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Protesters condemn the treatment of transgender women in Toronto in February, 2014. (JENNIFER ROBERTS For The Globe and Mail)
Protesters condemn the treatment of transgender women in Toronto in February, 2014. (JENNIFER ROBERTS For The Globe and Mail)

Survey reveals Canada still has a ways to go on workplace discrimination Add to ...

One in five Canadians say they’ve been discriminated against at work because of their gender, according to a new survey conducted by international human resources consulting firm Randstad.

The survey also found that a significant percentage of Canadians believe they’ve been discriminated against in the workplace because of their sexual orientation, religious beliefs or age.

And those rates are higher in Canada than in many other countries.

Despite this, 83 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they believe their workplace culture is “open and inclusive.”

“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Faith Tull, Randstad Canada’s senior vice-president of human resources. “While I personally believe that Canada has some of the best human-rights laws in the world, I do believe that there’s still work to be done and employers should realize that there’s still work to be done.”

According to Randstad, 26 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they’ve experienced age-based discrimination at work.

That puts Canada near the middle of the pack of 44 countries surveyed, between India, where 56 per cent of respondents said they’ve experienced age-based discrimination at work, and Sweden, where only 13 per cent reported it.

The other categories showed similar results, with Canada sitting near the global average on every question.

The survey found that 22 per cent of Canadians believe they’ve been discriminated against at work because of their gender. That’s the same rate as in Mexico.

Seventeen per cent of Canadians said they’ve been the subject of racial discrimination at work, while 16 per cent said they’ve been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Sixteen per cent reported they’ve faced religious discrimination in the workplace.

Over all, India had the highest rates of discrimination reported in every category, while Luxembourg had the lowest in every category except for age, where it was the second-lowest.

While most of the countries that performed better than Canada are in Europe, Chile and Argentina both had lower reported rates of discrimination on every question.

“It’s our ideals versus the reality,” Ms. Tull said. “Our ideals are ingrained in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms but the reality is what people are feeling, and because of the multicultural nature of our society, I do believe we still have opportunities to grow.”

Other studies have yielded similar results, according to Phani Radhakrishnan, an associate professor in organizational behaviour and human resources at the University of Toronto.

“I think it all points in the same direction,” said Ms. Radhakrishnan, who studies workplace discrimination. “The research is no longer ‘Is there discrimination?’ The question is ‘What do you do about it?’”

Some research suggests that Canada might be falling behind when it comes to addressing certain forms of workplace discrimination.

In 2006, Canada was ranked 14th on the World Economic Forum ranking of countries by their gender pay gaps. By 2014, Canada had slipped to 19th place as other countries made greater progress.

The Ontario government is currently studying that issue.

For some workers, discrimination can cost them their jobs. Often, though, workplace discrimination is more subtle and can pervade “institutions, their practices and their systems,” Ms. Radhakrishnan said.

“Yes, individuals have prejudicial attitudes – it might be conscious or not – but in the big picture, it has a much more minor effect than the actual institutions: the way in which they hire, the way in which they promote and the way in which they give feedback to employees.”

Ms. Radhakrishnan recommends that businesses take concrete steps to reduce subjectivity in their hiring, promotion and feedback processes. By establishing standardized metrics, companies reduce the impact of even unconscious biases.

Creating a transparent process for promoting employees can also encourage people to try to move up.

Often, she says, people don’t apply for promotions because they’re worried that discrimination will lead to rejection.

“They have to perceive [the process] to be fair,” she says.

For smaller businesses that don’t have human resources departments, Randstad’s Ms. Tull recommends that they work with third-party organizations and consultants to ensure that processes and procedures aren’t discriminatory. A big part of reducing discrimination, she says, is communication.

“If, year after year, you’re getting the same complaints, that means it’s real,” Ms. Tull says. Even though discrimination can be an uncomfortable topic, she says that managers need to address it head-on. “Change has to start at the top.”

And that change can be good for business.

“The bottom-line dollars are important,” Ms. Tull says, “but if you don’t have a strong culture, a strong work environment, if you’re not following the laws, if you don’t have employees that are engaged, if you’re not retaining top talent, you’re not going to drive that bottom line. I think it all ties in together; do the right thing and prosperity will come.”

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