Talent Canada
Talent Canada

Features Diversity & Inclusion Managing/Leadership
Broken promises: Many organizations aren’t delivering on creating bias-free workplaces

Avatar photo

April 11, 2023
By Todd Humber

Photo: Adobe Stock

Barely half of workers (53%) feel that people within their organization are being held accountable for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), according to a new global survey from Catalyst.

“Our research shows organizations must follow through on their promises and ensure that their policies are equitable and transparent and that they’re held accountable for carrying them out,” said Julie Cafley, executive-director, Catalyst Canada. “When organizations do what they say concerning DEI, employee engagement, feelings of inclusion and intention to stay with the organization significantly increases.”

The survey included responses from 24,348 people across 20 countries — including 4,600 in Canada. Interestingly, Canadian respondents gave their employers somewhat higher scores on DEI: 58% said people are being held accountable at their employers.

“Obviously that’s not as high as we would want it,”  said Cafley, but said the five-percentage-point difference is notable. She credited a top-down commitment at many Canadian organizations for the higher scores on this side of the border.

“What we’re seeing happening more and more, I would say globally and Canada in particular, is (DEI) is not delegated to a more junior person in the organization,” said Cafley. When employers can embed it into the organization, and make it a core part of the strategy, it is more likely to be successful, she said.

Moving beyond lip service

Employees are expecting their leaders to pay more than just lip service to DEI, she said.

“As an example, many senior leaders started talking about George Floyd three years ago,” said Cafley, referring to the unarmed Black man who was killed by police in Minneapolis.

Or, in the Canadian context, they’ll hear their bosses talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“Employees are looking at that and say, ‘Okay, well you’re talking about those issues. You’re talking about reconciliation. You’re doing the land acknowledgement. But what’s actual concrete behind that? What are you actually doing as a corporation in terms of increasing inclusivity?'” she said.

What leaders can do: 4 tips

Cafley has some tips for senior leaders who really want to move the needle on DEI. Her first bit of advice is to step back and take stock of what is happening at their company.

“A lot of organizations frankly aren’t even aware — because a lot of work is done at the grassroots level,” she said. “Do an audit and look at the policies and practices and look at their effect on diversity and inclusion.”

Celebrating things like International Women’s Day, Black History Month or National Indigenous Peoples Day are important, but is your organization actually making lives better for workers in these groups?

Her second tip is to listen to your employees — and follow up on what you hear, she said.

“Employers need to have a lot of humility. This is something where you’re never going to reach the finish line, because you’re constantly needing to work on the areas of inclusion within your organization,” said Cafley.

One interesting point uncovered in the Catalyst data is that workers who are LGBTQ+ or have a disability give their organizations even lower scores on accountability for diversity — 37% globally and 44% in Canada.

“There’s a lot of layers of intersectionality and there are so many aspects of diversity that people are bringing to work every day,” she said.

Third is to “engage and iterate” because DEI is not a “one and done” exercise.

“There’s lot of strategies in terms of how to make your organization accountable to DEI goals, so how do you constantly advance that? How do you keep the loop going so that you’re constantly bettering yourself as an organization,” she said.

The goal is simple: Ensuring that all your workers can bring their “full, authentic self to work.”

Her last bit of advice for leaders is also the one she calls the hardest: Transparency.

“Many senior leaders, in particular, are really proud to share progress towards their DEI goals,” she said. “But you also have to share the lack of progress. You also have to share when things aren’t going as well.”

Those difficult truths and uncomfortable conversations are really important in terms of authenticity, said Cafley.

Sharing one story

Employees can, and will, speak up if organizations are falling short. Cafley told the story of one organization that created an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for Black employees in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

The ERG became disillusioned because it didn’t feel it had a voice, or access to the CEO that advocated for setting the group up in the first place, she said. They felt like the CEO had just checked a box and moved on.

“The question is how do you walk the talk on creating the systems, but actually listen to those systems you’ve created and follow up,” said Cafley. “That’s really important to the whole concept of transparency and humility.”

Print this page


Stories continue below