What is employment equity?

WHAT is it?:  A program of proactive, positive measures designed to: 1) increase the representation of people from the four “designated groups” in the workplace to a level that reflects their availability in the labour market; and 2) to identify and eliminate artificial barriers in the workplace that prevent designated group members from accessing jobs, promotions, training, etc..

WHO is covered? The designated groups are: women, Aboriginal peoples, racialized people, and people with disabilities. These are groups that have historically faced disadvantage, and who continue to face disproportionate levels of unemployment, underemployment, and barriers in the workplace.

WHY? It’s about changing workplace culture and hiring practices so that members of these groups get jobs they  are qualified to do and they can fully contribute to the workplace. Employment equity recognizes that women, Aboriginal peoples, racialized people, and people with disabilities are often held back – not because they lack ability – but because of things that are unrelated to their ability. Things like racism, discrimination, bias, stereotypes, assumptions, and systems that were not designed inclusively.

WHERE does it apply? The federal Employment Equity Act covers all federally regulated public and private workplaces with more than 100 employees.  It also covers businesses or organizations that have large contracts with the federal government ($1 million  or more with over 100 employees). In provincial and territorial workplaces, such   as school, hospitals, municipalities, and others, employment equity is not specifically mandated under law but it can be put into place by employers voluntarily (it is specifically permitted under human rights laws).

HOW does it work?   An employer must analyze its workforce, its policies and practices, and put into place an employment equity plan that sets out measures to address barriers and under-representation of designated groups.


What else is important to know about employment equity?

  • It’s about ensuring equal opportunity for all, by ensuring that hiring and promotion should be free from biases, favouritism, and prejudice, and that all workers should be recognized for their skills and abilities.
  • It’s about recognizing that discrimination is not always obvious and outright: sometimes it is embedded in our systems, practices, and policies. Employment equity is a proactive way of addressing systemic discrimination in the workplace.
  • Note that although gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans workers also face employment barriers and discrimination in the workplace, they are not currently included under employment equity legislation.  There is a need for more data and information on this group of workers (for example in the Census) in order to determine whether and/or how they should be included as a “designated group”.



November 18, 2013