Volume 13, Number 8 December 2, 2005

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HRD’s new diversity initiative goes beyond employment equity

The University continues to take steps toward instituting a representative workforce strategy that will change, for the better, the work culture on campus, and help make the U of S an employer of choice.

Diversity – the recognition and acknowledgement of all individual differences – is the key to creating a workforce that is representative of all groups, said Candace Wasacase-Lafferty, consultant on diversity and Aboriginal initiatives in the Human Resources Division (HRD). It is an approach that is “more adaptable to the community we work with”. Inclusive societies, she added, “benefit all. Lessons we have learned from the Aboriginal Human Resources Development strategy speak to the need for an inclusive approach that’s respectful of all people.”

Adopting a diversity strategy does not mean the University is doing away with Employment Equity (EE) which was set out in legislation in 1986 to address the under-representation in the workforce of women, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and Aboriginal people, Wasacase-Lafferty said (see story below). But, EE is too narrowly focused and “can’t do what we need it to do for us. Employment Equity has traditionally been a numbers-driven process that did little to address workplace culture. If culture is not addressed, the numbers will not change”

As an example, Wasacase-Lafferty said if there are 40 people in an office and 39 are women, men are under-represented, but EE does not address that inequality. It also does not address gay and lesbian issues. Employment Equity, she said, “is applying old tools to new themes”. Quoting from Diversity at Work by Trevor Wilson, she said, “…a legislated employment equity program is about fairness to some. A diversity program is about equality for all.”

The move toward diversity at the University has so far included a review of the frustrations, successes and accountabilities of EE over the years, and a survey of successful strategies in use at universities and businesses. HRD also included diversity questions in its June Employee Opinion Survey, the results of which are scheduled for release in late December. There were also two diversity workshops conducted for the 28 existing EE working committees on campus, and presentations made to senior leadership, including the Board of Governors.

Identifying and removing barriers that can limit accessibility to the workplace is a significant part of the diversity strategy, said Wasacase-Lafferty. “That means asking questions like ‘How do we recruit from a diversity perspective?’, ‘How do we assess that in the interview process?’, ‘Are we a family-friendly environment?’, ‘What about flexibility, child-care and elder care?’, and ‘Do we have a merit-based selection and promotion process?’.”

Wasacase-Lafferty said there is still much work to be done. The existing EE committees will play an important role in spreading the word about diversity. There will also be benchmark data collected at the organization and unit level. “We have to sketch out what a new accountability relationship would look like,” she said, “and measure our progress over the next few years”.

In the end, “I’m never going to be able to give you a manual that will deal with every situation of inequality. What we will give you is an agreed-upon set of principles that will guide all of our decision-making.”

For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca

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