I have read Dr. Cheryl Thompson’s opinion piece in the Toronto Star, Why equity, diversity and inclusion offices are failing us, in which she argues that EDI offices at post-secondary institutions “are taking the joy out of education because they resist collaborative, restorative approaches to conflict and instead cling to approaches that are too bureaucratic, dehumanizing, and almost solely focused on the document trail.”
The opinion piece suggests that EDI offices should focus on inclusion rather than diversity and equity. While EDI encompasses three concepts that need to be considered separately (equity, diversity, and inclusion), the focus is often on promoting inclusion (and now belonging) and cultivating "joy” among employees from diverse backgrounds. Focusing efforts on achieving a sense of inclusion is often easier than creating diverse and equitable organizations, a process that requires tougher conversations.
My sister has worked for a municipal government in the Greater Toronto Area for over 20 years. During that time, she has developed a serious citrus allergy. This allergy causes a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. For my sister, the allergy is life threatening and requires immediate medical treatment.
Because allergies and scent sensitivities are considered a disability under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have a duty to accommodate my sister, short of undue hardship.
My sister provided her employer with the necessary medical documentation so that they would understand the seriousness of her allergy and be able to accommodate her. In response, her employer notified others on her floor about the allergy and asked them not to bring anything into the building containing citrus.
In the same building where my sister works, there is an employee with an allergy to bananas. To accommodate this employee, signs are posted throughout the building reminding employees and visitors alike not to bring bananas into the building. This is typically the minimum that an employer would do to protect employees with scent sensitivities or allergies.
So, while the employer posted signs on each floor reminding people not to bring bananas into the building, the organization would not post signs reminding people not to bring citrus to work—not even signs on the floor where my sister works.
Bias-free Hiring Versus Hiring for Diversity: You can't have one without the other
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.”
Tana Turner is Principal of Turner Consulting Group Inc. She has over 30+ years of experience in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion.