The Professional Accounting Centre1 of the University of Toronto, with the support and funding provided by CPA Ontario, is pleased to provide this DEI Case Collection to inform professional accountants and students, and their organizations on developing expectations related to diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. The Collection is evergreen in nature in that new materials and cases will be added when the need and opportunity to do so arises.
This DEI Case Collection has been published as an open-source document on the PAC website with the intent that professors and other individuals will use and reproduce the cases and other aspects of the collection, at no charge, provided the source of such use is acknowledged as follows: Source: DEI Case Collection for Professional Accountants, University of Toronto Professional Accounting Centre, (insert year of use), PAC website https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/pac/case-collections/dei-case-collection-professional-accountants.
Table of Contents
- Introduction, Purpose, and Nature of the DEI Case Collection
- Recent DEI Developments
- Relevance of DEI for Professional Accountants
- The Nature of DEI – An Overview
- Cases, with Additional Resources
- Case 1: Business Imperative Linked to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
- Case 2: Talent Management Process
- Case 3: Unconscious Bias
- Case 4: Inclusive Leadership
- Case 5: Covering & Psychological Safety
- Case 6: Personal Imperative Linked to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
- Case 7: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Metrics
- Case 8: Characteristics of an Inclusive Workplace
- Case 9: Allyship
- Case 10: How to Be More Inclusive
- Case 11: Pronouns
- Case 12: Religious Diversity
The University of Toronto Professional Accounting Centre is pleased to acknowledge:
- Funding support for the DEI Case Collection from the Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA Ontario).
- The suggestions and contributions of many including the following:
Sadaf Parvaiz, CPA, CA – Global I&D Leader, GHD
Muriam De Angelis, CPA, CA – National DEI Leader, EY Canada
Jenny Okonkwo, CPA, FCMA(UK), CGMA, FPAC, MBA, CEO, Transform Consulting Inc
and former member, AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion
Sheena Chaudry, BA, Global D&I Leader, Canada Goose
It should be noted that not all suggestions have been incorporated, and that any errors in or omissions from case collection are my responsibility.
Leonard J. Brooks, Jr. FCPA, FCA
Professor of Business Ethics & Accounting
Director, Professional Accounting Centre
University of Toronto
July 19, 2023
Comments and suggestions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Expectations for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) have become reputation defining for businesspeople and professionals, and their organizations. In an era when risk identification and management have become the norm, failing to understand or ignoring DEI could be considered an act of negligence and conceivably of incompetence. DEI expectations are now so prevalent and relevant that not understanding them and taking them into account could limit the success of any professional accountant.
This DEI Case Collection has been created to inform professional accountants and students aspiring to enter the profession on the nature, relevance, and application of DEI expectations. It begins with a brief overview of the status of DEI, then moves to a discussion of the relevance of DEI for professional accountants. This is followed by a high-level discussion of the nature and roots of DEI, and then offers twelve cases to stimulate learning, prefaced by resource references, and followed by frameworks helpful to the understanding of DEI development and the enhancement of appropriate DEI actions. Suggested issues for consideration are available for each case upon request from the Director of the Professional Accounting Centre (PAC).
This DEI Case Collection has been published as an open-source document on the PAC website with the intent that professors and other individuals will use and reproduce the cases and other aspects of the collection, at no charge, provided the source of such use is acknowledged as follows: Source: DEI Case Collection for Professional Accountants, University of Toronto Professional Accounting Centre, (insert year of use), PAC website https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/pac/case-collections/dei-case-collection-professional-accountants.
The Professional Accounting Centre is pleased to acknowledge the funding support of CPA Ontario for the creation and ongoing updating of this DEI Case Collection. Accordingly, this DEI Case Collection will be evergreen in nature, with new cases, references and guidance being integrated in the future. As such, this DEI Case Collection is intended to be of continuing assistance to CPA professionals and students. Suggestions for inclusion of new cases and other useful references should be directed to the Director of PAC.
At the end of the day, DEI should not be a box-ticking, quota-hitting exercise. Though it is important to hit DEI metrics and diversity targets within an organization, it’s even more critical to recognize the people behind those numbers. Society must learn how to address challenges related to DEI in the workplace. That is where these case studies presented come in. The case studies presented here are detailed, multi-faceted examinations of particular situations within a real-world context. They expose you to real dilemmas and decisions when it comes to DEI in the modern workplace.
As you work through each case, consider the additional resources provided at the end of each case, and in the Frameworks Section provided. This is where you will find some basic concepts from social science research to help you anticipate and manage some of the complexities in creating diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. The Terminology Section provides information on key concepts discussed. Note that the DEI space is ever-changing and, along with it, so is DEI terminology and our understanding of certain concepts. As in other social science fields, language can become easily dated as more is learned. Keep this evolutionary characteristic in mind as you begin this work.
Keeping an open mind is essential. Within Canadian society, there is often a tendency to avoid having difficult conversations around certain subjects. Many concepts, from power and privilege to racism and sexism, contribute to exclusion, marginalization, and even violence. These kinds of topics can be uncomfortable to talk about, and it’s easy to shut down a conversation when it becomes sensitive or controversial. However, each of us have an opportunity to control our own behaviours and shift our own mindsets.
You cannot engage in DEI work without first opening oneself up to these kinds of conversations. You might not feel like you’re in a place to discuss such issues. Perhaps you’re not as far along in your own personal understanding of DEI and these are newer concepts to you, or perhaps you don’t have a lived experienced as a member of a non-dominant group. Whatever the case, try to be open to hearing different perspectives so these tough topics can be discussed in a productive, meaningful way.
Everyone will make mistakes when engaging with DEI, simply because we may lack the skills or the practice to not make mistakes. However, it’s exactly these mistakes that can reveal gaps in your knowledge, bringing you one step closer to actually filling those gaps. If you make a mistake, don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. If you feel discomfort, try not to withdraw or become defensive. It is in these moments that beneficial change is really taking place.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)—as a field of study and of practice—has virtually exploded over the past few years, moving from being a buzzword in corporate vocabulary toward becoming a more concrete business imperative for all organizations. In 2020 and 2021, many companies including McDonald’s, Microsoft, Rogers and KPMG Canada have made a pledge to improve diverse hiring and to introduce DEI training to all their staff. In the accounting profession alone, 58 CEOs at accounting-related organizations in the United States signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge in early April 2020 (Tysiac, 2021). Things are clearly changing, but what prompted this shift?
After the eventful year of 2020, the need for workplaces to not only be diverse but progressive and adaptive became clearer than ever before. Recall that 2020 saw the murder of George Floyd in the United States, the discovery of unmarked graves of Indigenous children throughout Canada at former residential schools, and the rise of anti-Asian racism all over the world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These events highlighted how unfair and unjust the world can be to people who belong to equity-deserving groups and demonstrated how important it is for us to understand how to live and work alongside those who might be different from ourselves.
Beyond these events, research points to the importance of diverse workforces. As a main benefit of DEI, the business case has become stronger than ever. The World Economic Forum explains that there is a consistent correlation between diverse leadership teams and stronger financial performance for companies (Ellingrud et al., 2022). For instance, a study by McKinsey & Co. found that companies in the top quartile of gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than peer companies in the bottom quartile (Dixon-Fyle et al., 2020). The same study showed that the effect is even stronger when it comes to ethnic and cultural diversity: top-quartile companies were 36% more likely to financially outperform bottom-quartile companies in return on equity.
Beyond financial performance and profitability, other benefits of DEI found are enhanced creativity and innovation, access to a larger talent pool and new markets, higher employee retention, and higher employee engagement, satisfaction, and overall happiness. While these provide a strong argument for implementing DEI throughout organizations, social justice issues are what lie at the heart of this work. Simply put, prioritizing DEI initiatives is the right thing to do.
Despite this evidence, progress in the field remains frustratingly slow. Data from Culture Amp’s 2022 Workplace DEI Report shows that while intentions have been stated, substantial progress is yet to be made (Culture Amp, 2022). The report shows that most companies “talk the talk,” but they don’t “walk the walk.” Another survey, which supports this, found that 80% of Human Resources professionals viewed companies as “going through the motions” (Cox & Lancefield, 2021). Evidently, more often than not, the attention of companies is on headcounts and box-ticking than it is on tangible workforce inclusion of all its stakeholders (Laker, 2022).
Clear evidence exists that supports the benefits of DEI, yet we’re still witnessing worrisome trends in the workforce. A 2021 survey found that 70% of all workers and 86% of Gen-Z workers have experienced bullying or prejudice at work (Perna, 2021). One in eight women have been sexually assaulted at work, or in a work-related context, at least once during their time employed (Statistics Canada, 2020). Of the Canadians who have experienced racism, 40% say it occurred in their workplace (Neuman, 2019). These are just a few recent numbers that illustrate there is massive change needed to ensure fairness in systems, how decisions are made, and people’s actions.
The primary motivation for greater public support for the application of DEI informed social behaviour has been the growing need to treat people ethically, with fairness and sensitivity to their rights as citizens. As this DEI awareness has progressed, employees have been leaving their employment over their own treatment, or the treatment of others. This has been difficult to ignore during the recent challenging times for recruiting scarce, highly-qualified replacements. Customers have also turned away from organizations who are known for unreasonable pay (Amazon), or unreasonable incentive schemes leading to employee termination (Wells Fargo), or unreasonable pay and promotion practices (Texaco’s discrimination against black employees).
Failure to treat employees, customers or clients, and other stakeholders with expected fairness, respect and dignity, can lead to functional deficiencies as people leave, but also to reputational problems for being unable to navigate social relationships effectively. Professional accountants are expected to protect the public interest, but if their reputation for good judgment is damaged through a failure to demonstrate a commitment to DEI, then the demand for their services will also be diminished. Public trust in the profession may also be eroded if too many instances of poor DEI become widely known. The role of the media in publicizing these stories cannot be overestimated.
The importance of DEI values to the accounting profession’s ability to protect the public interest has been underscored in formal statements released by professional bodies such as the following:
“Diversity, equity and inclusion remains – rightfully- a top priority for the profession, as well as society at large. Through this heightened awareness, business leaders are committed to raising the bar on equitable and inclusive opportunity for all”2
In summary, taking all these issues into account, the business case for effective DEI policies and their usage is quite apparent:
- Staff hiring and retention, which are indicative of staff satisfaction, will be significantly improved through a commitment to DEI. The need to replace staff will be significantly reduced, and your best performing personnel, who often value DEI highly, will be more attracted to your organization.
