In the modern workplace, the role of human resources (HR) professionals is now, more than ever, complicated and varied. From ensuring the organization follows applicable legislation to developing strategies to ensure an engaged and competent workforce, those in HR have lots on their plate. Nevertheless, it is important that part of the HR function should include a diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy.

Diversity in the modern workplace, just like in the broader community at large, is a reality. Fostering a diverse workplace where employees feel included and welcomed is a sound human resources strategy. Also, it makes good business sense as clients/customers, naturally, expect to deal with an organization that reflects the broader community. Ensuring that your organization is prepared for this should be a priority for HR.

At minimum, organizations should consider incorporating a policy on D&I. Such a policy can improve morale/productivity, facilitate diverse perspectives, ensure that all employees feel welcomed and included, enhance business reputations, and increase the potential to recruit the best candidates. Many staff, especially those from traditionally marginalized backgrounds, are likely to feel more engaged and included. This can only lead to better productivity.

A D&I policy does not have to be overly lengthy. Moreover, as such a policy is not legislatively mandated, there are no mandatory provisions to be included (unlike, for example, a workplace harassment policy). However, there are a few concepts that should be included:

  • A commitment to establishing and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace.
  • A section that the policy applies all aspects of employment and in dealing with customers/clients.
  • A consultation process with employees to obtain feedback on D&I initiatives.
  • A statement that management will be trained so that they are equipped at understanding the individualized needs of the workforce.
  • A statement that applicable human rights, equity and privacy laws will be respected.
  • A complaints process (which can reference the organization’s workplace harassment or discrimination policy).
  • A statement that any collection of personal information will be kept confidential unless required to be disclosed by law. On this point, some jurisdictions require that organizations report/publish the individual ‘make-up’ of the workforce. For example, the Ontario Government has been looking at requiring that employers report certain gender statistics to the Government under proposed pay transparency legislation. This can be referenced in the policy.

If the organization is unionized, any collective agreement provisions respecting policy formation should be observed.

A D&I policy is not legally required. However, adjudicative bodies such as the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal are increasingly looking for these policies as evidence that an organization is creating a welcoming, respectful and non-discriminatory workplace.