Sociology 211

December 3, 2004


2.  Employment equity


One policy, or set of policies and procedures, that is generally consistent with a multicultural approach is employment equity.  The term “employment equity” is a broad term, referring to a set of policies at different levels of government, an approach to employment-related practices for employers, unions, and workers, and a set of procedures governing hiring and promotion.  The aim of these policies and procedures is to produce a workforce that is more representative of the population as a whole, or working age population, one more representative than the workforce currently is.  Since it involves policies and procedures to move toward greater equality, overcome barriers, and achieve greater participation on the part of members of various social groups, it can be considered within the framework of multiculturalism policy and practice.  While employment equity may have an effect on reducing prejudices or changing attitudes and stereotypes, the policy goal is to address practices and procedures in organizations, dealing with inequities and systemic discrimination.


Abu-Laban and Gabriel state that in Canada,

Employment equity is a policy designed to respond to the labour market inequality of women, visible minorities, Aboriginal peoples, and people with disabilities.  Employment equity measures seek to identify and eliminate barriers to employment as well as to improve the representation and status of these groups within the labour market.  To the extent measures focus on issues of substantive equality, employment equity is concerned with social justice and the social rights attached to a post-war understanding of citizenship.  (p. 131).

Note the four groups that are identified in Canadian policy.  There might be other possible groups and other possible approaches that could be taken – e.g. some have argued that gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual people should also be included as a designated group.  Also note their identification of the policy with overcoming barriers, equality, social justice, rights, and citizenship.  The term appears to be a Canadian term although, like multiculturalism, it may now be used in other countries. 


The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) states that the guiding principles are

the workforce should reflect the working age population as a whole.  All groups should be able to access the full benefits of employment and make a full contribution to Saskatchewan’s social and economic well being.  This principle also expresses the long-term goal of employment equity, and offers one method of measuring progress towards it.  (Employment Equity Report 2003, p.2, available at

Bakan and Kobayashi argue

Employment equity is based on the principle that to obtain equal access to employment, and equal access to advancement within the workplace, proactive, positive measures must be enacted to redress systemic oppression.  (p. 1).

Those who have argued for and developed employment equity consider it a necessary response to employment inequities and systemic discrimination.   The policy is thought necessary since inequities do not seem to disappear by themselves and instances of systemic discrimination still seem common, so that government intervention is justified in this area.  While government intervention is sometime considered to be an infringement on the prerogatives, rights, and freedom of businesses, these businesses benefit from many government programs and initiatives, so employment equity should be considered in this light. 


Abu-Laban and Gabriel note that there have been several programs similar to employment equity in the past in Canada.  Veterans of World War I and II were sometimes given priority for federal public service hiring, a direct affirmative action program.  Following the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Commission in the 1960s, the Official Languages Program became a way of increasing participation and representation of those speaking French in the federal public service.   In addition, there have been examples when some could not participate – aboriginal people were sometimes denied employment, as were those of Japanese and other visible minority backgrounds.   Further, while some provincial jurisdictions had attempted to encourage a voluntary program, but this appeared to have little support among employers and little effect.  Complaints could be made individually, under human rights codes and other anti-discriminatory regulations, but these were difficult for individuals to address.


The impetus for employment equity came from women’s groups and other advocacy groups in the 1970s and 1980s.  In 1983, Judge Rosalie Abella was appointed Commissioner of the Royal Commission on Equality and Employment. (Judge Abella was recently appointed as a Supreme Court Justice).   This became known as the Abella Commission and was mandated “to examine the opportunities for employment of women, Native people, disabled persons, and visible minorities in certain Crown corporations and corporations wholly owned by the government of Canada.  (Abu-Laban and Gabriel, p. 136).  The report was published in 1984 and used the term “employment equity” rather than “affirmative action” in recognition that while employment equity is a policy, it does not mean that there are quotas or that people with lesser qualifications are to be employed.  The Employment Equity Act was put into law in 1986, covering federally regulated companies with one hundred or more employees and the federal public service.  The law was amended in 1995.  In addition to the federal program, there are various provincial programs, but these differ considerably.


The purpose of the Act is outlined by the federal government – item 2 of Act. 

2. The purpose of this Act is to achieve equality in the workplace so that no person shall be denied employment opportunities or benefits for reasons unrelated to ability and, in the fulfilment of that goal, to correct the conditions of disadvantage in employment experienced by women, aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities by giving effect to the principle that employment equity means more than treating persons in the same way but also requires special measures and the accommodation of differences.