- Employees treated with respect and fairness are more likely to work effectively, diligently, and with a high commitment to organizational objectives. Research shows that if staff believe their insights and suggestions will be valued positively based on how they are treated, they will have higher organizational trust, and will respond and contribute more effectively than otherwise. Innovative ideas will be more forthcoming from all staff and colleagues.
- Staff decision making and problem solving will likely be more robust and with less bias since discussions will not need to avoid DEI topics or ideas put forward by people who fear discrimination. Staff members from equity-deserving groups are more likely to raise issues important to those groups for consideration.
- Decision making can benefit from participation by people from several cultures and genders because of their sensitivity to different issues. For example, the absence of women in decision making may result in behaviour that has lacked compassion and respect.
- Since client workplaces and most workplaces of professional accountants are now diverse in terms of representation, and business is often practiced across cultures, sensitivity to DEI issues should facilitate working relationships in those workplaces.
- Development and adherence to an effective DEI policy should mitigate both the potential legal and reputational costs of actions that are discriminatory, unfair, or troubling to staff or clients. Such actions are often because of ignorance of DEI expectations or unconscious bias by the perpetrator and could have been avoided through effective DEI training. On other occasions, the culture of the organization encourages such behaviour, or fails to warn, or take action against it – all of which call for the introduction of an effective DEI policy and culture.
- A marketing appeal is created in the minds of clients by the employment and ethical treatment of staff from equity-deserving groups. Prospective clients have been known to choose firms that present a profile close to that of the client, or to reject staff shown not to be able to demonstrate effective DEI actions on the job.
- Finally, respecting the rights and expectations of stakeholders by demonstrating fairness, respect and dignity, is now considered to be the right thing to do. Ignoring such an imperative would be unwise at the very least.
At its core, DEI means treating individuals, their rights, values, and interests with respect, fairness, and dignity whether they are colleagues, employees, clients, customers, associates, or competitors. To focus their executives and employees on this objective, many organizations are creating DEI policies that define and clarify organizational objectives and are building these into their organizational culture.
For example, the DEI segment of the website of the University of Michigan is very helpful in defining DEI and offering comment on why pursuing DEI goals is a good thing for the university to do.
University of Michigan: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion3
Defining diversity, equity and inclusion
At the University of Michigan, our dedication to academic excellence for the public good is inseparable from our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. It is central to our mission as an educational institution to ensure that each member of our community has full opportunity to thrive in our environment, for we believe that diversity is key to individual flourishing, educational excellence and the advancement of knowledge.
Diversity: We commit to increasing diversity, which is expressed in myriad forms, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status and political perspective.
Equity: We commit to working actively to challenge and respond to bias, harassment, and discrimination. We are committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight, or veteran status.
Inclusion: We commit to pursuing deliberate efforts to ensure that our campus is a place where differences are welcomed, different perspectives are respectfully heard and where every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion. We know that by building a critical mass of diverse groups on campus and creating a vibrant climate of inclusiveness, we can more effectively leverage the resources of diversity to advance our collective capabilities.
For an example of a large company that has invested heavily in the development of DEI policies and programs to promote diversity and inclusion, refer to the website of TELUS Corporation at https://www.telus.com/en/about/diversity-and-inclusion?linkname=Diversity_Inclusion&linktype=ge-mobilenav.
For many decades respect for employee rights has been considered to be part of good workplace ethics, involving the following related themes and topics:
- Privacy and dignity of person, personal information and property:
- Boundaries of personal rights, employer’s rights and right of the public
- Proper procedures: notification and consent
- Testing for substance abuse
- Harassment, sexual and otherwise
- Civil work environment
- Fair treatment:
- No discrimination on the basis of age, race, sex, employment, pay
- Fair policies
- Is equal treatment fair in the case of disabled people?
- Healthy and safe work environment
- Expectations: reasonability right to know, stress, family life, productivity
- Quality-of-life concerns: smoking, health
- Family-friendly workplaces
- Ability to exercise conscience and to speak freely.
- Blind loyalty is no longer defensible.
Focussing on protection against discrimination, it is important to note that there are some human rights or protected grounds that are protected from erosion or unfair treatment by national4 or provincial laws including human rights legislation, declaration5, or constitutional or charter direction, including:
- Ancestry, colour, race
- Ethnic origin
- Place of origin
- Family status
- Marital status (including single status)
- Gender identity, gender expression
- Receipt of public assistance (in housing only)
- Record of offences (in employment only)
- Sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding)
- Sexual orientation6
These rights are protected from direct discrimination, whether actions are intentional, and from indirect discrimination where adverse or constructive discrimination occurs where discrimination is unintended. Sometimes a workplace rule or practice appears fair, but is not (i.e., a requirement that all employees work from the office every day from 9AM-5PM may discriminate against employees who have caregiving duties7), or a differential treatment has an unreasonable discriminatory outcome (i.e., refusing to hire heavy equipment operators who are over 50 years of age may discriminate against fit operators over 50).
In addition to “human rights” observed in North America, there are several employee rights that are now expected because they have become enshrined in statutes, regulations, common law, union contracts, corporate policies, or public expectations, including:
- Fair Pay
- Free speech
These “expected” rights have evolved over time, with the result that expectations have risen and intensified. Treatment that was once acceptable, is now often highly risky or unacceptable legally, or in terms of public reaction.
Respect and Dignity Issues
In general, the employee’s right to privacy and dignity means that an employee has the right to expect respect for their person, and their beliefs and values, provided those do not result in harm to others. This means that an employer cannot presume that the employer’s rights supersede the employees unless the employer can demonstrate a legitimate interest in the matter, that the interest is reasonable, and also morally acceptable. Also, it is not enough to simply inform an employee that the employer is going to do something that may infringe on the employee’s rights (such as video monitoring of work, rest breaks or washroom activity). Employees are expected to be informed, have time to deliberate on the action and a free choice of whether to accept activities that infringe on their rights in order for the employer to claim that the employee has given informed consent for such activities. Frankly, such activities are so fraught with legal difficulties, that an employer should consult with a lawyer before moving forward on any activities of this nature.
Harassment – An Aspect of Respect and Dignity
The need for respect and dignity has also been evident in the curbing of physical, sexual, or mental harassment. Harassment has been defined as any improper behaviour directed at you that you find offensive, and that the other person knew or should have known would be unwelcome.8 The #MeToo Movement was created in 2006 to assist women subjected to sexual violence because women who reported their mistreatment were ignored or hushed up or denigrated or not believed in court. But public perceptions have changed due to continuing support for harassed women from the #MeToo Movement, the high-profile harassment cases against Harvey Weinstein in April 2017 and Bill Cosby in 2018 which ended in convictions, and the concern over the alleged behaviour of Supreme Court justice Brent Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump. Now women who report sexual violence are taken seriously, and men no longer get a free pass. Sexual harassment is now recognized as seriously disgusting behaviour, and harassment is unacceptable in all forms.
Civility – An Aspect of Respect and Dignity
Recently, the creation of a civil work environment had become more commonly expected and employers have begun to develop policies that stipulate standards of courteous and respectful behaviour to be adhered to in their workplace. The practices of uncivil treatment by bosses that included shouting, profanity, threatening, or striking an employee are no longer acceptable.
Equity – Fairness
The right to expect fair or equitable treatment is a particularly sensitive issue for employees, and the public in matters related to age gender, sex, employment, pay and race. Fairness is usually reinforced in union contracts and by strong union representation at grievances. As a result, companies have developed policies to maintain fair treatment. It should be noted however, that for employees with disabilities, equal treatment is not sufficient to offset the disability and in the minds of the public such treatment would not be considered to be fair accommodation. The prevailing public opinion is that employees with disabilities should be given appropriate workstations to accommodate wheelchairs, or access to washroom facilities if they are deemed to be equal to able employees in performing the specific tasks involved in the job.9
Health and Safety
Employee health and safety is provided for in current workplace laws and regulations, and employers should understand that these are protected rights that the employee cannot be contracted out of. That is to say that it is unlawful to cause an employee to sign a contract that gives the employer the right to assign work that is harmful to the employee’s health and safety. Exemptions and allowances do exist but would require legal advice.
Conscience and Free Speech
In North America, it is becoming common to expect that employees will be able to exercise their conscience and refuse to do what their bosses instruct them to do, if those actions break environmental or other laws. This is reasonable if those actions would result in personal liability for the employee, or for the employing organization. Generally speaking, public opinion is strongly in favour of allowing employees to express their personal opinions even though those opinion might differ from the employer’s. Allowing employees to express a contrary opinion to their employer is not common in some foreign jurisdictions, however, and organizations doing business in those jurisdictions should determine whether they want to put in place a worldwide organizational expectation or permit local exceptions, which may expose the organization to ridicule and loss of reputation when more sensitive stakeholder jurisdictions are involved worldwide.
The final aspect of appropriate DEI behaviour is the inclusion of a diverse set of employees in an employer’s work community. The rationale for this is not so much related to the rights of the potential employees as it is to the business imperative arguments raised above in support of DEI policies, such as: improved decision making, facilitation of working relationships amongst diverse employees, and marketing appeal. In addition, in today’s modern society, creating an inclusive workplace is seen by many to be the right thing to do.
This discussion of DEI behaviour is intended to provide an overview of the nature and relevance of DEI organizations, to professional accounting and for professional accountants. What follows is a review of the status of adoption of DEI, and a series of frameworks that will enhance the reader’s basic knowledge of EDI, and their ability to work through the cases which follow. The cases are named for their subject matter, and a selection of reference resources is presented at the end of each case, with digital links at the end of each case. Finally, a list of valuable terms is presented with relevant definitions and explanations, and a set of case notes is available to professors on request from the Director of the Professional Accounting Centre.
The following cases are presented to expand on key DEI topics. Additional resources integral to the issues involved are located at the end of each case after the case questions. It should be noted that the evergreen nature of the collection provides for additional cases to be submitted, approved, and added to the DEI Case Collection in the future.
