respectful) vocabulary.

Indigenous peoples also spoke of the experiences reported in the section below related to experiences across all the equity-seeking groups.

3.7.7. Black and racialized persons

As mentioned above, Black and racialized employees did not report any experiences of overt racism. They described a workplace that was routinely respectful.

When hiring Black and racialized persons, it was noted that often the hires are of individuals who are not visibly racialized (e.g., their skin tone could be viewed as white). When this was noted, an observation was made that managers should make some efforts to include Black and racialized employees who are visibly racialized, in their hiring. (This is sometimes referred to as colourism.)

Black and racialized employees also spoke of the experiences reported in the section below related to experiences across all the equity-seeking groups.

3.7.8. Across equity-seeking groups

Some themes that are common across all designated groups, not included in other parts of this report are as follows:

More sensitivity is required when engaging employees in employment equity initiatives

  • As is often the case with small organizations, when the organization seeks the participation of equity-seeking group members for corporate initiatives, there are a finite and often small number of designated group members to ask. Some of the equity-seeking group members who have been asked, shared that the approach was not done in a sensitive way, in that they did not think they had a real choice about participating, and did not think they could decline without potential negative repercussions.

    It should be noted that often these infinitives are to be carried out "off-the-side of their desks", meaning that there is no additional compensation for these activities and employees have to find time for the additional duties without any adjustment being made to their regular workload.

A need for more emphasis on "people management" skills for senior managers and leaders

  • Many employees observed that the people who are promoted to senior leadership positions are people who are technically sound and have a track record of working long hours (overtime) but may lack well-developed human resource management skills. These are the managers who generally are demotivating to work for, and specifically were reported to exhibit discriminatory behaviours. CHRC leadership reported that they are aware of this issue, and are taking proactive steps to ensure employees are supported by good leadership.

Safe spaces

  • Equity-seeking group members were asked about the extent to which they have "safe spaces", managers and/or colleagues they can turn to who can assist if they think they are experiencing discrimination or oppression. Most of the employees had someone to turn to for support and to help resolving situations of disrespect, harassment, and/or discrimination. Examples were provided where this worked well and the employee was satisfied with the process and the outcome.
  • Some employees expressed fear of speaking out about negative experiences, believing that that they could lose their job, and/or confidentiality would not be maintained - this trend was raised by employees - that confidentiality is not always maintained, as evidenced either by their own experiences, or when learning confidential information about colleagues - information that in their view should not have been shared with them.

Faith-based communities

  • It can be an effort for some employees to get time off for their religious holidays if they are not Christian holidays, although employees said they are eventually granted the time. It was suggested that CHRC develop a policy that can normalize and facilitate these requests.

4. Employee representatives

An invitation was extended to all union representatives to provide input into the Employment Systems Review, and meeting was held with representatives from Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), and Association of Justice Counsel (AJC).

Priority issues were raised, in particular the volume of workload, which was reported as being an urgent concern and the lack of transparency and fairness in staffing processes. While both of these issues apply to all employees, it was also highlighted as being an issue that is being raised by equity-seeking group members.

The representatives emphasized the need for action, saying that it is not about what employees need to hear, it is about what they need to see. "Employees are disaffected, they feel they have been endlessly interviewed but nothing has changed. They don’t see real change, but that is what they need." Concrete change could include actions such as representation in the management and executive groups.

This was a robust discussion that with open and frank input that was very helpful in shaping the approach to the Employment Systems Review, and the representatives were invited to provide further input as needed. Union representation continued to be part of the Employment Systems Review through their participation on the Advisory Group.

5. Employment equity records

The information captured with respect to employment equity demographic data is integrated into the ongoing capture of human resources data and is maintained and stored within corporate human resources data in the Human Resources Management System MyGCHR as appropriate.

Self-identification information is maintained confidential by the Human Resources Division. No one outside of human resources has access to the information. Information is only shared with other parties such as management for the purpose of policy and/or program development and this is only done if the employee has indicated, through positive response to a question on the self-identification survey, that they are in agreement with their self-identification information being shared. 

