On the edge of equality: the prospect of employment equity

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Canada is often referred to as a ‘tossed salad,’ a term that reflects the attempt to allow multiple cultural flavours to exist within one cohesive nation.

In an effort to ensure this multicultural entrée pervades the Canadian job market, the government of Canada instilled a policy referred to as ‘employment equity’ in 1986. Similar to the ‘affirmative action’ seen in other nations such as the United States, employment equity is an attempt to ensure equality of all workers regardless of race, disability, or gender.

The term refers to a series of Canadian policies that require or encourage preferential employment for certain designated groups. Employment equity thus gives a competitive edge to women, disabled people, aboriginal people and visible minorities.

This policy is only promoted and enforced in federally regulated industries such as banks, telecommunications, transportation and in the government.

Though employment equity was devised to maintain the ‘tossed salad’ model of Canada and promote equality among Canadians, many job seekers have been left unsatisfied. Critics declare that by targeting specific groups for ‘proactive treatment’ the Canadian government is going against the very meaning of equality.

I have lived in Canada for my entire life and consider myself Canadian above all other distinctions. So I was taken aback when I applied to Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) and my application asked me to indicate my gender and the colour of my skin. I am female and a visible minority, but as a citizen of Canada, I never viewed these attributes to be a disadvantage much less a competitive advantage in the job market.

The FSWEP disclaimer states:

The Public Service of Canada is committed to building a skilled, diverse workforce reflective of Canadian society. As a result, it promotes employment equity and encourages candidates to indicate voluntarily on their application if they are a woman, an Aboriginal person, a person with a disability or a member of a visible minority group.

Though initially I was firmly against using my gender or race as a means of getting employment, I have since come to realize that giving yourself an edge in the job market can come in many forms. The fight for jobs is never fair and if it was, there would never be any clear winner.

A competitive edge can be anything from who you know, to where you attended school, to hobbies you have in common with your employer. As the job market gets increasingly difficult, this competition intensifies and candidates are forced to use every tool at their disposal.

For me, this means ticking a box indicating that I can help potential employers appear more inclusive and multicultural. While I do not agree with the controversial policy of ‘employment equity,’ it is a competitive advantage that I will not turn down.

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