- Business Imperative Linked to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Talent Management Process
- Unconscious Bias
- Inclusive Leadership
- Covering & Psychological Safety
- Personal Imperative Linked to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
- Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Metrics
- Characteristics of an Inclusive Workplace
- How To Be More Inclusive
- Religious Diversity
Case notes designed to assist in considering the answers to the discussion questions at the end of each case are available to professors and selected other discussion leaders who apply by email to the Director of the Professional Accounting Centre at email@example.com .
Nick is the manager of a group of senior staff accountants at Gibbs & Mora LLP. He’s worked in this position for three years and his team comprises five other senior staff accountants. Nick was recently approached by his senior manager, Braydon, and was told that his team was selected to potentially complete an audit for one of their clients. Nick’s team has the opportunity to pitch its skills in a client meeting the following week.
Nick shares the news about the audit with his team—everyone is excited. This could be a huge opportunity for the accountants to prove themselves, and it is also a major client for Gibbs & Mora. To prepare themselves for the client meeting, Nick and his team review the client file to familiarize themselves with the client and its relevant stakeholders so they’re ready to meet the following week.
On the day of the meeting, Nick, Braydon, and the rest of the team make their way to the client’s office. When they arrive, they meet Bianca, the CEO of the company. Bianca is Hispanic. Nick shakes her hand and Braydon begins the presentation. Nick and Braydon know the content of their project proposal is strong and that there is little reason Bianca wouldn’t choose their team to complete the audit.
After the presentation, Bianca seems pleased. However, she doesn’t automatically agree to hire Nick and his team. Instead, she says she needs a few days to think about it. Nick hands her his business card and tells her that he’s looking forward to her response. Nick and the team head back to the Gibbs & Mora office.
Two days after the meeting, Bianca visits the Gibbs & Mora office to speak to Nick and Braydon. Bianca tells them that she was very impressed with their presentation, but that she is concerned about the lack of diversity within the team. It’s the only thing that’s holding her back from signing them on.
Braydon shifts uncomfortably in his seat and looks to Nick. Both of them are at a loss for words. The team, including Braydon and Nick, comprises seven accountants. They never noticed that all seven of them were white males in their thirties.
“Diversity is very important to me and my company,” Bianca tells them. “It’s the only thing I’m struggling with when it comes to deciding who will complete the work.”
Braydon assures her that he will do whatever he can to get Bianca on board with Mora & Gibbs. “There are many accountants who work at the firm,” he tells her. “I’m more than happy to bring on other employees to diversify the team.”
While Bianca appreciates Braydon’s dedication, she doesn’t feel that his solution really solves the problem. She wants to work with an organization that prioritizes diversity and inclusion. “Why is your team so homogeneous?” She asks Braydon and Nick.
Nick says that Mora & Gibbs is a small accounting firm with small teams. “Because of this,” he says, “it’s helpful for everyone to have a lot in common.” He tells Bianca about their teambuilding exercises, like playing golf and watching sports. “Having a team of similar people who enjoy these activities works really well.” Nick says that he never really thought about the diversity of the team. “Everyone is good at what they do,” he says. “I don’t think my team is any less capable of completing the job.”
Bianca thanks Braydon and Nick for their honesty and tells them that she still has a lot to consider before she makes her final decision.
- Why wasn’t simply adding a “diverse” employee to the team a suitable solution for Bianca? Do you support Braydon’s decision to suggest this? Where was Braydon coming from?
- What are the negative repercussions of Braydon’s idea to simply bring a diverse employee onto the team? Consider the concept of tokenism.
- What could Gibbs & Mora do to get Bianca to sign on with Nick’s team? What are some of the next steps Gibbs & Mora can take in the short and the long term?
- Do you agree that Nick’s team works well because of the lack of diversity? What could a more diverse team bring to the table?
- Are there any drawbacks for an organization that solely prioritizes the business case for DEI?
Additional Resources for Case 1:
- The Business Case for DEI: Ask Catalyst Express (research by Catalyst), here
- The Business Case for Diversity And Inclusion (article by Forbes), here
- Diversity wins: How inclusion matters (resource by McKinsey & Co.), here
- Getting Serious About Diversity: Enough Already with the Business Case (article by Harvard Business Review), here
You are a people manager at Fortis Accountants, a mid-size accounting firm, and it’s time for the annual performance reviews. You meet with Bruce, one of your direct reports, for his performance review. Bruce is a Black man with a slight Ghanaian accent who moved to Canada when he was 27 years old. He’s going into his third year as a junior accountant at Fortis. Before moving to Canada, he was a senior accountant at a small-sized firm in Ghana. You’ve been Bruce’s people manager for the past two years and you always look forward to his review. You see no problems with his performance: he always meets his deadlines, he’s dedicated to his work, and he’s reliable. He's one of your strongest team members!
When Bruce enters your office for the review, he seems tense. You assume it’s because of personal reasons and proceed with his evaluation. You tell him how well he’s doing and that he’s one of the highest-ranking employees on the team. “You’re a valued employee,” you say. “The team is stronger because of your contributions.”
You then tell him that he will be receiving a 10% salary increase next year—the highest allotted pay raise you’re able to give out. While you’re excited to share this news with him, Bruce still has the same tense demeanour as when he walked in. “Is everything ok?” You ask him, and Bruce shifts uncomfortably. “You can discuss anything with me,” you say, assuring him that you will be discreet.
Bruce tells you that he’s frustrated in his current role. He says that this year he’s applied to be a senior accountant on three separate occasions. “This is the second year in a row that I’m the highest-ranking staff on the team. I don’t understand why I’m always being overlooked.”
Bruce reminds you that he was a senior accountant in Ghana, so he has the experience. He’s a mentor to new accountants who are being onboarded, he’s always being asked to complete overflow work from senior accountants, and he’s even had some senior accountants come to him for advice. “I think I’m more than qualified for the positions I’ve applied for. Are you not supporting my applications for these promotions?”
You’re stunned. He’s not angry with you; he’s hurt and confused. “I have supported and approved every application you’ve submitted for an internal position,” you tell him. Bruce is even more confused now. “There could be a number of reasons why you’re not getting the promotions.” But even as you say it, you’re not quite sure why he’s not being promoted.
You tell Bruce that his feelings are valid and that you’re just as confused as he is. He thanks you for validating his feelings and for his performance review, then heads back to his desk.
Once Bruce leaves your office, you’re still unsure about your conversation. You pull out his file and review the résumé he submitted for the most recent job opening. He has over six years of experience as an accountant; he has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in accounting, and before receiving his professional designation, he gained extensive internship experience in an accounting firm. His soft skills are exactly what the firm is looking for in their senior accountants–he’s an active member of the firm’s volunteer mentorship program, he’s attended multiple non-mandatory training seminars, and he’s never received any disciplinary action. In his file, you notice the notes from his first interview with the firm. Bruce stated, from the beginning, that he was looking to gain more experience and grow his career at Fortis.
You go onto the internal job application portal, which is only accessible to internal staff at the firm, to see what the application process is like. Employees looking to apply must enter their first, middle, and last names and list their highest level of education, their designations, if any, and any awards or certifications they’ve received. They must also include all of their work experience, including the location of their previous experience. They must list the languages they speak, along with their level of fluency. The final stage of the application process is to include a headshot.
With this information, you decide to meet with Bill, the senior accounting manager who was hiring for the last position to which Bruce applied. Bill is an older white gentleman who’s been with the firm since before you started. You’ve only ever spoken to him a few times. You knock on his office door and ask him if he has a few minutes to discuss the recent senior accountant position. He tells you that the posting is closed—they hired a junior accountant named Michael.
You tell Bill about Bruce and how you would like to suggest some additional training he could take before applying for the next vacancy. You ask him why Bruce wasn’t selected for the position. “Bruce was more than qualified for the position,” Bill says, “but I had to go with my gut. Bruce just wasn’t the right fit.”
“Bruce is ready to move up at the firm,” you tell Bill. “What does he need to do to not be overlooked next time?”
Bill thinks for a moment before saying that he’ll have get back to you. “I don’t really have an answer for you at this time.”
Walking back to your office, you think about Bruce’s experience as an employee at the firm. Based on what Bill said about Bruce’s application, you start to believe that Bruce isn’t being overlooked because of his performance; he’s being overlooked because of his background. Sure, Bruce has an accent, but he’s never had any issues communicating with you, clients, or coworkers. Is he being overlooked because he’s Black or from Ghana? Come to think of it, Fortis employees who are people of colour only hold junior level positions, while all of the senior level staff, partners, and board members are white.
- Were there any “red flags” regarding the internal application process? What requirements should be removed? What information is necessary to collect?
- Why isn’t it crucial to ask for information regarding a candidate’s identity on an application? Could asking the candidate to present a headshot impact their recruitment experience? If so, how?
- What are the harmful repercussions of following a gut feeling? Is there a time and place when it would be appropriate to follow your gut?
- How would representation at Fortis Accountants impact Bruce’s experience as an accountant? Would greater diversity at the firm have changed the outcomes of Bruce’s multiple applications?
- Is Bruce’s situation a case of discrimination? Was this a direct attack on Bruce because of certain aspects of his identity (i.e., being Black, being trained in another country, etc.)?
Additional Resources for Case 2:
- A Fairer Way to Make Hiring and Promotion Decisions (article by Harvard Business Review), here
- 8 Ways to Have a Fair Process for Promotions (blog post by Great Place To Work), here
- 5 Questions to Answer For More Inclusive Talent Management (article by Inclusive Leaders Group), here
Alex is an Asian Canadian employee at a small accounting firm named Huxley & Associates LLP. She’s been working at Huxley for two years as a senior accountant. Before that, she was a junior accountant for four years. In the office, she’s known for going above and beyond; she’s involved in difficult projects, and her managers have always come to her first with complex issues. Alex works on a large team with ten other accountants, which is led by Jenna, their manager.
During a staff meeting with all of the managers, a new project is announced. The project has tight deadlines that will require long hours. Jenna is told that her team will lead the project. The other managers ask Jenna if she needs additional resources to meet the deadlines, but Jenna is confident that her team can get the job done. She’s proud that her team was selected and feels this reflects positively on herself and her leadership skills.
Jenna pulls her team into a meeting and tells them the news, outlining the project and explaining the timelines. She acknowledges that this project will have a big workload and that everyone needs to make it a top priority over the coming weeks. The team is asking a lot of questions and Jenna can tell that everyone is already feeling a little overwhelmed. Some wonder if the deadline is too tight, while others fear that given their current workload, they won’t be able to fully prioritize this project. Jenna assures everyone that they can handle this and offers her support. “We’re all going to have to work extra hard,” she says. “Let’s all take the lead from Alex and work as hard as she does. I’ll need people coming in early, staying late, and bringing work home with them as needed—just like Alex!”
