Implementing an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Policy

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By: Karina Pogosyan

It goes without saying that many Canadian workplaces are extremely diverse, reflecting our society at large. While implementing an equity, diversity, and inclusion policy (“EDI policy”) is not a legislated requirement in Ontario, there are several reasons why having one is “best practice” for your business.

Why is an EDI policy important?

At the heart of implementing an EDI policy is developing an organizational understanding of your employee population and identifying any barriers to equity, diversity and inclusion that may exist. Tackling these issues is about fostering a more inclusive work environment, which in turn can reduce incidents of harassment, violence and discrimination that may result in costly litigation.

For example, what are your organization’s hiring practices? What are the advancement opportunities? What is preventing a  larger number of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (“BIPOC”) individuals from entering the organization? What is the actual experience of the few BIPOC employees that do work with your company? Are there any problems not just with retaining, but keeping your BIPOC employees?

The presence or absence of an EDI policy in an organization can also be an important signal to prospective employees. Simply put, if an employer has one, it can indicate to a potential candidate that the company takes EDI seriously. Conversely, not having an EDI policy can be equally telling. But please do not make an EDI policy a performative virtue signal. An EDI policy with meaning, intention, and follow-through, is a cornerstone of your organization’s commitment to seriously advancing EDI.

Who should the EDI policy apply to?

We say all organizations, public and private, irrespective of industry, benefit from having an EDI policy. An EDI policy should apply to all organization staff, contractors, volunteers, etc.

What employers should be aware of when drafting an EDI policy?

An effective EDI policy consists of two components: 1) proactive and 2) reactive. The proactive part of the policy should set out the organization’s standards and values, whereas the reactive part must address how your organization will deal with any incidents or complaints that arise.

  1. Commitment to EDI: The policy should clearly state the organization’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion and how it aligns with the company’s values and goals.
  1. Definitions and principles: The policy should define key terms such as equity, diversity, and inclusion, and outline the underlying principles that guide the organization’s approach to EDI.
  1. Prohibitions against discrimination and harassment: The policy should make it clear that discrimination and harassment based on any protected characteristic (such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) will not be tolerated in the workplace, and refer to other policies like your harassment, violence, and/or respect in the workplace policy. Reference to your Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities (AODA) policy will also be helpful. 
  1. Recruitment and hiring practices: The policy should outline the organization’s approach to attracting, hiring, and retaining a diverse workforce, and set out any affirmative action or diversity targets.
  1. Training and education: The policy should provide for ongoing training and education for all employees to increase awareness of EDI issues and promote a more inclusive work environment. This might include training on unconscious bias, cross-cultural communication, and other related topics.
  1. Complaints regarding EDI Practices: You will also want to address how complaints about the organization’s EDI practices will be handled, with reference to other policies that may be brought into play when a complaint is made. 

What are the best practices when it comes to implementing an EDI policy?

Having an EDI policy is one thing but implementing and using it effectively is quite another.

Outsourcing the EDI policy drafting outside the organization to legal counsel or external EDI consultants may be best. This allows the external parties to have a bird’s eye view and to go through a process that creates a policy that speaks to the organization and helps it to establish an organizational culture that embraces the EDI principles. It is equally important to have a partnership between the organization implementing the policy and the legal counsel/external EDI consultant drafting the policy to ensure that the organization internally understands its legal obligations and has the competency to implement it effectively.

A skilled HR team that knows how to handle the types of complaints covered under EDI can go a long way in resolving issues when they first spring up, contributing to a more harmonious workplace culture, not to mention staving off potential, costly litigation.

Seabrook Workplace Law lawyers are available to assist you with your organization’s EDI policy drafting needs, as well as, to answer any questions you may have about creating a more equitable workplace. Get in touch today!

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