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Sometimes there’s a belief that an individual—regardless of background, identity or lived experience—will naturally be hired if they are the best qualified and that there’s no need to look for ways to make our systems more equitable. But is this the case?

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Many of our practices were designed to meet the needs of homogenous workforces. While on the surface they appear fair, they may contain hidden barriers or be implemented inequitably due to unconscious biases. This can impede the ability of members of diverse talent groups from fully engaging in our workplaces.

With our workforce diversity increasing, leading employers are not focusing on “fitting in” employees from diverse talent groups. Rather, employers are looking into new hire needs and experiences to identify what adjustments can be made to support and welcome them.

Removing barriers to inclusion is not special treatment. Women, Indigenous peoples, newcomers, visible minorities, and persons with disabilities, amongst others, can only gain traction when both an organization’s culture and practices are inclusive.


Making recruitment more equitable will give candidates a positive impression of our organization, help us be confident that we’re making the best decision, and will more likely result in the best possible hire.

Are your recruiting and hiring practices optimized to hire the best candidates?

How to Be Inclusive in Hiring

  1. Avoid restrictive requirements: Instead of “five years working as a Control Room Supervisor”, ask for “experience supervising others in an industrial context”. Be open to “relevant experience” and “equivalent qualifications”.
  2. Assess ‘fit” in a behavioural wayTo avoid ‘cloning’, instead of looking at why someone is a “good fit”, identify reasons for a “poor fit” linking back to your selection criteria.
  3. Offer accommodation at all key stages: Your duty to accommodate applies to both potential and current employees – highlight it in job ads, when inviting a candidate to an interview or test, and when making an offer. Remember that accommodation is not “one size fits all”.
  4. Be informed about the diversity of candidate needs: Find out what candidates are looking for by including a few questions in your application process, consulting your in-house Employee Resource Groups, or asking interviewees.
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The Paradox of Meritocracy

Professional woman appearing frustrated by her current meeting

Research has indicated5 that, ironically, working in an environment that promotes meritocracy (versus not doing so) might make individuals believe that they are fair and objective.

In one study, managers favoured men over equally performing women in translating employee performance evaluations into rewards and other key career outcomes.  Limiting managerial discretion, and increasing accountability and transparency can counter any possible inequities.

The Myth of Merit

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  1. Wider Outreach/Advertising: Many standard practices for advertising openings don’t reach some groups. Partner with organizations that have strong contacts in communities and networks where talent is hiding in plain sight.
  2. Bias-Aware Hiring: Being realistic in job postings about what is required and what is ‘nice to have’ can attract a wider range of qualified applicants.
  3. Hire to Add Value vs. “Fit In”: Instead of looking for candidates that will “fit in” to your organization, approach each hiring process with an open mind, focusing on finding talent that can enrich, challenge and bring fresh viewpoints and capacities to your team.
  4. Accommodation and Accessibility: Be deliberate and consistent in looking for small adjustments that can open the door to diverse skilled talent that will help the organization reach its goals.

Common DEI Barriers in Recruiting and Hiring

You notice that many newcomer candidates score differently on tests

Even though testing is seen as a more objective way of evaluating candidates, it can also be non-inclusive for certain groups. To reduce the risk of bias in tests:

  • Ensure they can be adjusted to accommodate candidate needs.
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms; explain terms that might not be understood by second language speakers.
  • Design questions in a multiple choice or true-false format, or for other tests, use the same tester for consistency.
  • Use a clear scoring guide linked directly to the qualifications for the position.

You think your job postings may not be encouraging a diversity of candidates to apply

Being realistic about what is required and what is ‘nice to have’ can attract a wider range of qualified applicants.

  • Focus on asking for skills that are required on day one.
  • Redefine qualifications to attract candidates with non-traditional–but transferrable–career and education backgrounds.
  • Looking for individuals with “ambition” or for “rock star” employees could turn off qualified candidates to whom self-promotion is not the norm (such as Indigenous peoples or some newcomers and women).

With so many regulated occupations, you’re finding international credential recognition a challenge

Many newcomers work at a lower level than they did before coming to Canada, often due to their “unfamiliar” training and education.

  • Use creative ways to assess qualifications (e.g. bridging programs offer employers the chance to hire professionals, such as engineers and tradespeople, educated outside of Canada for multi-month placement programs—often at little or no cost).
  • In job ads, be explicit if candidates can provide equivalent qualifications (if allowed by provincial regulations), such as work experience, prior learning, and education combinations.

Some candidates from diverse talent pools struggle to navigate the recruitment process

Making the recruitment process transparent to everyone helps level the playing field.

  • Offer preparatory information in a variety of accessible formats (website, written, phone) with tips and expectations about the hiring process (e.g. how to add keywords to help a resume be selected by applicant tracking systems, or what kind of knowledge, skills, etc. will be evaluated with a test).
  • Provide specific feedback to applicants who are interviewed (and those who are qualified but not selected for an interview, if possible) to support them in later applications.

You’re looking for a couple of simple ways to start with inclusive hiring

Make a commitment to using inclusive practices to avoid missing out on qualified candidates from diverse talent groups.

  • Customize your recruitment messaging to who you are trying to reach and set ambitious targets for attracting applicants.
  • Set a goal of including 1 or 2 women, Indigenous peoples, newcomers, etc. in the interview shortlist for jobs where they are under-represented.
  • In interviews, instead of asking about “cultural fit”, ask candidates: “What skills can you offer to add to the mix present in our workforce?”, or “How does your working style align with our company values?”

You want to manage the impact of unconscious bias for better hiring decisions

Raise awareness of unconscious bias among HR and leaders involved in recruitment.

  • Build awareness of the organizational commitment (and team) business case for DEI.
  • Provide training, awareness, or guidelines to manage unconscious bias and systemic barriers, and to review job postings with a DEI lens.
  • On hiring panels, include members with a diversity of perspectives.
  • Ensure everyone is well versed on human rights obligations for non-discriminatory job advertisements and interview questions, as well as accommodation and accessibility requirements.