Jenna looks over to Alex and smiles. But instead of being happy with the praise, Alex looks uncomfortable. Jenna shrugs, assuming Alex doesn’t like public praise. Jenna adjourns the meeting, knowing her team is anxious about the deadlines, but she’s confident that the project will get done on time if everyone works as hard as Alex.
Over the next few weeks, when Jenna arrives to work, Alex is there. When Jenna leaves for the day, Alex is still there. Jenna is proud that her employee is so dedicated to the project. During a check-in meeting, Jenna asks the team how they’re progressing with the work. When the team tells her that they are feeling overwhelmed, Jenna tells them that she notices Alex is at the office before and after office hours. “And she’s not burnt out,” Jenna tells them. “Everyone needs to work as hard Alex.” After Jenna closes the meeting, she remembers how the senior management team told her that if she needed additional resources, all she had to do was ask.
During lunch, Jenna sees Alex sitting and chatting with another employee named Michelle. Jenna often sees Alex and Michelle together. They seem to get along well. Michelle, who is also of Asian descent, is a junior accountant who has been with the firm for two years. Jenna approaches Michelle’s manager and asks if she can use Michelle as an additional resource for her project. Michelle’s manager agrees, and Jenna brings Michelle to a staff meeting to introduce her to the team.
“I can see that you’re all feeling overwhelmed,” Jenna tells her team, “so I brought in Michelle to give us a hand.” Everyone greets Michelle with enthusiasm. But when Jenna looks over at Alex, Alex is not as excited as the others.
After the meeting, Alex knocks on Jenna’s door and asks if she can speak with her. Jenna welcomes her in and is looking forward to getting a better understanding of how she’s feeling about the project. “Why did you bring on Michelle?” asks Alex, surprising Jenna. Jenna tells Alex that she often saw her with Michelle and thought that if she brought on someone who is similar to her, they would work well together, and this would boost team morale and productivity. “Have you ever worked with Michelle?” Alex asks Jenna, and Jenna shakes her head no. Alex then tells her that while she does like Michelle, the reason they get along so well is because they don’t work closely together.
Alex confides to Jenna that Michelle doesn’t like to take initiative. While Michelle is kind, she needs a lot of coaching and guidance to complete small tasks. Alex worries it will be more work to have Michelle on the team than to not have her. “I’m sorry I didn’t look into Michelle’s working style before bringing her on,” Jenna says. “I’ll transfer Michelle back to her old team for the time being. Thank you for being so honest with me. I just hoped to find someone who works as hard as you.” Again, Alex looks uncomfortable with this comment.
”Why do you expect me to work so much harder than the others?” Alex asks Jenna. Jenna is taken aback by this question. “It’s not that I expect it,” she says. “I just notice that you work harder.”
“It’s just that I’m never asked if I can stay late. I’m told. Sometimes I think you have different—higher—expectations than the rest of the team. One day, I came to work on time, and you asked me why I was late!” The fact that she is the only person of colour on the team (and, in particular, the only person of Asian descent) makes Alex feel isolated.
“I don’t think you’re being malicious or acting with malintent,” Alex continues. “I just hope that you can be more aware of your words. I love my job,” Alex says, “and I think you’re a great manager. I just hope this doesn’t change the way you feel about me.”
- Was Jenna intentional with her actions toward Alex and Michelle? Do you think Jenna was trying to single out Alex’s work ethic because of her Asian Canadian ethnicity?
- How might Jenna’s attitudes towards Alex be harmful to other employees at the firm who identify as Asian or Asian Canadian?
- Is there a way for Jenna to correct her actions that stem from her biases? If so, how? What could she do to be more conscious as she moves forward?
- What are Jenna’s strengths as a manager? Her weaknesses? Do her biases interfere with her ability to be a stronger manager for Alex?
- What are some strategies Jenna could practice to prevent herself from stereotyping Alex, Michelle, and other employees in the future?
Additional Resources for Case 3:
- 11 Harmful Types of Unconscious Bias and How to Interrupt Them (blog post by Catalyst), here
- How To Tackle Unconscious Bias In Your Workplace (article by Forbes), here
- Are You Aware of Your Biases? (Article by Harvard Business Review), here
- Author Talks: How to interrupt bias in the workplace (article by McKinsey & Co.), here
- Unconscious bias derails diversity and inclusion efforts. Here’s how to manage it (article by The Globe and Mail), here
- Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion (book by Ashley Diaz Mejias & Tiffany Jana), here
- Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (book by Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji), here
Cheyenne is a junior accountant at a large accounting firm called Wallia Knox Accountants. She works on a diverse team with 10 other junior accountants, along with her manager, Min. Cheyenne’s team recently received a lot of praise from Wallia Knox’s senior leaders, and her team tends to be given higher-profile clients. After a meeting with the senior leaders and managers, Min returns to her team and asks to speak to Cheyenne privately.
Two other junior accountants just resigned from one of the other teams at Wallia Knox. The manager of this other team isn’t interested in hiring two new accountants; she’d rather hire from within the firm and is looking for any accountants who are interested in transferring to her team. Because Cheyenne has been transparent with Min about wanting to grow her career and is always up for a challenge, Min tells Cheyenne that she thinks she’s ready for this new challenge and asks if she can recommend her for one of the positions.
Cheyenne is excited about this opportunity. She believes she’ll be an asset to the new team and that she’ll gain a lot of experience from working with different people. Two weeks later, Cheyenne is approved for the transfer and starts her new role.
On her first day, she puts her things down at her new desk and then walks over to introduce herself to her new manager, Brittany. Brittany’s office door is half open. Cheyenne gently knocks, pushing the door open. Brittany is on her computer, looking at her screen intently. When Cheyenne enters, Brittany doesn’t look up. Rather, she holds up her index finger to pause Cheyenne before she can even begin to speak.
Cheyenne is shocked by Brittany’s rudeness but considers that perhaps Brittany is in the middle of something important. After a few awkward seconds, Brittany looks up and says, “Hi, what is it?” “Hi,” Cheyenne responds. “I’m Cheyenne. I’m the new transfer from Min’s team. Today is my first day and I just wanted to introduce myself.” Brittany stands and says, “Hi, yes, I remember you were starting today. I’m very busy and I know you have a lot of experience, so thankfully I don’t need to hold your hand throughout this onboarding process. You can start on the most urgent task. If you have any questions, just talk to Kelly—she’s our team lead.”
Cheyenne leaves Brittany’s office feeling uneasy. That’s not how she expected to be welcomed to a new team, but she reminds herself that all teams work differently. She sits at her desk and realizes that she has no idea who Kelly is. She looks around. Her new team members are a lot more subdued than the members of her previous team; nobody’s talking or interacting with each another. She turns to the person beside her and asks if he knows Kelly. He points to Kelly’s desk, and Cheyenne walks over to introduce herself. Kelly hands Cheyenne a client file and asks her to get started, as they’re running behind.
Cheyenne puts on her headphones and gets to work. Cheyenne was diagnosed with ADHD when she was a teenager and sometimes has trouble focusing when she’s overstimulated, and being in a new environment with new noises, people, and surroundings is definitely overstimulating. Listening to classical music or white noise will make it easier for her to focus. Soon after she starts on the file, Brittany is at her desk. “We don’t allow people to listen to music here,” Brittany says. “This is a workplace.” Before Cheyenne can respond, Brittany has already walked away.
Later that day, Cheyenne approaches Brittany and asks to speak with her privately. Cheyenne tells her that she listens to classical music through her headphones to help her focus. Brittany doesn’t seem to care and reiterates that it’s inappropriate to listen to music at work. Cheyenne explains that she has a disability and it’s been recommended that she use headphones to help her get her work done. Brittany looks Cheyenne up and down. “What disability?” Brittany asks. Cheyenne has never had to disclose her ADHD before. On her previous team, Min just allowed her to work the way she needed to work. “It’s not a physical disability,” Cheyenne says, it’s a cognitive disability. If it’s ok with you, I’d rather not talk about it.” Brittany says that without a doctor’s note, she can’t help her. Stunned, Cheyenne leaves Brittany’s office.
Cheyenne doesn’t get a doctor’s note because she’s uncomfortable disclosing her diagnosis. She never thought her disability affected her work, and she doesn’t want others to make assumptions about her. She knows of other coping mechanisms, but music in headphones has always been the most helpful. After working for a week without headphones, Cheyenne has to work a lot harder to stay focused.
Not only is Cheyenne having to work a lot harder to focus, but the second junior accountant never joined the team. Cheyenne is starting to feel very overwhelmed with her workload. When she goes to see Brittany to talk about it, Brittany asks if she’s having trouble keeping up with her deadlines. “Maybe if you weren’t listening to music all the time, you could focus on your work better.” Cheyenne asks when the second junior accountant is expected to transfer to the team. Brittany looks confused. “What second junior accountant?”
Cheyenne tells Brittany that when Min told her about the transfer, she had said that two new accountants were being hired. “Well,” says Brittany, “given that we were hiring in-house, I assumed that someone with your skillset could keep up with the workload.” Brittany turns her attention to some papers on her desk. “If you can’t keep up, then I can take you off this file and put you on something else.” Cheyenne says she doesn’t want to be taken off the file and assures Brittany that she can keep up with her work.
“Also,” Cheyenne starts before leaving Brittany’s office, “I think it’s worth stating that my headphones are what help me focus. The workplace can be very overstimulating sometimes.” “You have a stimulation problem?” Brittany responds. “Is it autism?” Cheyenne isn’t sure what to say. She doesn’t like that Brittany is trying to guess her diagnosis. “No, it’s not autism. I’d rather not talk about it. But if I can’t wear headphones, then I need to find other ways to help me focus and do my job.” “Okay great,” Brittany says, “then find another solution.” Cheyenne leaves Brittany’s office feeling anxious and defeated.
Over the next few weeks, Cheyenne comes to the office early and stays late. She also works through lunch to ensure she gets everything completed on time. She tries to get the majority of her work done when the office is quiet, and less people are around. She wants to prove to Brittany that she is competent and capable.
