New tool promotes human rights at work

Leadership support, communication, consultation among key elements identified by federal human rights commission to encourage respect, equality in workplace
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 06/05/2012

Last year, Farm Credit Canada (FCC) was asked to participate in a pilot project for a new Human Rights Maturity Model developed by the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC).

FCC was happy to be chosen because not only would it be the first financial institution and first organization headquartered in Western Canada to participate, but it would allow FCC to become part of a network of employers of choice, said Nadine Hakim, employment equity and diversity specialist at FCC.

“In the context of Canada’s labour shortage and war for talent, a lot of employers are asking themselves ‘What can we do to keep these good individuals?’ And that’s where corporate culture comes into play,” said Hakim, based at FCC’s head office in Regina. “When you come to work feeling like you’re respected and valued for your ideas and contributions, why would you leave?”

The Human Rights Maturity Model is a new tool designed to help organizations encourage equality and respect in the workplace. An employer can self-assess its level of human rights maturity, identify any gaps and build action plans to address them.

The tool is free and voluntary, and CHRC provides various resources to help employers with every step and is available for consultation if needed, said Piero Narducci, director of the prevention initiatives division at CHRC in Ottawa.

“We usually refer to it as a road map to building a better workplace,” he said. “We try to encourage employers to understand this is aspirational, it’s about trying to make your workplace better, not just taking a snapshot and walking away from it and hoping that it gets better.”

Maturity continuum has 5 levels

Once employers complete the self-assessment, they are placed on the human rights maturity continuum between level one and level five.

At level one, an organization meets its basic Employment Equity Act requirements, leadership is committed to meeting the requirements and consultation and communication begin regarding employment equity matters.

“One key aspect of the model is the implementation of the Employment Equity Act and it ties back to our objectives of following the requirements of the act, so the model is actually helping us implement our employment equity plan,” said Hakim.

At level two, management is engaged in a human rights culture change, employment equity principles are built into mainstream communications, policies are implemented and a formal discrimination complaints process is established.

At level three, the organization proactively communicates and consults regarding all aspects of human rights, a multi-disciplinary approach to human rights is put in place, proactive systems are developed to manage human rights issues and a human rights performance measurement framework is developed.

“Level three is more proactive. At this stage, we’re beyond taking in information and processing, we’re looking at ways to improve the workplace from all the data that’s coming in, all the labour relations issues, the grievances, the employment equity and there’s a lot of training,” said Narducci.

For employers at this level, CHRC offers a train-the-trainers program where it teaches human resources professionals how to train the workforce on human rights issues such as duty to accommodate and anti-harassment, he said.

At level four, all communications are filtered through a human rights lens, senior leadership has built relations with external partners with respect to human rights and the organization holds regular
consultations with external partners and key stakeholders to promote human rights principles.

“It’s getting out to stakeholders, contacts, their community of practice, NGOs and trying to make them involved in this whole improvement of the workplace,” said Narducci. “It’s more relationship-building or networking… As you get to levels four or five, the tools that are going to be necessary to move forward are not paper products, they’re really building that culture.”

At level five, all levels of the organization share responsibility for human rights, human rights are broadly promoted in society and the performance management framework incorporates the promotion of human rights.

“At level five, they’ve reached the apex of this model and, from our perspective, they’re ready to teach others,” said Narducci. “We look to their support in bringing up other organizations that want to improve their workplace — it’s really trying to build a community of practice among employers.”

Depending on the level of commitment, it would likely take an organization about two to three years to move from level one to level three, and five additional years to move through the rest of the model, he said.

Model based on several key elements

The model was developed based on several key elements. The first is commitment and support from senior leadership, which is the “single most important factor” in the success of the model, said CHRC.

“It’s my experience that, regardless of how they do it or what they do, if there isn’t a willingness from at least some of the senior folks in the organization, then everything else that comes after this is not impossible but it’s much more difficult,” said Margery Knorr, president of Knorr & Associates in Calgary which helps employers build respectful workplaces.

Communication and consultation is another key element. Organizations should make sure all their communications reflect their commitment to human rights and that they engage in active consultation around human rights with unions and employees.

At 1,700-employee FCC, a section of the corporate intranet houses all diversity and human rights-related documents and information including employment equity information, minutes from the diversity advisory committee meetings, progress reports on the employment equity plan and policies around accommodation, harassment and complaints, said Hakim.

Alignment of policies and processes is another key element to using the model successfully.

“It’s not just about putting out a policy, so that you deal with a fire, but also remembering some policies, however inane they may seem initially, have a human rights or respect-in-the-workplace component to them,” said Narducci. “(It’s about) constantly putting the human rights lens to it.”

Capacity-building and resources is another key element that encourages employers to make sure they have the resources in place to implement the requirements of the model as well as the capacity to do so, such as proper human rights training.

While CHRC says the model can be adapted for any size organization, smaller companies may lack the capacity and resources to complete it successfully, said Knorr.

“The model is far too complex for an organization of 500 people or less — they’re just not going to have the time to do this, they don’t have the resources,” she said.

“In order to start at level one and say, ‘OK, we’re going to embark upon this, we’re going to dedicate ourselves to implementing this as it’s outlined in this model,’ that’s expensive.”

The final key element to ensuring successful implementation of the model is evaluation for performance measurement and continuous improvement — an element employers are saying is critical, said Narducci.

“We talk about building a database of quantitative but also get qualitative — get the story, see how it’s changing the culture and get that narrative together so that you can show that you’re making a difference not only to your leaders but to the whole organization.”

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