Many of our workplaces d do not reflect the diversity of the communities in which we live. Groups that are traditionally not represented – or underrepresented – include women, workers of colour, Aboriginal workers, workers with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers.

These inequities are often the result of years of hiring practices that have excluded certain groups, usually unintentionally. Intentional or not, we need to make sure our workplaces are open to everyone in our communities including disadvantaged groups.

Changing the workplace to better reflect the community is the goal of employment equity. To achieve this, some governments have introduced employment equity legislation.

Legislated programs are usually complaint-based or proactive. The former relies on complaints by individuals or third parties. Proactive programs require employers to implement employment equity. The goal of good employment equity laws is to eliminate barriers, such as discriminatory employment systems, and to ensure appropriate representation for designated groups throughout the workplace.

Cleaning up employment systems is good for all workers. For example, an employer may require an unnecessary qualification of Grade 12 for a position of cleaner. This could be a barrier for designated groups that don’t complete Grade 12 in high numbers, such as Aboriginal peoples. By eliminating the unnecessary requirement, others who have not completed Grade 12 will also benefit.

Through employment equity programs, designated group members not only get fair access to jobs, they also have a work environment that encourages them to stay and advance within their workplaces. In addition, special measures such as training and career development opportunities for all group members, and accommodations for persons with disabilities, will be necessary. This does not mean that people would be placed in positions for which they are not qualified, nor would performance expectations be different.

But, we don’t need to wait for legislation. CUPE locals can bargain concrete steps in their collective agreements to improve the workplace.