6. Conclusion

Overall, CHRC is performing well in creating an inclusive and equitable workplace, as noted by representation, strong human resources policies, and employee feedback depicting a respectful and professional work environment.

The extent to which employees described CHRC as being supportive (for example, access to training, promotion and career opportunities) was inconsistent, and manager dependent. In recent years, many said they have had very positive experiences, some had moderate experiences, and there were some employees who described very negative experiences. Many employees also noted they have seen improvement in the last one to two years.

CHRC is currently fully represented in all of the employment equity groups. Continued efforts are required to maintain full representation, particularly for Indigenous Peoples, as the representation for this group is very close to labour market availability. The challenges to maintaining representation include the small size of the organization (one employee can have a big impact on representation), the number of employees who self-identify across multiple groups (one employee can have a big impact on representation across more than one group), and updated labour market availability data may increase targets (which could result in CHRC falling behind once the new data is released).

Equity, diversity and inclusion has a high profile within the organization, with all employees consulted being aware of some of the initiatives, and all were aware of the expressed commitment by the leadership, in particular by the Chief Commissioner. The Chief Commissioner was viewed as a genuine advocate and catalyst make positive changes.

Generally, employees think the messaging is comprehensive and positive, and that the systems to prevent barriers are comprehensive and are in place.

In their view, the CHRC is at a pivotal moment, as described by one employee: "I am waiting to see if it's more than a communications exercise". Many others expressed it in terms of seeing whether everything that has been carried out to date will be "performative" in nature, or whether they will lead to substantial and sustained change.

With a continued focus on enhancing the workplace for its equity-seeking group members, CHRC should be able to build upon the achievements to continue to foster a respectful workplace with equitable opportunities.

7. Recommendations and observations

The following provides the key recommendations and observations based on the findings of the employment systems review.

Recommendations

CHRC has senior leadership support at the Chief Commissioner level, and has implemented many best practices in employment equity. Nonetheless there are three areas of focus in the recommendations.

  1. More effective response to ad hoc accommodation requests. All requests are easily approved, and routine requests are generally responded to very well. However, when addressing requests that may be more complex or are new to CHRC, the response can be lengthy, cumbersome and not as effective as it could be. CHRC should invest the time and resources to develop a protocol for responding efficiently and effectively to all accommodation requests, which includes engaging with the employee about their needs and options, ensuring the manager takes the lead in the process (and doesn't leave it to the employee), and periodic follow-up with the employee to ensure the accommodation is meeting their needs and to see if any improvements could be made.
  2. Increased communication related to talent management and staffing processes. The results of the Employment Systems Review did not identify differential treatment of employees because they belonged to an equity seeking group. There is a consistent employee perception that arbitrary decisions are being made about which employees are provided career development opportunities and career advancement, and this was highlighted by unions.

    A more formalized and structured approach to talent management, combined with ongoing communication about staffing plans and decisions is a best practice that can go a long way to improving the work environment at CHRC for all employees, including equity seeking group members. It should be noted that increased communication about staffing decisions should be complemented by a strong talent management program where employees are supported by managers in identifying development areas and opportunities.
  3. Right-size workload expectations. While excellent measures have been instituted, such as encouraging employees not to work evening and weekends, there has not been the necessary corresponding adjustment to volume of work and/or deadline expectations. Employees are under great strain, and those from equity seeking groups, for example those with family responsibilities and people with disabilities, are disproportionately affected. Unsustainable workload expectations is seen as a public-service-wide problem, nonetheless, CHRC must find ways to better support employees mental health.

Observations

The Commission leadership has accurately identified that successfully achieving their anti-racism goals will have to integrate culture change principles, and these were in evidence during the Employment Systems Review. These principles include clear communication, quickly responding to situations of alleged harassment and/or discrimination, investing in time and resources to support anti-racism initiatives, and planning to effect change over the long-term.

To successfully effect the level of excellence in anti-racism the CHRC it has set as its goal, the Commission will have to maintain the comprehensive and long-term focus and resist the pull of competing pressures and priorities; this is a common risk that derails anti-racism efforts.

CHRC has implemented some positive initiatives to support employment equity, and these should continue.

