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Five Questions About Diversity at Work


A human resources expert weighs in on issues and best practices in equity, diversity and inclusion

People in the office

Eddy Ng, Smith Professor of Equity & Inclusion in Business, is an expert in human resources management and researches how to promote EDI in workplaces across Canada. In this interview, Ng explains how the Covid-19 pandemic deepened existing gaps and what the evidence says about hiring and management practices to promote EDI.

Looking back at the last years, how did the Covid-19 pandemic increase gender-related inequalities?

First, women are disproportionately affected by business closures—such as retail, hospitality and service-oriented work—and hence they suffer in employment and income in relation to men. The aggregate number of hours worked by women decreased significantly, and the number of women-owned businesses declined as a result of the pandemic. Thus, the employment gap and income gaps between men and women widened.

Also, pre-existing conflicts between work and family responsibilities were magnified during Covid-19. Women shoulder a disproportionately larger share of household chores and caregiving. School and daycare closures forced a third of working women to consider quitting their jobs. A noteworthy point of observation, women are less represented in senior management and leadership roles—which tend to be more pandemic-proof. 

We hear about post-pandemic economic recovery and a shortage of skilled workers. However, Indigenous and Black workers still struggle finding jobs that are consistent with their professional competencies. Why?

The post-pandemic recovery has seen a boom in the tech sector and sectors that are adaptable, but Black and Indigenous workers still are underrepresented in tech and other booming sectors such as banking and financial services, STEM professions and information and communications technology.

Historically, Black and Indigenous workers have lower levels of educational attainment and possess job skills that are prone to automation. Simply put, Black and Indigenous workers have not been set up for success in new economy jobs and in remote or “pandemic proof” careers.

To address employment gaps, we need to have policies aimed at preparing Black and Indigenous populations for the new economy, and industry commitment as partners in the training and employment of severely underrepresented racialized workers.

Individuals are differently impacted based on a combination of factors, such as race, citizenship, gender, class and sexual orientation. Do existing EDI practices address intersectionality?

Intersectional marginalized identities tend to be invisible. The Black lesbian small business owner is grouped with other Black small business owners. EDI policy surveys tend to address identities that are measurable or quantifiable, thus individuals with intersectional identities don’t receive the same attention.

To address this, policy-makers need to decompose aggregate data or collect better data. The challenge, as reported here, is getting individuals to respond to policy questions. Alternatively, equity policies should be as broad as possible to ensure that individuals with multiple struggles are able to receive more comprehensive support.

Hiring practices that aim to foster diversity and inclusion are frequently criticized based on the hypothesis that they might favour minorities and fail to find the best candidates for a position. Is that a fallacy? Why?

Hiring for diversity and hiring for excellence are not in conflict with each other. Hiring the “best” candidate implies there is a singular view of what is the best, established by the dominant group, so we are reproducing the dominant group perspective. This is why it is important to have targeted hirings so that we are not crowded out by dominant group views. Meritocracy and picking “the best” favour the dominant group that establishes the rules. 

What strategies are successful in creating more diverse and inclusive hiring processes and promoting EDI in workplaces?

In comparing firms that are covered under the Employment Equity Act with those that are not, research shows that firms having to comply with public policies do better in hiring for diversity. Public policies create visible accountability across firms. Research also shows that leaders who create accountabilities for diversity goals, lead more diverse organizations.

Implicit bias training, however, does not work well for several reasons. First, bias training tends to emphasize the negative (i.e., remedial training), generating skepticism and resistance among participants. Thus, bias training does not change attitudes or behaviours.

Second, hiring managers don’t like to be told whom to hire. People tend to rebel against rules when discretion is taken away from them.

Third, bias training, when improperly conducted, can reinforce stereotypes and undermine its very own purpose in removing biases. We already have the knowledge and skills on how to become more diverse and inclusive. What is lacking are motives. Accountability and incentives provide that motive. Once we have the critical numbers in diversity, the demographic fault line weakens and the organizational climate shifts to one that is more accepting of differences.

A version of this Q&A first appeared in the Queen's Gazette.