Employers rewarded for diversity

Canada Post, UBC, Vancity among top employers
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/04/2009

One of the biggest challenges for Canada Post when it comes to building diversity and equity is the reluctance of employees to self-identify as members of a minority group.

“If we are ultimately looking to see if we are reaching our targets, it’s important to know who’s out there,” said Deborah Shelton, director of human rights and employment equity at the Ottawa-based Crown corporation. “Are we attracting people we want to attract, and offering things that make them feel welcome in our workplace?”

Combating the fabrications around self-identification — that it makes people a target of discrimination or is the only reason they have a job — is an issue the 60,000-employee organization continues to work on.

“We try to do a lot of communication around dispelling those myths, saying equity and diversity really are about giving equal opportunities and removing any obstacles,” she said.

Canada Post runs special events such as celebrations around Aboriginal Day or Black History month and it encourages people to self-identify. These initiatives also “keep things a little bit in your face,” when it comes to promoting diversity and equity, said Shelton.

Commitment such as this made Canada Post one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers 2009, a list published by Mediacorp Canada that recognizes employers for exceptional workplace diversity and inclusiveness.

“Canada Post was a very stable, homogenous workforce for a long time,” said Shelton, but with the large turnover around baby boomers retiring, there has been a chance to step back and assess the workforce. “When Canada is becoming a more diverse culture and society, it’s very important we have that same kind of balance in our workplace.”

The organization partners with Equitek to find job candidates who are hard to reach through traditional recruitment strategies. It also runs equity-awareness sessions for recruiters and updates recruitment policies and an external recruitment training manual to include sections on how to reach a more diverse labour market.

Canada Post is already quite strong with female employees, who fill the role of president, senior vice-president of operations and other senior, influential positions and represent 48.9 per cent of employees. When it comes to Aboriginals, targeted initiatives such as the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) program and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Aboriginal Hiring initiative are helping improve the representation rate, which is at about 1.9 per cent compared to labour market availability of 2.5 per cent. The company has an Aboriginal recruitment committee to help penetrate this market and received a PAR gold-level award in 2008 for its work in the Aboriginal community.

Visible minorities and persons with disabilities have also seen gains, with the first at 10.5-per-cent representation at Canada Post, compared to 13.2-per-cent labour market availability, and the latter at 3.7 per cent, compared to four-per-cent availability. Canada Post is starting to put out more recruitment materials in languages such as Punjabi, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic, while providing tools to help employees with disabilities, such as deaf letter carriers who need to communicate with clients.

To track its success, Canada Post surveys employees on respect and fairness at work and investigates any complaints based on race or religion. In 2007, 19 per cent of internal human rights and 16 per cent of formal human rights complaints were based on race, colour or national or ethnic origin, down considerably from 39 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively, in 2006.

UBC ‘embedding equity’

Also a Best Diversity Employer for 2009 is the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, which has a diverse student population and recognizes the need to have a workforce that reflects the communities it serves, said Tom Patch, associate vice-president of equity at the university.

“We’re really working towards embedding equity and diversity into the way the university does business.”

The school publishes a faculty recruitment guide to ensure all departments hire with diversity in mind. It encourages departments to: assess the make-up of their present faculty; use inclusive language when writing job ads; review employment applications from a wide range of candidates; and recognize candidates who have obtained their qualifications and experience in non-traditional ways. Managers and supervisors must also attend a one-day training program on bias-free interviewing.

“We’re trying to build this into the training managers get, to make sure diversity and equity are part of training, not a separate, stand-alone part of what managers are expected to know,” said Patch. “We’ve certainly identified the need to get more diverse representation at the leadership level at the university, and continue to work towards that.”

UBC has seen gains with women’s representation, from 51.7 per cent in 1996 to 55 per cent in 2007. For Aboriginals, the increase has been more subtle, from 1.36 per cent to 1.56 per cent, while visible minorities have risen from 21 per cent to 30 per cent. However, the school has seen decreasing numbers for people with disabilities, from 2.5 per cent in 1996 to 1.7 per cent in 2007.

For the latter group, the school maintains an equipment accommodation fund to subsidize the cost of adaptive technologies employees with disabilities may require to perform jobs. The fund also helps UBC accommodate jobseekers with disabilities during the interview and selection phases.

And for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered/transsexual (LGBT) employees and students, a Positive Space campaign is designed to make sure UBC is safe and welcoming, said Patch. More than 1,000 people have taken half-day training sessions to become part of a network of resource people on campus who offer safe, supportive spaces for the LGBT community.

Vancity: Opening doors for LGBT population

Also focused on the LGBT population is another top diversity employer for 2009, Vancity, which is lead sponsor of Vancouver’s annual Pride Parade and a sponsor of the Queer Film Festival. A few years ago, it also introduced openly gay images in its advertising.

“We really identified the gay and lesbian population as one we felt had been underserved in financial services and we wanted to tell them they were welcome and be as inclusive as possible, not only as members but as employees,” said Tonya Frizzell, communications consultant at Vancity, which has had same-sex benefits for more than 15 years.

The credit union, which has 2,500 employees and 61 branches in British Columbia, has also refined its workplace policies and procedures to reflect its changing community, such as providing diversity training for employees and hiring Indo-Canadian or Chinese-Canadian employees at branches within those communities.

“It’s not an add-on program, it’s really ingrained in our values and who we are as an organization,” said Frizzell. “It’s not something we needed a policy on, rather something that happened naturally as a good fit for us as an organization.”

Nearly two-thirds of management employees are women, including the board chair and CEO, but in running an accountability report every two years, Vancity has identified two areas that don’t have proportionally the same numbers as the community: Aboriginals and people with disabilities. So it is looking to find out why that’s the case and whether there are any barriers, she said.

The credit union has targeted recruitment advertising in ethnic community newspapers and developed working relationships with community advocacy groups that represent people with disabilities and Aboriginal Canadians.

Vancity will also be doing more manager and employee training on human rights, harassment and discrimination.

“It’s not in response to any pain point or issue, we feel it’s good business… like privacy training,” said Frizzell.


Other Award winners

Canada’s Best Diversity Employers recognizes employers across Canada that have exceptional workplace diversity and inclusiveness programs. This competition examines a range of diversity initiatives covering five major employee groups: women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, Aboriginals and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered/transsexual people. Below are the other 32 winners for 2009:

• Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries

• Assiniboine Credit Union

• Bell Aliant Regional Communications

• Blake, Cassels & Graydon

• Boeing Canada Technology, Winnipeg Division

• Canada Mortgage and Housing

• Canadian Pacific Railway

• Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto

• Corus Entertainment

• Ernst & Young

• Hewlett-Packard (Canada)

• HSBC Bank Canada

• Information Services of Saskatchewan

• Intuit Canada

• KPMG

• L’Oréal Canada

• McGill University

• Nexen

• Ontario Public Service

• Pfizer Canada

• Procter & Gamble

• Royal Bank of Canada

• Saskatchewan Government Insurance

• SaskPower

• Scotiabank Group

• Statistics Canada

• Telus

• Toronto Police Service

• University Health Network

• University of Toronto

• WorkSafeBC

• Xerox Canada