We Count!

We Count! Including Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals in Employment Equity

Workplaces which leave lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees needing to hide our lifestyle, fearing reprisals if we come out, having to sit silent through homophobic comments and jokes – these are not work-places where the morale of workers is high.

Apart from the violation of human rights and dignity involved, these are not efficient, positive, or productive workplaces.

Homophobia is simply not in the best business interests.

From We Count, CLGRO’s 1991 employment equity brief

Employment equity: what is it?

Employment equity is a systematic approach to looking at the composition and treatment of the workforce and remedying some of the disadvantages that have led to unfair treatment of certain groups.

It falls into two main parts:

  1. numerical representation: comparing the diversity of the workforce in a particular organization with the diversity of the local population and trying to ensure that they are comparable; and
  2. workplace environment: making sure that policies and practices do not discriminate against particular groups.

What laws control employment equity?

Canada’s Employment Equity Act (1986) [and, at one time, Ontario’s Employment Equity Act (1994), repealed by the subsequent Conservative government].

Various other policies also demand employment equity. For example, the Federal Contractors Program (for organizations receiving large contracts from the federal government) has a mandatory employment equity component.

Both the acts specify four designated groups: women; people with disabilities; people of colour (“visible minorities”); and First Nations people (“aboriginal people”).

Disadvantaged Groups

Groups are said to be disadvantaged, for example, when:

  • their pay is less than that of another group doing comparable work
  • members of the group are hired in smaller numbers than their availability in the population warrants
  • their rate of promotion is slower than that of other groups
  • the workplace is not physically accessible
  • their work opportunities are stereotyped
  • they are harassed in the workplace

Why do gays want in?

At present, if gay people face discrimination in the workplace, we are covered under the Ontario Human Rights Code. We can take complaints to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. This underfunded and overworked body will take a couple of years to investigate and decide.

If we were covered under employment equity, the onus would be on the employer to provide a prejudice-free workplace, rather than on the individual who has already been discriminated-against to go through a laborious complaints process.

In fact, employment equity programs are a proactive attempt to realize the principles outlined in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The principles of the Code require that such programs be extended to include lesbians and gay men explicitly.

How do gays want in?

No one knows how many lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals there are in the population at large. Although the figure in most common usage is 10%, studies have estimated from 1-20%. All the studies have been criticized. In any case, there are always those in the workforce who are just coming out or who do not wish to come out. So it makes no sense for us to ask for numerical representation at present.

But it makes a great deal of sense for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals to be counted as a designated group for the purpose of workplace environment measures. Whenever systemic action is being taken against sexism, racism, and ableism, action against heterosexism and homophobia should be added.

For us, other measures would include:

  • policy review to ensure that gays receive the same benefits (medical, dental, parental provisions etc.) as heterosexuals
  • working to end harassment, from antigay cartoons pinned on the wall, through name-calling, to violence
  • ensuring that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals can choose to be themselves at work without facing prejudice or losing career opportunities
  • including sexual orientation issues in education and antiharassment programs
  • providing a process to deal with antigay incidents in the workplace
  • ensuring that criteria for hiring and promotion do not discriminate against people who choose to be openly gay

Why hasn’t it happened?

Myth 1: All gays are middle-class urban white men who suffer no disadvantage.

Fact: Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are to be found in all communities, big and small, urban and rural, in all races and classes, and at all income levels.

Myth 2: All lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals would be forced to come out (identify themselves as gay).

Fact: No one would be forced out. Equity data are confidential. We are not asking for “quotas.” In a prejudice-free workplace, coming out would be a free choice.

Some worry that we are asking for a slice of an already tiny pie. Either they feel certain minorities should continue to be unjustly treated so that things can be improved for some other groups or they feel that society can afford no more change. As we have seen above, none of the required changes cost much more than the effort required to rise above prejudice.

Government legislation is necessary to ensure the conditions needed to change workplaces for the better, as are

  • topline management support, clearly expressed and publicised;
  • the provision of resources to fight prejudice; and
  • educational programs.

As citizens, taxpayers, and workers, lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men expect their elected leaders to demonstrate their leadership in this area.

Pamphlet prepared by CLGRO, June 1995

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