Much of my work involves conducting Equity Audits. That is, I review employment policies and practices through an equity lens and make recommendations for change. One component of an Equity Audit is a review of an organization’s hiring and selection policies and practices. The goal is to remove barriers to the hiring of candidates from diverse backgrounds, communities, and identities so that they can be fairly assessed based on their job-related skills and abilities. The term used in human resources circles is “bias-free hiring.”
The killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement have sparked protests around the world and made the term “systemic racism” go mainstream. From reporters at major news outlets to the leaders of large corporations and non-profits, everyone is making proclamations against system racism and vowing to eradicate it.
Yet, while many in high-profile positions claim to know what systemic racism is, they fail to understand that the solutions, too, must be systemic. Being nicer to each other does not change the policies and practices that keep Black people from being hired. Hiring more racialized police officers does not change policing practices that target Black and Indigenous people. Being more inclusive at the leadership table also won’t automatically change policies that fail to test for COVID-19 in the hardest-hit parts of the city.
When it comes to buying real estate, they say the three most important things are location, location, location. When considering matters of workplace discrimination and harassment, the three most important things are context, context, context.
Harassment is defined by the Ontario Human Rights Code as “a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.” This definition makes it clear that the act itself needs to be considered in context, because it is not just the behaviour (a course of vexatious comment or conduct) but the context—that is, whether it is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome—that must be considered.
Yes, sometimes there are comments or behaviours that clearly would be deemed to be harassment or inappropriate for the workplace.
For most comment or behaviours, employees, managers, and those investigating complaints must consider the context.