An employment equity program is an organization-wide initiative which aims to improve representation and success of people who have faced disadvantage in employment because of their:

  • race, colour, ancestry, place of origin;
  • disability;
  • gender identity or expression;
  • sex; and/or
  • sexual orientation.

An employment equity program aims to achieve a workforce that reflects the diversity of the available labour force.  It generates employment practices which support the recruitment, retention and promotion of targeted groups and ensures that all employees have an equitable opportunity to succeed in the workplace.

An employment equity program usually has five stages:

  • Prepare;
  • Identify underrepresentation;
  • Identify barriers;
  • Implement initiatives;
  • Monitor and evaluate results.

Each of these stages is described below.

Step one: Prepare

An employer should take steps in preparation to ensure that an employment equity program will be successful.  These steps include:

  1. Assign responsibility and accountability: There must be clear lines of accountability for overseeing the employment equity program.  A senior manager should be responsible for the program, and report directly to the executive.  The senior manager must have authority and resources to plan and direct comprehensive workplace strategies.  Managers and supervisors throughout the organization must be accountable for implementing the program.
  2. Develop communications and education strategy: An employer must develop a strategy so that employees can understand the program’s purpose, how it will be implemented, who is responsible, and how they can participate.  Communication should be ongoing through the life of the program to ensure understanding and buy-in from all staff.

Laying the groundwork for success may also include:

  1. Communicate commitment to employment equity: An employer may circulate a formal policy to all employees, job applicants and employee or union representatives confirming its corporate commitment to eliminating discrimination and achieving employment equity.
  2. Consult with employees and third parties: An employer may invite consultation and input from employees and their representatives, as well as any other affected groups.

Step two: Identify underrepresentation

An employer must gather information about the representation of the target group in its workplace.  It then compares that representation with the availability of people from the target group in the labour force.  In this way, it can determine whether and by how much the target group is underrepresented in the workforce.
This stage involves:

  1. Internal workforce survey where employees are asked to identify confidentially and voluntarily whether they belong to a target group. That data should be collected for each specified group by organizational unit, job category and level, salary and education.The purpose of this data is to identify workforce patterns, not to collect personal information about an employee. Any information collected should be treated as confidential, kept separate from regular personnel files, and not used for any other purpose.
  2. External survey of the general labour force to determine availability of the target group. Generally, employment equity programs are designed to ensure that the distribution of members of a target group in a workforce reflects their availability in the labour force.This data is collected by Employment and Social Development Canada’s Labour Program as it applies to women, Aboriginal people, racialized groups and persons with disabilities. It can be found online.

Step three: Identify barriers

An employer should put together an independent team to conduct an employment systems review to identify barriers facing the target groups.  The team should include representatives from management, employees, union representatives and members of the target group inside and outside the workplace.

The task of the employment systems review team is to identify practices which, intentionally or not, have contributed to the underrepresentation or over-concentration of members of the target group. The review should address all employment policies and practices, including:

  • recruitment
  • selection
  • hiring
  • promotion
  • development and training
  • discipline
  • retention
  • termination
  • transfers
  • terms and conditions of work (such as pay, benefits, leave, employment medical, childcare and harassment policies)
  • accessibility and accommodation policies

The team should report its conclusions directly to the senior manager responsible for the program.

Step four: Implement initiatives

Once an employer identifies the underlying causes of under-representation of a target group, it implements initiatives to remove existing barriers.  These initiatives could take the form of:

  • Corrective measures including anti-harassment policies, workplace education, non-discriminatory pay policies or removing physical or other barriers to accessibility.
  • Remedial measures including active outreach and recruitment, mentorship programs, developmental positions, targeted training programs, and reasonable accommodation policies.  Such measures could also include exercising preference in favour of the target group in hiring, training and promotions.
  • Support measures designed to help members of the target group, but which are also available to all employees, such as flexible work arrangements or workplace child care.

Step five: Monitoring and evaluation

An employment equity program should have measurable goals and timetables. This should include:

  • Short and long term goals and timetables for increasing representation in a particular job category.  These should be based on the number of openings likely to be available, as well as the availability of qualified members of the target group in the labour force.
  • A schedule for introducing corrective, remedial and support measures.
  • A monitoring plan and timetable for producing monitoring reports.  This allows employers to track the hiring, movement and retention of members of target groups.  It also provides a way for the employer to assess the effectiveness of any initiatives.  Monitoring systems should include a way of tracking and analyzing statistical information, and gathering feedback from affected employees and groups.
  • An evaluation process to review the effectiveness of the program.  This should be based on data gathered through monitoring.  It should happen frequently enough to allow the employer to identify any need for changes in the program.

The role of BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner

Under the B.C. Human Rights Code, it is not discrimination to implement an employment equity program (s. 42(1)).  BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (BCOHRC) does not pre-approve employment equity programs as a whole, but may pre-approve discrete initiatives within an employment equity scheme.11

Discrete initiatives that may benefit from BCOHRC pre-approval are those where the employer wants to exercise a preference or offer an advantage to members of the target group. This will necessarily exclude other people from opportunities on the basis of personal characteristics that are protected under the B.C. Human Rights Code for example, because they are white, male, not disabled, cisgendered or heterosexual.

Where the BCOHRC pre-approves a special program, it cannot be considered to discriminate against excluded groups. For more information about special programs, go here.


The University of British Columbia and University of Victoria have each implemented comprehensive employment equity programs.  Their websites are a helpful resource:

In the federal sector, employment equity programs are mandatory for employers with more than 100 employees.  The Government of Canada has published information, including employment equity tools and resources, to help employers meet their obligations.

1 The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal formerly pre-approved employment equity programs.