Black History Month: The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, Q.C.

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By: Karina Pogosyan

February is a Black History Month in Canada. To celebrate, SWL is highlighting the lives and achievements of some notable Black Canadians and their contributions to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in our society.

The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, Q.C., is a Retired Senator, who was also a lawyer, legislator, entrepreneur, speaker and champion of equality, before his retirement from the Senate in 2013, after 22 years of service. 

The Most Detailed, Scientific Study on Employment Equity in Canadian Workplaces

Although the Honourable Mr. Oliver has done much over the course of his distinguished career to promote equality, as employment lawyers, as employment lawyers, we want to highlight his singlehanded effort to spearhead the most detailed, scientific and comprehensive, multiyear research study and education project ever conducted in Canada on employment equity in the workplace. 

The Honourable Mr. Oliver personally raised $500,000.00 to design and lead the research project in conjunction with the Conference Board of Canada. The study involved:

  • Evaluation of visible minorities’ contributions to Canada’s economic growth; 
  • Investigation of best practices from 12 national and international, public- and private-sector organizations;
  • Survey of 69 medium and large Canadian organizations regarding visible minority representation at senior management levels; and
  • Interviews and focus groups with successful visible minority managers and selected leaders of unions, executive search teams and non-governmental organizations.

This study resulted in Business Critical: Maximizing the Talents of Visible Minorities, a thorough, evidence-based employers’ “how to” guide on identifying and removing systemic barriers to the advancement of minorities in public and private workplaces in Canada. 

Recommendations for Creating an Effective Diversity Strategy within Organizations

Creating a workplace that is welcoming to employees from diverse backgrounds is not only about equity, it also makes a lot of business sense. With the baby boomers forecasted to enter retirement in the near future – not just in Canada, but in many European countries as well – countries will be in a fierce competition to secure qualified workforce to replace them. In many instances, that work force will have to come from abroad, as national working-age populations will not be sufficient in numbers to fully fill in the gap in the workforce left from baby boomers retiring. 

If your organization is serious about creating an inclusive workplace that is welcoming to candidates from diverse backgrounds, there are three areas that it can implement to attain this goal:

1. Examine Overall Corporate Culture: This means evaluating whether the corporate culture is a truly inclusive environment that not only attracts visible minorities, but also encourages them to stay. Often companies are successful in attracting visible minorities, but run into problems retaining them. If that is the case, it is time to look honestly at the company’s overall organizational culture. Establishing a truly inclusive culture, companies must train their managers to understand cultural differences. A greater knowledge of and understanding of other cultures will help management more readily identify their own biases and prejudices, which will hopefully lead to better organizational behaviour.

2. Implement a Rigorous Accountability Framework: Companies that are serious about diversity and inclusion must continually evaluate progress, acknowledge failures and reward results. Companies should include specific goals for visible minority representation not only across the organization, but also on the top management team.

3. Demonstrate Leadership’s Commitment to Diversity: Successfully implementing an effective diversity strategy means adopting an aggressive “make-it-happen” approach that starts from the top leadership and trickles down throughout the organization. In fact, the research study found that the leadership’s commitment to diversity was the single, most important factor in creating inclusive and diverse workplaces. This means leaders recognizing their role in creating truly inclusive workplaces, devoting real resources to this issue and holding themselves and others accountable.

A full copy of The Conference Board’s Employer’s Guide can be found here
SWL is a boutique labour and employment law firm, helping good people do good work. Contact one of our team members today to help with assessing and implementing your organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategy.

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