Continue with:

  • Having the catalyst for achieving employment equity results as a priority at the Chief Commissioner level.
  • Support to the anti-racism/anti-discrimination committees (e.g., DACC) and networks, and providing financial and human resources to support employment equity initiatives.
  • Working toward a diversity and inclusion plan that is developed in consultation with employees and unions and is regularly updated.
  • Ensuring workforce representation reflects labour market availability and takes into account the need for proactive efforts given the small size of the organization and possible new targets with updated availability data.
  • Employment equity education and sensitivity training across all groups.
  • Seeking union input and feedback on employment equity plans and activities.
  • Continuous tracking and monitoring of numerical targets and the experience of the workplace for equity-seeking group members.

8. Commission response

The Commission accepts all of the recommendations in this report and is grateful for the time and energy of all who participated. We see the Employment Equity Act as a minimum requirement for all employers, including the Commission. We will continue to strive to make this a welcoming, inclusive and diverse workplace where everyone feels respected and welcomed.

Over the next few months, the Commission will continue to innovate and find ways to improve its practices to remain a leader in the field of Employment Equity. This is just the beginning and we all have a role to play in shaping the culture of the organization.

Together, we can make it!

Marie-Claude Landry, Ad. E.
Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission

Appendix A - Human resources policies reviewed

  • Guidelines on Assessment of Candidates
  • Telework Policy
  • Telework Directive
  • Welcome to the CHRC
  • Welcome to CHRC Manager's Guide
  • Reference Guide New Employee Onboarding
  • Policy on Environmental Sensitivity
  • CHRC Occupational Health and Safety Policy
  • Workplace HS Committee- Terms of Reference
  • Draft Anti-racism action plan
  • Anti-racism Action Plan Dashboard
  • CHRC Development of the accessibility plan
  • Annexe 1 - CHRC Accessibility Framework
  • CHRC Hashtags
  • CHRC Social Media & Tools Overview
  • CHRC Social Media Protocol 2021
  • CHRC Terms & Language
  • Social Media - Accessibility Guide
  • Social Media - Twitter Basics Guide
  • CHRC Staffing Policy
  • Procedure on investigation, correction action, and revocation of appointments
  • CHRC Policy on Acting Appointments over 4 months
  • CHRC Deployment Policy
  • Policy on the Management of Pools
  • Policy on Official Languages at the CHRC
  • CHRC Policy on the Recognition and Award Program
  • Guidelines on Second Language Training
  • Individual Learning Plan
  • Guidelines and Procedures on Training, Development and Learning
  • Accommodation Policy and Procedures

Appendix B - Interview guide

Canadian Human Rights Commission
Employment Equity Employment Systems Review
Employees – Interview Questions

  1. How long have you worked at the CHRC? Where else have your worked?
  2. What type of work do you do?
  3. Do you currently manage staff? If not, how many people are on your team?
  4. Generally, how would you describe your experience with the work environment (culture) at the CHRC?
  5. What has been your personal (recent) experience at the CHRC with:
    • the hiring process
    • the selection process
    • developmental opportunities (assignments, transfers, development programs)
    • training
    • promotion
    • accommodation, if required?
  6. What do you think are the benefits of self-identification? What do you think are the disadvantages? What would encourage more people to self-identify?
  7. How would you describe the informal the CHRC culture in terms of attitudes toward designated group members? (Probe)
  8. To what extent do you feel there are safe spaces at the CHRC to raise issues and concerns, related to employment equity? Related to the general work environment?
  9. What has been your personal experience with making a complaint or grievance related to how you have been treated by others, if you have had this experience? (Elaborate)
  10. Have you witnessed disrespectful behaviour between others at the CHRC? Please elaborate. To what extent are you able to step in and speak up for others?
  11. What are some reasons you enjoy about working at the CHRC, generally?
  12. As a result of this employment system review process, what changes would you like to see in your workplace, if any?
  13. What is your understanding about what employment equity is all about, as it is being implemented at the CHRC? Of which specific employment equity activities and events are you aware, if any? Is there anything you would like to see in the future?
  14. Is there anything you would like to add?
  15. Do you have any questions before we close?