See web site


In her report, Abella argued that “Sometimes equality means treating people the same, despite their differences, and sometimes it means treating them as equals by accommodating their differences.  … Ignoring difference and refusing to accommodate them is a denial of equal access and opportunity.  It is discrimination.”  (Quoted in Abu-Laban and Gabriel, pp. 137-138).


The program appears to be aimed primarily at hiring and, to a lesser extent, promotion within places of employment.  It does not appear to address problems of unequal pay so  that employment equity and pay equity are not the same – the latter addresses equal pay, something that is not part of employment equity.   Employers covered  by the plan are to produce an employment equity plan, with goals and timetables to achieve a more representative workforce.  Progress reports are to provide information about individuals in different occupational categories, along with the number of individuals in each designated group in the occupation.  Procedures used for hiring and other employment practices are also to be addressed, in an effort to remove barriers to participation for members of the four designated groups.  While enforcement is limited, only a minority of employers in the country are covered, and the results of the program are unclear, it has probably had some effect in producing a workforce in many places of employment that is more representative of the adult population.  The composition of the population differs by locality, so the targets and results may differ by region of the employer.  In addition, the different provincial programs produce different results in each province. 


University and employment equity.  In order to examine how different employers construct plans and administer employment equity, it would be necessary to examine the plans of these employers.  As an example, some parts of the University of Regina plan and procedures are examined here.


Statements from Policy and Procedure Manual.  See



In place since 1989.  Federal Contractor agreement in 1990. 


Employment Equity Committee and Officer.  Committee composed of administration and four employee groups. 


Advertisements include a statement. 


Search committees charged with responsibility of considering equity. 

            Gender balance and observer


Exit interviews in some cases to determine why people left the University.  Concern about retention of employees.


Article 3 of Collective Agreement.  Principles in article 3.3.  See

Faculty Association and University signed a memorandum of agreement in 1993 to make pay adjustments for academic staff members from designated groups.  Adjustments were made in salary and/or rank in 13 of 19 cases reviewed, mostly women faculty members. 


Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Program (ACAP).  Developed in cooperation with SIFC (now FNUC), Public Service Commission, and Saskatchewan Aboriginal Affairs.  Program is to create awareness of diversity and richness of First Nations and Metis culture, histories, and current issues.  Workshops presented in various modules.  Over 400 staff have participated since the program was introduced.  Other initiatives with respect to aboriginal issues involve being part of a list serve about careers for aboriginal scholars, participate in an aboriginal employment guide, participate in aboriginal role models poster project (posters to schools throughout province), aboriginal scholarship symposium, aboriginal graduate student recruitment, commitment of Faculty of Arts to increase aboriginal content in classes. 


For other groups, more information about sessional positions to equity candidates, more emphasis on equity issues in casual hiring, connection with Sask. Independent Living Centre for information on hiring people with disabilities, disability awareness workshops, accommodation policies, anti-racism workshops, diversity seminars at Teaching Development Centre, Women in Leadership and Progress through the Ranks. 


The 2002/2003 Report states that the University has met its goals with respect to meeting and often exceeding its representative workforce goals for visible minority people, it works on targets and plans for others.  (p. 8).  Note though that the distribution of visible minority people is not uniform across occupational groups and levels.


Harassment and Discrimination Prevention Policy.  Articles 3.6-3.8 of Collective Agreement.  


Results at University – see chart from last day.


Saskatchewan – see 2003 report.  37 approved plans covering 42,000 individuals (less than one-tenth of workforce).  From 1999 to 2003, progress in terms of aboriginal people (6.2% to 7.9%), people with disabilities (3.2% to 3.8%), and visible minorities (2.9% to 3.1%), but a decline in percentage of women (47% to 45.9%). 



Abu-Laban, Yasmeen and Christina Gabriel.  2002.   Selling Diversity: immigration, multiculturalism, employment equity, and globalization, Peterborough, Ontario, Broadview Press.

Bakan, Abigail B. and Audrey Kobayashi.  2000.  “Employment Equity Policy in Canada: An Interprovincial Comparison [computer file].  Available at web site: 

Kellen, Evelyn. 1982.  Ethnicity and Human Rights in Canada, Toronto, Gage Publishing Limited.



Last edited December 7, 2004