Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Diversity, Equity and the Universities: The Role of the Federal Contractor's Program in Canada1

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Diversity, Equity and the Universities: The Role of the Federal Contractor's Program in Canada1

Article excerpt

Canada was an early adopter of employment equity programmes offering protection to minorities experiencing discrimination in employment and developed a model that was subsequently exported to other jurisdictions. Since 1986 the federal government has required employers with federal government contracts of more than $200,000 to adopt fair employment hiring practices in respect to women, people with disabilities, visible minorities and first nation or Aboriginal people. Based on evidence of the hiring practices of two universities in two differing maritime provinces, this article explores the federal government's role in ensuring compliance. It concludes that the intentions behind the legislation have been vitiated by the lax regulatory regime and contrasts the Canadian approach with the employment equity provisions introduced in Northern Ireland that were explicitly based on the Canadian model and have been very successful as a result of effective enforcement and compliance.

Keywords: employment equity, diversity, higher education

Introduction: diversity and higher education

Achieving diversity in higher education has become a major, if contested, goal. However, as Lamont and da Silva (2009) argue for the USA, the achievement of diversity whether amongst the student body or academic staffbecomes controversial and is often depicted as pitting 'diversity' against 'meritocracy'. Hence, policies designed perhaps through forms of affirmative action to make the workforce of a higher education institution more representative in terms of gender and race, for example, or for a range of measures taken to ensure that the student profile matches the diverse structure of the institution's national or more local geographical catchment (Bowen and Bok 1998) are often immediately depicted as both zero-sum and anti-meritocratic.

While debates on these issues have been live in the USA at least since the Bakke case (Sindler 1978), the UK, for example, has tended to be dominated by meritocratic assumptions both in terms of academic staffappointments and promotions and student recruitment. Hence, while there are periodic assessments of the gender balance in the professoriate and the interrogation of data about salary levels and highlighting the few women who become vice-chancellors, the diversity of the composition of the academic community is far less important than the implications of the need for an institution to compete in the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and hence to recruit academics with proven research track records. Even the equality review of the 2008 RAE outcomes reads as a tokenistic appendage of the research assessment process and its outcomes (HEFCE 2009).

The UK 'widening access' agenda, promoted since 1997 by successive Labour governments, has focused on the issue of participation in higher education of those from lower socio-economic groups in higher education as a whole and more specifically as entrants to Oxford and Cambridge, which tend to be dominated by those from private school backgrounds. Significant variations exist in this agenda within the devolved countries of the UK where the issue is less to do with the 'private school' factor and more about promoting the educational aspirations of those from the most socio-economically deprived communities. Reports have sought to discuss and debate the meaning of 'fair access' admission policies and procedures to universities (Schwartz 2004) and to the professions (Milburn Report 2009) amidst a concern with the low levels of social mobility. Diversity, as such, is not a conceptual tool in these debates. Similarly, the comprehensive review of equality policy issues in general in Britain conducted through the Equalities Review (2007) and the associated Discrimination Law Review (2007) and leading to the current Equality Bill (Autumn 2009) did not address the issues through 'diversity' or consider 'diversity' as an equality issue (Osborne 2008). …

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