On the day of her first deadline, Cheyenne is looking forward to hearing Brittany’s feedback. She worked hard and is proud of the final product. When she asks Brittany about her work, Brittany simply says, “I’m glad that’s done. We have other projects to worry about now.” And then she adds, “See, I knew you didn’t need those headphones.”
Cheyenne can’t believe it. She worked so hard and that’s it? Next project? She knows she is capable without her headphones, but the headphones make her more productive. Cheyenne starts coming into the office late and she’s easily distracted. If Brittany has noticed, she hasn’t said anything. Cheyenne knows the quality of her work isn’t what it could be and doesn’t really care; nobody else on her team seems to. They’re all just happy to meet their deadlines.
Cheyenne now spends her free time looking for another job at another firm; her old team no longer has any openings. She feels resentful as she gets ready for work in the morning and uses any excuse to leave early. Cheyenne is unhappy and knows that something needs to change.
- How would you compare Min’s management style with Brittany’s? What are the benefits of Min’s management style? Do you think the majority of employees would respond better to one management style over another?
- How could Brittany have approached Cheyenne’s headphone use in a more inclusive way? What were some of the inappropriate comments Brittany made, especially to someone with a disability?
- Would Cheyenne have been treated differently by Brittany if she had a visible disability, as opposed to an invisible one?
- What are some of the signs that Cheyenne is unhappy in her position? Is it Brittany’s responsibility to notice Cheyenne is unhappy? What would have happened if Cheyenne began to feel this way on Min’s team?
- What role does Wallia Knox Accountants play in this scenario? Should the firm be held accountable for Cheyenne’s unhappiness and low productivity? What could the firm have done to avoid Cheyenne wanting to resign?
- Is it important to onboard new employees to a team, even if they transferred from a different department or team within the organization? What could have been included in the onboarding process to improve Cheyenne’s experience?
Additional Resources for Case 4:
- How to Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive (book by Jennifer Brown), here
- Why inclusion starts in the C-suite (article by Penn Today), here
- The 5 Things All Inclusive Leaders Do Every Single Day (article by The Muse), here
- How To Strive For Power-Balanced Relationships At Work (article by Forbes), here
- Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams (book by Stefanie K. Johnson), here
- The Way We Lead (podcast), here
Katrina is a junior accountant on a team of five in a large accounting firm called Gonzales & Dalton Co. She and her team have been working on a research project for the past four months, and Katrina has been designated as the team lead for this particular project because of her excellent productivity and dedication to the work. Her manager, Rick, has shown nothing but support with everything she’s delivered. Rick has told Katrina how impressed he is with her work and how this project has really shown him what she’s capable of.
Because the research project is about Gonzales & Dalton Co., the team knew they were going to present their findings to the entire executive team. Although she’s a little nervous, Katrina understands that this is an amazing opportunity to get facetime with leadership.
Once everyone on the team is finished their part of the presentation, Rick takes two days to review it then pulls the team together for a final pre-presentation meeting to discuss any last-minute changes. The team is small yet diverse, and they all work well together. Rick only has a few minor changes that can easily be done by one person. He asks Katrina to make the changes and to give the presentation a final review before the big meeting.
Katrina is proud that Rick trusts her enough to do a final review of the presentation. She’s confident in her ability to address the feedback and consults the team on anything she’s unsure about. As a final task, Rick asks her to prepare a written script of the talking points. Katrina is now more excited than she’s nervous; she’s presented to high stakes audiences before, and she loves public speaking.
During a team meeting, Rick asks to see Katrina’s script. He quickly looks it over and smiles at her. “This is great,” he says. He turns to the team. “Well, everyone, I want to start by saying a huge thank you to all of you for your hard work on this project. It couldn’t have been done without the collaborative effort of each and every one of you. I’d like to give a special shout out to Katrina for her initiative and leadership throughout this entire process.” Everyone applauds in support. Katrina is overwhelmed with appreciation.
“I can’t wait to see how Kurt delivers the presentation to our executives,” Rick says. Katrina is confused. Since when was Kurt, another team member, supposed to give the entire presentation? Isn’t that her role? Rick hands Kurt Katrina’s script and tells him he has a few days to prepare. Rick says they’ll meet one last time to watch Kurt do a practice run. He says that he expects everyone to provide Kurt with constructive feedback. Kurt thanks Rick for the opportunity, and everyone heads back to their desks.
Katrina is very disappointed. She assumed that with all her hard work, she would be giving the presentation. She wonders if she’s done something wrong and that’s why she’s not being given the chance to present the team’s findings. Katrina knows she has a very good relationship with Rick and that she can talk to him about anything. She heads over to Rick’s office.
Katrina shares her disappointment with Rick in not being the one to give the presentation. She tells him that from all the support and praise she’d received from him, she assumed she’d be the one making the presentation. Rick apologizes for disappointing her and explains that Kurt would be better received by the executive team. Katrina doesn’t understand why she wouldn’t be well received by the executive team. She’s been at the firm for five years, she’s well-spoken, has never received disciplinary action, and loves her work. Rick tells her that the entire executive team is men. He thinks the results may be better received from a man. “It’s not that I don’t think you’re capable,” Rick says to Katrina. “Of course you are. I just think that Kurt will be a better fit this time around.”
Katrina realizes that this isn’t just about her being a woman; it’s about her being a Black woman. Other than Rick, Kurt is the only other white male on the team. She can’t help but think it’s a coincidence that Kurt is the one giving the presentation. Katrina is incredibly frustrated that her work is being used for this presentation—especially since she wrote the script. Is she good enough to write the words, but too “inappropriate” to deliver them? Katrina worries about the other opportunities she may have lost because she’s a Black woman.
Following this, Katrina starts to question who she is at Gonzales & Dalton Co. She wonders if her natural hair makes others uncomfortable. Does she dress too differently? Do her speech patterns make her stand out? What about all the food she brings for lunch? At home, Katrina goes through her entire wardrobe and donates anything that could be perceived as being different from what the other accountants at the firm would wear. She speaks up less in meetings because she’s worried about using certain slang or phrases that the other accountants might be unfamiliar with. When she brings lunch to work, it’s never a dish with an overwhelming scent, and at the company’s next monthly potluck, she uses mild seasoning so her dish is nowhere near as spicy as it should be. Katrina is now insecure about her identity as a Black woman and does what she can to blend in with the other accountants.
- What are the long-term effects of Rick’s words on Katrina? Has her comfort and psychological safety as an employee at Gonzales & Dalton Co. been compromised?
- Was Rick intentional when he made his comment about Kurt being a “better fit”? If Katrina were to let Rick know that his comment hurt her, what do you think he could do moving forward to resolve the situation?
- Did Rick consider Katrina’s identity as a Black woman when he made the decision to have Kurt present the findings? Was it fair of Katrina to assume she would automatically be selected to be the presenter?
- Was Rick deliberate in not telling Katrina that she wouldn’t be the one giving the presentation? Why did Rick have Katrina write the speech, but not make the presentation?
- Rick’s team, albeit small, is quite diverse. Given this, what are the risks of Rick not ensuring his team’s work environment is psychologically safe? How can the firm learn from Rick’s mistake?
Additional Resources for Case 5:
- Kenji Yoshino: Diversity Does Not Mean Having to Choose Between Identity and Inclusion (interview by Big Think), here
- Employee Covering – Is It Undermining Diversity in Your Organization (blog post by Everfi), here
- 4 Steps to Boost Psychological Safety at Your Workplace (article by Harvard Business Review), here
- 15 Ways To Promote Psychological Safety At Work (article by Forbes), here
- Creating Psychologically Safe Workplaces (resource by the University of Alberta), here
- The importance of psychological safety in the workplace (resource by McKinsey & Co.), here
- The importance of psychological safety: Amy Edmondson (video by The King’s Fund), here
- Why psychological safety at work matters and how to create it (blog post by BetterUp), here
Ajay is a senior accountant at Conway Lipstein, a mid-sized accounting firm. Ajay also happens to be gay, though doesn’t feel it’s necessary to disclose his sexual orientation to his fellow employees unless it comes up organically in conversation. In previous workplaces, some people were uncomfortable with his sexual orientation; they saw his sexual orientation as his entire identity and treated him differently.
Ajay has worked at Conway Lipstein for four years and has always felt welcomed. He enjoys working with his team and has made close friends with many of the other staff. In a conversation outside work, he was speaking with a colleague, Colin, who recently joined Conway Lipstein. Ajay and Colin know each other well; they went to university together, and Ajay actually referred Colin to the firm. Colin recently came out as gay, so he and Ajay often discuss their experience of being gay in the workplace.
Colin mentions that he doesn’t feel the need to hide his sexual orientation at work, but he also doesn’t feel as though it’s his responsibility to disclose his identity to everyone he meets. Ajay agrees. They talk about how they are constantly trying to strike a balance between maintaining privacy and being their authentic selves. After their conversation, Ajay wonders whether other accountants at Conway Lipstein are struggling with similar issues.
Ajay is lucky to have Colin, but he’s worried some of his other colleagues who are experiencing a similar challenge may not be as lucky. He wants to start an employee resource group (ERG) for 2SLGBTQI+ employees at the firm. A 2SLGBTQI+ ERG would provide a sense of community and build awareness for others around 2SLGBTQI+ challenges in the workplace and in society. He knows there’s an ERG for women at the firm that provides a sense of community to the women employees and offers programs to help them thrive at the firm. Ajay thinks that initiating a 2SLGBTQI+ ERG could be very rewarding.
Ajay meets with his manager to discuss starting this ERG. She is more than supportive and thinks this is a great initiative. She arranges for Ajay to meet with the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at the end of the week. Ajay is excited to meet with the CFO, but he’s also nervous. This is not just a professional presentation; it’s also a personal one.
In preparation for the meeting, Ajay creates a slide deck with the following information: the goal of a 2SLGBTQI+ ERG, benefits it may provide, how it ties to Conway Lipstein’s organizational values, and a personal testament to his lived experience as a gay man in the accounting industry. It’s not a long presentation, but Ajay knows it’s enough to give the CFO an idea of what he’s hoping to accomplish with this group.
On the day of the presentation, Ajay heads up to the CFO’s office. The CFO’s name is Nelson, and Ajay has only seen him in company newsletters or in town halls. He’s never met him in person. Nelson greets Ajay warmly and tells him that he’s excited about their meeting. Ajay gives his presentation, outlining the benefits of having a 2SLGBTQI+ ERG at Conway Lipstein. Once he’s done, Nelson has only one question for him: “How much is this going to cost?”
