Fact Sheet #14c) Systemic Discrimination

Level 3

Element: Leadership and Accountability

Outcome 14: Management acts in accordance with their roles and responsibilities regarding human rights.

Indicator 14c): Organization has implemented a process/mechanism to identify systemic discrimination issues.

Possible Measures and Data Sources:

  • Identification of barriers through the systems review.
  • High priority systemic issues chosen through a comparison of the organization’s designated group representation to the designated group representation in their industry.
  • Identification of systemic discrimination issues through analysis of discrimination complaint trends.

Indicator Description

According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, systemic discrimination is the creation, perpetuation or reinforcement of persistent patterns of inequality among disadvantaged groups. It is usually the result of seemingly neutral legislation, policies, procedures, practices, or organizational structures. The effect is to create barriers to full participation in society. These include barriers to employment, benefits, and services, as well as barriers in the physical environment.

At Level 2 the organization has defined human rights roles within human resources and other specialized positions. At Level 3, the organization puts mechanisms in place, to identify potential patterns of systemic discrimination in its relations with its employees and its service to clients in order to eliminate them.

For example, the organization monitors systemic discrimination using relevant data sources (e.g. comments from stakeholders, including clients, complaints and the results of employment equity audits). These data are examined twice a year or when needed to identify possible systemic discrimination patterns. The person in charge of monitoring looks for possible causes and reports to the management committee so that a plan or a strategy to correct the situation can be approved.

Suggested Approach

To implement a mechanism to identify systemic discrimination issues, the Level 3 organization can:

  • Seek input from partner/stakeholder organizations.
  • Review individual or group complaints.
  • Complete an analysis of trends in complaints received (See Fact Sheet #13a) - Qualitative Data).
  • Review the organization’s employment equity audits.
  • Keep abreast of developments in human rights jurisprudence.

It can then use this information in the following ways to determine the best course of action to deal with systemic discrimination:

  • Engage in periodic reviews of reporting / complaints protocols for systemic problems to ensure that timely and accurate information about potential systemic issues is maintained and monitored appropriately.
  • Have Senior Management review employment equity commitments on a regular basis, and give accountability to decision-makers for review and change in how the organization recognizes systemic issues.
  • Develop a human rights curriculum that will be included in orientation sessions for new employees as well as in continuing education programs in the workplace.
  • Ensure that the monitoring function in senior management continuously aligns hiring criteria strictly with bona fide job requirements.
  • Structure an ongoing review of human rights jurisprudence, as well as media scans and reviews of academic journals and Parliamentary debates, all of which can make up a valuable source of information on systemic discrimination issues.
  • Develop communications tools to ensure a multi-pronged approach to inform employees and managers about systemic issues.

Promising Practices

The following are examples of what can be achieved where an organization makes a commitment to respond to systemic discrimination issues: Not all of these practices would have resulted from the kind of monitoring function mentioned above, but instituting a periodic review of procedures, as well as awareness of current issues in human rights allows solutions like these to have systemic dimensions.

  • Building in flexible work arrangements. A Crown agency dealing in business development provides return-to-work accommodation measures, and accommodation of religious observances and practices, to allow employees to use vacation credits, or to use a floater day, or to modify their hours of work, or to make up the hours missed, to re-assign some duties to other employees, or to have other individualized arrangements.
  • Building competencies through outreach. A rail company is establishing outreach programs that include contact with universities, referral agencies, and professional and community organizations representing visible minorities to solicit applications. In addition, the employer will participate in job fairs and similar events to promote employment opportunities for visible minorities. Employees are also encouraged to refer visible minorities as a special measure to increase their representation.
  • Eliminating systemic discrimination during hiring and selection. Many Canadian companies provide training to all human resources personnel and hiring managers on how to avoid systemic discrimination during selection and hiring. One company has created an online training solution that offers examples of questions or comments that are unrelated to a person’s suitability for a position and, although the comments may seem innocent on the surface, could cause an applicant to feel that they are being treated differently. The tool then goes through a series of multiple choice questions to test the learners’ knowledge of systemic discrimination.

Useful Tools and Links

Employment Equity Act

Canadian Human Rights Act

Frequently Asked Questions on Employment Equity - Canadian Human Rights Commission

Racism and Racial Discrimination – Systemic Discrimination - Ontario Human Rights Commission

Policy and Guidelines on Racism and Racial Discrimination  - Ontario Human Rights Commission

Complaints Management Fact Sheets: Monitoring Effectiveness- Queensland Ombudsman

Guidelines on Developing Human Rights Policies and Procedures: Barrier Review and Barrier Removal Plans - Ontario Human Rights Commission

Policy and Guide for Employers on Pregnancy and Human Rights in the Workplace - Canadian Human Rights Commission


Agocs, Carol, and Catherine Burr and Felicity Somerset. Employment Equity: Co-operative strategies for organizational change. Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, 1992.

Craig, Ronald. Systemic Discrimination in Employment and the Promotion of Ethnic Equality. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2007.

Ministry Responsible for Multiculturalism and Immigration, Challenging Systemic Racism Forum: Multiculturalism - End racism. Richmond, 1998.

Weiner, Nan. “Employment Equity: Making It Work.” Toronto: Butterworths, 1993.

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