Fact Sheet #1a) Visible Commitment to a Human Rights Culture

Level 1

Element: Leadership and Accountability

Outcome 1: Senior leadership is committed to meeting the requirements of both the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) and the Employment Equity Act (EEA), and to embarking on the HRMM journey.

Indicator 1a): Senior leadership has made a visible commitment to a human rights culture change.

Possible Measures and Data Sources:

  • Reference to human rights principles in organization’s vision statement.
  • Signing ceremonies related to human rights.
  • Dissemination of HRMM agreement information to employees.
  • Internet posting(s) related to human rights.

Indicator Description

Senior leadership in an organization is composed of the decision makers, those persons with responsibility and authority to guide the organization in its work. The actions of one leader, multiplied by the actions of many can re-shape a culture and an organization. Being knowledgeable about human rights and the importance of respect in the workplace will enable senior leadership to express a commitment to creating a respectful workplace and a self sustaining human rights culture. Making an informed and visible commitment to a human rights culture and to the Human Rights Maturity Model (HRMM) is a sound starting point and foundation for achieving a self-sustaining human rights culture within your organization.

As your organization progresses through each level of the HRMM, you will gain new ways of doing things that will change your organization’s culture over time. To better understand the concept of human rights culture change within the HRMM, one should be familiar with the definitions of 1) Visible Commitment, 2) Organizational Culture 3) Culture Change, 4) and Human Rights Culture. 

  1. A Visible Commitment is made when there are visible signs of the following: an agreement to do something, a statement that it is important, and a willingness to spend time and energy to make sure that it happens. Leadership may show a visible commitment to a human rights culture and to the HRMM in some of the following ways: by talking about human rights; by creating and maintaining action plans; by holding and attending signing ceremonies related to human rights; by posting a statement of commitment on an internal or external website.

  2. Organizational Culture (sometimes called ‘corporate culture’) is a combination of attitudes, beliefs, values, behaviours and ideas that influence how an organization conducts its affairs. This includes the way that employees behave, how leadership prioritizes its actions and makes decisions, and how the organization interacts with clients and other outside groups.

    Culture is learned from others. In the workplace, leaders are relied upon to make the right business decisions, but they are also responsible for creating and modeling an organizational culture. The most basic way that culture gets passed on is through interactions between people. Leaders must be particularly mindful of the way that they interact with others and consider what messages they may be conveying. Sustaining cultural change requires a commitment from the most senior leaders within an organization.

  3. Culture Change takes place when old attitudes, beliefs or behaviours are replaced with new attitudes, beliefs or behaviours. Some aspects of organizational culture may be so deeply rooted that altering them may prove to be a significant challenge. Certain cultural changes may take place slowly – even over the course of several years; however, like with any organizational change, progress can be made through persistence, strong leadership, effective communications, training, new policies and practices, and evaluation for continuous improvement.

  4. A true Human Rights Culture is broader than fulfilling legal obligations. A culture of human rights is an environment where human rights are integrated into daily practice, where every individual feels respected and equal; and where all can make for themselves the careers that they are able and wish to have, free from discrimination.

    An organization has achieved a human rights culture when there is a climate of inclusion, and when its commitment to equality and respect influences every decision at every level. It involves a common language, conflict management, and human rights competencies. A human rights culture fosters a common understanding of the importance and relevance of human rights and promotes standards and accountability for sustaining a human rights framework both internally and externally. To that end, an organization develops human rights competencies that are part of its overall performance management system, and it recruits, promotes and rewards individuals based in part on those competencies.

At level 1 senior leadership has the knowledge to competently inform others about human rights and the organization’s responsibilities under the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act.     

Suggested Approach

An organization can express its commitment to a human rights culture in several ways, for example by:

  • incorporating this commitment into key organizational documents such as vision, mission and values statements;
  • communicating the commitment to employees through internet/intranet sites, letters of offer, at staff meetings, and at every opportunity; and
  • rewarding the desired behaviours at all levels.

Promising Practices

  • Create value and belief statements: some organizations are using employee focus groups, by department, to put the mission, vision, and values into words that state their impact on each employee's job. This exercise gives all employees a common understanding of the desired culture that actually reflects the actions they must commit to in their jobs.
  • Practice effective communication: by keeping all employees informed about the organizational culture change process, organizations ensure commitment and success. Telling employees what is expected of them is critical for effective organizational culture change.
  • Redesign your approach to rewards and recognition: organizations may want to encourage the culture change by including it in their reward system to encourage the behaviours vital to the desired organizational culture.
  • Make an announcement at your next employee day: one employer shared their commitment to the HRMM at their annual all-staff meeting. They rented wireless polling devices for the day and employees voted on numerous multiple choice questions, including what level they thought the organization was at along the HRMM.
  • Nominate a human rights champion on an annual basis: Having a new human rights champion each year can help give energy to your human rights initiatives and even encourage diversity.
  • Use the HRMM!

Useful Tools and Links

Canadian Human Rights Commission

Employment Equity Act

Canadian Human Rights Act


Heathfield, Susan M. "Culture: Your Environment for People At Work." About.com Human Resources. Web. 24 July 2012.

Langan-Fox, J. & and Tan, P. Images of a Culture in Transition: Personal Constructs of Organizational Stability and Change. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (The British Psychological Society: 1997), Vol. 70. p 273-293

McShane, S.L. & Steen, S. L. Canadian Organizational Behaviour. 7th Edition (Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson: 2009)

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