Ajay is taken aback by Nelson’s question. He doesn’t assume it will require many resources. “We just need a meeting room so we can meet outside of work hours,” Ajay responds. “And, if the group decides on any initiatives, I hope the executive team will take them into consideration.”
“What kind of initiatives do you have in mind?” Nelson asks. Ajay thinks for a moment. “It would be great to arrange for a guest speaker to come in during pride month to speak about the 2SLGBTQI+ experience in the workplace, for example.”
Nelson says that while that sounds like a great idea, he isn’t sure why it needs to be an organizational matter. He asks if the employees who would join this group could just do it on their own personal time. Ajay responds, “Well, one of Conway Lipstein’s core values is inclusion. This group would definitely help create a more inclusive workplace environment.”
“That’s true,” Nelson says, “but the employee resource group for women has already taken a lot of resources to change policies, bring in guest speakers, supply training, and all that nonsense. I just don’t think it’s in the budget right now to create another group of that calibre.”
Disappointed, Ajay thanks Nelson for his time and leaves his office. After Ajay leaves, Nelson thinks about their conversation. He isn’t sure how many employees would even join the group. How many gay employees does Conway Lipstein have? He doesn’t think it’s necessary to dedicate all that time and resources to another ERG. The ERG for women has already done wonders for the firm—it enforces the firm’s dedication to inclusion, creates change in its foundational work, and lots of women have come forward to express their appreciation for the group. Does the firm really need a second group just for its 2SLGBTQI+ employees?
- Why was Ajay so dedicated to creating an ERG for 2SLGBTQI+ employees? Is this group necessary in the workplace, or should it be personal and outside the firm’s mandate? How could an ERG like this change Ajay’s and Colin’s experience at work?
- Was Nelson’s response to Ajay’s request appropriate? Why did Nelson respond solely from a resourcing perspective? Is employing different perspectives a part of his responsibilities as CFO?
- What are some characteristics Nelson would need to support a group or initiatives like this? Does he hold inclusion as one of his personal values? Does it make sense for a CFO to have a strong personal connection to organizational values?
- What are the benefits of an ERG like this? With the great outcomes of the ERG for women, would another group for 2SLGBTQI+ employees have the same potential? Or is it unnecessary?
- When Ajay leaves Nelson’s office, Nelson thinks about how the ERG for women has done wonders for Conway Lipstein. Nelson is clearly aware of the positive impact other ERGs have had. Knowing this, why do you think Nelson’s dedication to inclusion stops there?
Additional Resources for Case 6:
- Avoid Virtue Signaling; Embrace Culture-Changing DEI Initiatives (article by Gallup), here
- Finding The Why In Diversity And Inclusion (article by Forbes), here
- How to Navigate Pushback to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts (article by Gartner), here
Aalia identifies as a Canadian, Black, Muslim woman. She has worked as a senior accountant for the past ten years and has recently quit her job as manager at a large accounting firm because she was constantly experiencing microaggressions that affected her mental health. She made a formal complaint to Human Resources about a situation with a manager that resulted in no change. This negative experience left her feeling isolated. After suffering a year of anxiety, she decided to quit and find a more inclusive work environment.
In today’s job market, more and more employers are showing their dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Aalia is certain that she can find a workplace that will be conducive to supporting her mental health. She spent a lot of time updating her résumé, applying for jobs, and researching companies of interest. She wanted to be sure she was applying to companies that were truly equitable and put their people first. She went to company websites to learn about their core values, look for diverse representation at the leadership level, and see what initiatives they posted.
During this process, Aalia didn’t consider job postings that had non-inclusive language. She even refused to apply to a company that asked her to disclose where she attended university. After applying to many job openings, she received calls from three potential employers. Thrilled, she accepted interviews with all three organizations.
The first interview was for a senior accountant position at a mid-sized accounting firm called Da Silva Capital Advisory. They asked her if she would be comfortable with an in-person interview. She agreed, and went to the office for an interview with a man named Ryan. At the end of the interview, Aalia asked Ryan about the firm’s inclusion initiatives. Ryan told her that having an inclusive workplace is Da Silva’s top priority. He told her about their employee engagement surveys and a yearly training seminar for diversity awareness. “We also have employee resource groups like the Working Group on Indigenous Initiatives.”
The second interview was for a senior accountant position at a small-sized accounting firm called BWP Accounting. Aalia spoke with two people, Alyssa and Connor, over Zoom. Once they had gone through the interview questions, they asked her if she had any questions for them. Aalia asked how the firm supports an inclusive workplace. Alyssa and Connor tell her that BWP has an equity group and that approaching their work through an equity perspective is one of this year’s priorities. They also tell Aalia that the firm brings in a monthly guest speaker to speak to employees about different social matters. “For example,” says Alyssa, “this month we had someone come in to speak about intersectionality in the workplace.” “Once a month we also have a team building activity during our update meeting,” says Connor. “I find this helps foster a more inclusive work environment.” Aalia learns that all town halls start with a land acknowledgement and team leaders are very involved in employee engagement.
The third interview was also over Zoom for a senior accountant position at a mid-sized accounting firm called Underwood Tax & Accounting. Aalia was interviewed by Grace (an Asian woman who would be her supervisor), Matt (a Black man who would be her manager), and Amber (a white woman who is the HR representative for the firm). They ask Aalia all of their questions and then ask her if she has any for them. Again, Aalia asks about the firm’s inclusion initiatives. “We have mandatory diversity training,” says Amber, “and quiet spaces at the office that can be used by any employee.” “We are also working on a 2SLGBTQI+ initiative to implement gender-inclusive washrooms,” says Grace, “and we’re in the midst of ensuring that all our workplace policies are inclusive.” “What you would see on my team,” says Matt, “is that we work to have strong, trusting relationships. We do a lot of team building exercises and have a monthly draw for a new restaurant we all try out together.”
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of each interview? Who had the most attractive recruitment process for Aalia? Which position should she select based on the interview process?
- What makes a recruitment process inclusive? What aspects of these interview processes may have been exclusive? What does an interview process say about the way an organization manages its recruitment?
- Which firm had the strongest inclusive initiatives? What initiatives could have been improved? Why did Aalia ask about each company’s inclusion initiatives?
- Why are employees prioritizing DEI? Could an organization have a strong company culture without DEI? What are some negative outcomes of senior leaders not seeing DEI as one of their core values?
- What is the connection between DEI and organizational values? Why does representation matter? What are some steps a company could take to make DEI a bigger part of their culture?
Additional Resources for Case 7:
- To Build a DEI Program That Works, You Need Metrics (article by Harvard Business Review), here
- Corporate diversity: If you don’t measure it, it won’t get done (podcast transcript by McKinsey & Co.), here
- 9 metrics to help you understand (and prioritize) DEI (blog by Culture Amp), here
- What Are DEI Metrics? A Look Beyond the Numbers (article by Rasmussen University), here
- Seven Sets Of Metrics That Will Help You Define And Achieve DEI Goals (article by Forbes), here
Emily is a senior accountant at a large accounting firm called Ledger International. Emily also identifies as a transgender woman. She’s worked at Ledger for over ten years and two years ago, when she began her transition, she had the full support of the firm. Before her transition, Ledger provided training on how to support employees undergoing a transition, beginning their transition, or who have fully transitioned. Emily soon shared that she was going to work toward completing her transition with an HR representative, and she wanted to know what resources the organization offered to support her. She was told that she was eligible for health benefits, counseling, and paid leave for any medical procedures she may undergo.
Emily felt incredibly supported by Ledger. Her coworkers were friendly and supportive, and her manager asked what he could do to support her during her transition. Although the firm had private washrooms on every floor, it was in the process of installing gender-inclusive washrooms. Emily was even able to start a 2SLGBTQI+ employee resource group for other employees who wanted to help support gender-inclusive initiatives at Ledger. The group had all the necessary resources and support from the executive team.
Emily always felt as though her workplace was one of the most inclusive places to work. She tells this to her friends and always shows her support for the firm on their social media posts. To Emily, Ledger was always looking for ways to improve and always receptive to any feedback.
One day, Emily’s team has to meet off-site with a client to discuss their upcoming audit. She knows the audit will take up to three months to complete; it’s a big job! She’s looking forward to working on the assignment and knows her team will do an excellent job.
When the team arrives at the client’s office, they greet one another. Everyone seems nice. They spend the next few hours reviewing the details of the assignment, the expectations and goals, the deliverables, and the loose deadlines. After lunch, Emily needs to use the washroom, but there isn’t a gender-inclusive washroom. She has to choose between the men’s room and the women’s room, neither of which feel right, especially given she’s mid-transition.
Emily is used to this. She knows it’s uncommon for buildings to have a gender-inclusive washroom. She looks for a private washroom but can’t find one. She decides to use the women’s room. While washing her hands, another female accountant enters the washroom and stops short. She stares at Emily wide-eyed, making her feel very uncomfortable. Emily leaves the washroom without drying her hands. She wants to get out of there as fast as she can.
Emily is in the midst of her gender affirmation surgery, but hasn’t completed the process yet. That day, she was wearing a white blouse, a blazer, and dress pants. She’s never felt like she has to dress like a woman at the Ledger office because everyone knows and accepts her background. Other women don’t have to wear feminine clothes to prove they’re a woman, so Emily doesn’t feel that she should have to either.
The next day, Emily’s team returns to the client’s office to finalize the project plan. Wanting to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s washroom incident, Emily avoids using the washroom entirely. She drinks very little water, and even considers skipping lunch. But this is not how she wants to spend the next three months working on this project. She emails her manager asking if they could meet in the Ledger office tomorrow for a one-on-one meeting.
The next morning, Emily meets with her manager, José, and tells him about her experience. José is sympathetic. "It’s really unfortunate that people still think this way,” he says. “What can we do to help fix things?” “I don’t know,” Emily responds, “I just know that I’m uncomfortable.”
What Emily doesn’t tell José is that she is disappointed with Ledger. As inclusive as they are in their workplace, there are other factors to consider when claiming to be an inclusive employer. She knows she can’t ask for them to build new washrooms at the client’s office, but she doesn’t want to feel uncomfortable about her identity yet again. José and Emily decide that she’ll no longer work on the audit and will work on another team, a team she’s familiar with, to work on a different audit.
- How do you feel about the way José handled Emily’s situation? Is there something else he could have done to show empathy? What would you have done if you were José?
- What are Emily’s responsibilities in this situation, if any? Was she required to tell José what happened? Why didn’t she immediately tell him that she was uncomfortable?
- Where does the dedication to DEI work stop for organizations? Think about DEI work and what it means internally (i.e., for staff, internal communications, business processes and systems) and externally (i.e., for clients, the community, etc.). Do the organizational leaders have any responsibility in this situation?
- Why does Emily feel so comfortable at Ledger? How is Ledger’s company culture welcoming and supportive?
- What could Emily’s next steps be? Ledger’s? The client’s? What are some practices, systems, or initiatives that could be introduced moving forward?
Additional Resources for Case 8:
- What An Inclusive Workplace Actually Looks Like, And Seven Ways To Achieve It (article by Forbes), here
- How to Be an Antiracist (book by Ibram X. Kendi), here
- So You Want to Talk About Race (book by Ijeoma Oluo), here
- Fostering an inclusive culture at work (analysis by Deloitte), here
- 8 Reasons Why Diversity And Inclusion Are Essential (article by Forbes), here
Resources for Supporting the Trans Community in the Workplace
- Creating a Trans-Inclusive Workplace Harvard Business Review
- Resources for managers and colleagues of transgender employees University of Washington
- Learn How Employers Can Support Transgender Rights in the Workplace ADP
- Being transgender at work McKinsey & Company
- How to Help Your Transgender Employees Feel Safer at Work Built In
Resources for Understanding the Trans Experience
- 2SLGBTQI Glossary of Terms Egale
- The Genderbread Person It’s Pronounced Metrosexual
- What is Transgender? Simply Explained Educational Videos & Lectures
- Access to Justice for Trans People Canadian Bar Association
- Impacts of COVID-19 on Trans and Non-Binary People in Canada BMC Public Health
- Transgender Community Faces “Astronomical Gap” in Health-Care System, Advocates Say Global News
- Trans Workers Disproportionately Impacted by Harassment, Violence at Work Canadian Labour Congress
- Transgender People of Colour Face Unique Challenges as Gender Discrimination and Racism Intersect The Conversation
Abbey is a junior-level accountant at Golden Fischer, a mid-size accounting firm . One day, as she’s eating lunch in the breakroom with some co-workers, her colleague, Scott, tells them that there’s been a major car accident in town. He says a drunk driver hit three cars and that one person died and six others were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. “The intersection where the crash happened is really close to that reserve on the outskirts of town.” Scott says. “I bet it was one of those people who live on that reserve. You know how they like to drink.” Abbey is Indigenous and Scott’s comment not only makes her uncomfortable but deeply hurts her. Abbey tells Scott how his comment made her feel, but Scott simply shrugs and tells her it was just a joke and that she’s over-reacting.
When Scott leaves the breakroom, the others assure Abbey that the comment was inappropriate and that she was right to be upset. She feels better that the others recognize Scott’s comment was wrong. Taylor, one of the co-workers who was there when Scott made his comment, approaches Abbey later that day and tells her that he would support her if she wanted to file a formal complaint with Human Resources (HR). Abbey talks to Ron, an HR advisor who thanks her for coming forward and tells her they’ll deal with it.
A few days after she lodged her complaint, Ron asks to speak to her again. “HR wants to take this opportunity to educate employees on the bias and stigma surrounding Indigenous people,” he says. Based on the timing of recent events, would you be comfortable with Golden Fischer hosting this sort of training?” Abbey is happy to move forward and loves the idea of educating her colleagues on this topic so no one else would have to experience what she did. “I know someone who would be open to coming to give a presentation on residential schools, generational trauma, and how organizations can create policies to support Indigenous employees,” she tells Ron.
With the support of Ron, two other members of HR and three managers, Abbey organizes to have the guest speaker come give a presentation to the staff at Golden Fischer. She knows there are multiple Indigenous employees, and that this initiative could benefit them and the company’s mission to create a more inclusive environment.
Abbey is excited about being a part of this initiative and is sure many people will be interested in attending, especially since her colleagues were so supportive during the initial incident with Scott in the breakroom. She posts flyers all over the office and receives permission to send an email invite to all staff. Because of scheduling conflicts between the guest speaker’s availability and the firm’s meeting times, the guest speaker is scheduled to speak at 5:00 p.m.–the very end of the workday. The invite was sent two weeks before the presentation so employees could organize their schedules and make arrangements to be available after work hours.
The day of the presentation, Abbey is speaking to Taylor while making coffee. Abbey tells him how excited she is for the guest speaker later that afternoon. Taylor seems confused. He had no idea there was a presentation that day. Abbey points to a flyer on a nearby wall and reminds him that an all-staff email had gone out two weeks ago. Taylor says he never saw the flyers and that the email must have gone to his junk folder. Abbey asks if he will be able to attend, but Taylor says he can’t. He already has concrete dinner plans. Abbey is disappointed, but she knew this was a risk of having an after-hours work event. Nevertheless, Taylor is just one person.
At the end of the day, Abbey walks into the presentation room to find only 10 chairs set up. She approaches one of the managers and asks why there are such a small number of chairs given the firm has at least 200 staff members. The manager tells her that only 10 people RSVP’d,
“But maybe more people will show up,” he tells her. “The room holds to up to 100 people, and we have more chairs ready on standby, if needed.”
As the chairs fill up, Abbey notices that the only people in attendance are Ron, the two other HR professionals and the three managers who helped organize the event, and a few of the firm’s Indigenous employees. None of the senior leaders who are always talking about how inclusion is one of Golden Fischer’s core values are in here. Neither are any of her co-workers who witnessed the breakroom incident with Scott. It doesn’t even look like Scott was made to attend. While she appreciates those who did show up, she was hoping for a higher turn-out. When the talk is over, the few attendees thank Abbey for exposing them to such an enriching, informative presentation.
In the breakroom a few days after the presentation, Abbey asks some of her co-workers why they didn’t attend. Some tell her they had no idea it was happening; others tell her they had other plans. During her weekly meeting with her manager, Abbey asks her why she didn’t attend. Her manager responds, “I thought it was only for Indigenous staff members.”
- Was it Abbey’s responsibility to speak up regarding Scott’s comment? Everyone else in the room knew the comment was inappropriate. Why didn’t anybody say anything until after Scott left the room?
- If Taylor thought Abbey should bring Scott’s comment to Human Resources, why didn’t he attend the presentation? Why is approaching Abbey only after the incident not considered strong allyship?
- How would a strong ally have changed the course of this case? Consider actions that contribute to being a dedicated ally.
- What are some of the risks of engaging in performative allyship?
- What message is sent when only employees who identify as Indigenous attend the presentation? Is this type of presentation better suited for a solely Indigenous audience?
- Where does the responsibility of an ally end in this situation? Is there a difference between practicing allyship and showing support?
Additional Resources for Case 9:
- What is Allyship? (Video by Lean In), here
- 3 ways to be a better ally in the workplace (TED Talk), here
- Guide to Allyship (open-source starter guide), here
- 10 Things Allies Can Do (resource by the YWCA Greater Harrisburg), here
- Anti-Racism and Allyship 7 Day Journey, here
- Allyship at Work (video by Pennsylvania Conference for Women), here
- Ally Bill of Responsibilities (resource for practicing allyship with Indigenous people), here
- The coin model of privilege and critical allyship: implications for health (journal article in BMC Public Health), here
- Privilege 101 (video by the University of Toronto) further describes the coin analogy mentioned above, here
Liz is an accountant at Olsen Blackwell, a mid-sized accounting firm. She’s recently met with three other female accountants to talk about initiating an employee resource group (ERG) called “Women in Leadership” so women at Olsen Blackwell can come together to create community and discuss issues they face as women in the accounting industry. They hope to deliver a monthly newsletter, create new initiatives and a mentorship program, review policies and procedures, and hold roundtable discussions. They also hope to provide a safe space for women to discuss their lived experiences.
After making a presentation looking for approval for this ERG, the CEO signs off on it and allocates a certain amount of financial resources. She also suggested that Amara, a member of the executive team, join the group. With Amara, there should be more streamlined communication between the group, and it will better facilitate organizational change.
Over the next half year, the new “Women in Leadership” group meets monthly in person and biweekly over Zoom. Anyone is welcome to attend. The meetings typically start with a roundtable discussion about anything anyone wants to bring up. Since Liz is one of the leaders, she has a list of topics to discuss in case attendees are on the quieter side. Recently, the group discussed representation within Olsen Blackwell, women being perceived as “bossy” instead of authoritative, pay equity issues, and accessibility to daycare for working mothers.
Liz feels great about the group. Everyone finds comfort in hearing from other women, and they are starting to make organizational changes. For example, the firm will be undergoing a compensation review next year to ensure pay equity across genders.
One day, during lunch, Liz is sitting with her friend, Hector. They’re discussing the “Women in Leadership” ERG. Hector asks Liz what the group talks about. Liz tells him the topics they’ve recently discussed in the meetings and how great it is to hear how other women handle different workplace situations. When the topic of daycare comes up, Hector says he struggles with the same issues. As a single father, every day he must drop his children off at his parents’ house before coming into work, so one of his parents can take him to school. Otherwise, he would be late for work every day.
Hector mentions to Liz that it would be helpful if the group could find a way to have a more flexible work schedule for all working parents, not just the women. Liz tells him that allowing working parents more flexibility so they can complete some of their work from home or shift their hours around would be great. Liz writes out the time and location of their next in-person meeting, which is occurring at the end of the week, and tells Hector that he’s more than welcome to join. But Hector laughs her off. “I’m not so sure,” he says. “It is a women’s group, after all. It’s called ‘Women in Leadership.’ I think what you’re doing is great, but I don’t think I’ll fit in.” Liz is disappointed. She understands how he feels. When she created the group, it was never her intention that it be exclusive.
At the next meeting, Liz takes note of the attendees. They’re all women, and most of them are white. There are many women of color at the organization, so why haven’t they attended? How could the group better include the people of colour at the organization who might be facing similar struggles to the ones they discuss?
- Why are the “Women in Leadership” working sessions mostly attended by white women? Do you think the group was created specifically for white women? What would need to be done to create a safer space so women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds could attend?
- What might have happened if Hector had accepted Liz’s invitation to attend the meeting? Does Hector have the right to attend a “Women in Leadership” group? What might be gained from Hector’s attendance?
- Is Olsen Blackwell’s “Women in Leadership” group inclusive? How might this group be considered exclusive? How could Liz have created a similar, more inclusive group with the same goal?
- What are some topics that may never be discussed because most members are white women? Consider the concept of intersectionality.
- What needs to be done in order to make the current “Women in Leadership” group more inclusive?
Additional Resources for Case 10:
- 3 Small Ways to Be a More Inclusive Colleague (article by Harvard Business Review), here
- 10 Actions You Can Take Today to Be More Inclusive At Work (article by The Diversity Movement), here
- 15 Tips for Building a More Inclusive Workplace in 2022 (article by WorkTango), here
Carlos is a manager in the accounting department at Clear Web—a medium sized tech company. To promote learning opportunities, Clear Web is asking all staff to attend TechMind, a national tech conference.
At the start of the conference, Carlos meets with his team to hand out name tags and the program for the conference and to brief them on the seminars and learning opportunities available. There are six people on his team, and everyone is quite close; they have a positive team dynamic.
Carlos asks everyone to write their pronouns on their name tags as part of Clear Web’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative for public events. Carlos notices that one of his accountants, Bailey, writes “they/them” in the pronoun space of the name tag.
Carlos is confused. He’s always referred to Bailey as “he/him” when speaking of them in conversation. Bailey always wears a suit to work, and while their hair is a little longer than most men, they present as masculine. Carlos doesn’t say anything in the moment, but later, at lunch, he makes his way over to Bailey. He knows that Bailey likes hockey, so he brings up a recent game. After some light conversation, Carlos asks Bailey about the pronouns written on their name tag.
“I didn’t know you used ‘they/them’ pronouns,” Carlos says. “I’ve been referring to you as ‘he/him’ all this time. Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I thought this might come up,” Bailey responds. “I never corrected anyone because some people are uncomfortable with that sort of conversation. I don’t want to cause any problems.”
Bailey’s response upsets Carlos. He feels badly; he tries to cultivate an inclusive work environment for his team. Carlos doesn’t want Bailey to feel this way. They should feel like they can be who they are, without judgement. Carlos lets it drop and the topic doesn’t come up again for the rest of the conference. However, once everyone is back at the office, Carlos asks to speak with Bailey privately in his office.
“I want to continue the conversation we started during lunch at the conference,” Carlos says as Bailey takes a seat. “I don’t like that you don’t feel comfortable being yourself at work. I want you to be yourself. I know everyone cares about you, and I don’t think anyone would ever judge you or your capabilities because of it.”
Bailey thinks for a moment. “I don’t feel like I’d be judged,” they say, “but I feel like there will be a lot of questions. And, even if I don’t mind answering questions about my gender identity, I don’t know if I’m quite ready for the pressure of having to explain myself.”
“I won’t lie to you,” Carlos says, “but I have some questions of my own.” He takes a deep breath before he blurts out, “You look like a man, dress like a man, I mean, you love hockey! You seem so… masculine.” Then he stops. “I’m not trying to be offensive or insensitive,” he says, “I’m just… confused.” Carlos is worried that he’s saying all the wrong things.
Bailey smiles at him and says, “Don’t worry, Carlos, it’s okay. I said I don’t mind answering questions. I know you’re not trying to be hurtful or disrespectful. Let me try to explain. I’m non-binary. You say I dress like a man,” Bailey continues, “but it’s only because of Clear Web’s dress code policy. Our current policy doesn’t really account for non-binary people. So, I’ve chosen to dress more masculine as that is my sex assigned at birth. But I don’t identify as a man. Or as a woman. Being non-binary means that I have a gender identity that is not exclusively man or woman. Does that make sense?”
Carlos takes a moment before he responds. “So, you don’t identify as a man. Or as a woman. You identify as somewhere in between—as both?”
“Not exactly. Being non-binary or gender non-conforming means that my gender expression may not be exactly what society expects.” says Bailey. “For example, I love hockey. Not because it’s manly, but because it’s a high energy game. And liking hockey doesn’t make me more masculine; that’s just a gendered stereotype. If I told you that I sometimes like to paint my nails, would you think I’m more feminine?”
“Maybe,” says Carlos. “I don’t know.” Then he asks, “Do you paint your nails?”
Bailey laughs. “Sometimes,” they say. “But Clear Web’s dress code is pretty strict, so I usually remove it on Sunday evenings before the workday on Monday.”
“That doesn’t really seem fair,” Carlos says, “You’re an excellent employee—whether you wear nail polish or not. Let me talk to someone and see what I can do about the policy. May I ask one more question?”
“Of course,” Bailey says.
“Why is it that you feel so much pressure when it comes to talking about your identity?”
Bailey shares their previous experience working in teams at other organizations. They mention that they don’t want to be tokenized as the spokesperson for all non-binary individuals. While they don’t have a problem talking about their personal experience, they don’t want to find themselves in a position where they’re giving lectures about pronouns.
“I get it,” says Carlos. He then tells Bailey that he’ll look into creating more opportunities for them (and any other gender diverse individuals), so they feel more comfortable being their authentic selves at work. He feels bad that Bailey was never given the opportunity to be completely who they are at work, but is very appreciative of Bailey’s openness. Gender diversity is a newer concept to Carlos.
The next day, Carlos visits Zahira, a Human Resources manager at Clear Web. He tells her that he has a non-binary team member who feels like they can’t be who they truly are at work. Zahira promises to investigate and that she’ll do her best to implement changes.
Uneasy that there wouldn’t be any immediate changes, Carlos hosts a team Lunch & Learn about gender identity. He pulls resources that might be helpful and has an open discussion with his team, including Bailey. During the discussion, everyone is open-minded, kind, and eager to learn more about this topic.
- Why has Bailey never come forward about their gender identity at work? What pressure did they feel? Did Carlos put pressure on Bailey?
- What policies could Clear Web implement to support its non-binary employees? Could these policy changes benefit more than just non-binary employees?
- List some gendered stereotypes. What are the negative repercussions of believing in and adhering to gendered stereotypes? Where do gendered stereotypes come from?
- In the conversations Carlos had with Bailey, what did Carlos do well? Is there anything he could have done better?
- How did Carlos use his power and privilege in this setting? Did he use his position of power in a positive or negative way? How might he continue using his privilege as a cisgender man?
Additional Resources for Case 11:
- Why We Ask Each Other Our Pronouns (article by Human Rights Campaign), here
- Pronoun Usage Guide (resource by Egale), here
- Genderbread Person: Components of Human Identity (resource by Egale), here
- 2SLGBTQI Glossary of Terms (resource by Egale), here
- Unsure of someone’s pronouns? Here’s what to do (article by the Chicago Tribune), here
Gita is an accountant at Auto Motor Assembly, a car manufacturing company. She is part of a small team with three other accountants. They are a team of two men and two women.
It’s Ramadan, and, as a Muslim, Gita is fasting as she does every year. One day, her manager, Chen, invites the whole team out for lunch. They had just finished a huge two-year project—there was reason to celebrate. Gita politely declines the invitation and continues her work. She knows from experience that the way her team celebrates is with food and drink. Given the time of year and her devotion to Islam, she figures it’s better to just stay at the office. She doesn’t want to make anything awkward with her team.
When the team returns from lunch, everyone is in a great mood. Chen comes over to Gita’s desk and tells her about lunch and how she was missed. Gita smiles and responds, “I’m glad you had fun. Maybe next time…”
The following Friday, Gita’s team decides to go for drinks after work. Gita is invited, but it’s still Ramadan, so she’s still fasting—not to mention she also never drinks alcohol as a devout Muslim. During Ramadan, she can’t eat while the sun is up, and, once the sun does go down, she must pray before eating. While she’s spent much of her life fasting during Ramadan, going out for dinner and drinks is always difficult. Because of this, Gita tells her team that she already has plans. She wishes everyone a great weekend and says that she’ll see them on Monday.
On Monday morning, the whole team is late. Well, everyone except Gita. She arrives on time, but her colleagues don’t start showing up until 11:00 a.m.—two hours after they’re supposed to be there. When she asks them what happened, they apologize.
“Sorry, Gita,” Chen starts, “When we were out for drinks on Friday, we made plans to go bowling on Sunday. Bowling ran kind of late, so I told everyone they could come in later today. I should’ve sent you an email to keep you in the loop.”
While Gita doesn’t mind coming in on time (she’s been busy at work lately anyway), she’s upset she wasn’t invited to go bowling. Sure, she can’t eat during Ramadan, but she can bowl. She tries not to think about it as she continues her work. At the end of the day, Chen stops by Gita’s desk.
“Hi Gita,” he says. “We’re planning to go out for some food on Friday. I wanted to let you know before the others, so you don’t make any other plans this time around. We all want you there.” Gita smiles at Chen. She knows he’s trying to be friendly, and probably feels badly for the miscommunication earlier. Gita asks if they can speak privately in his office.
Gita closes the door and tells Chen the real reason she hasn’t participated in all the team’s activities.
“I’m so sorry,” Chen says. “I didn’t realize.” But he also admits that he’s not quite sure what Ramadan is.
“It’s a Muslim holiday,” Gita explains. “We have to fast from sunrise to sunset. I’d really like to participate,” she says, “but it’s a bit awkward to go out for lunch when I’m fasting during Ramadan.” Gita then proceeds to tell him that drinks are even more awkward because she doesn’t drink alcohol for religious reasons. “I would have loved to go bowling though,” she says. “I can bowl a pretty mean game! But those plans were made on Friday night when I wasn’t there.” Gita tells Chen that she knows her exclusion was unintentional, but she sometimes worries about what else she might be missing when she doesn’t attend social gatherings.
Chen feels terrible. He prides himself on his open-door policy and in knowing his team. They are an extremely hard-working and productive team that likes to have fun outside of work. They love the pub down the street from the office and always seem to end up there on Fridays after work. But now that he thinks about it, he realizes Gita has never chosen to join them. Chen always thought his team was inclusive and welcoming to everyone, but this makes him question his recent—and past—decisions.
- What negative repercussions did Gita face from not attending the various team activities? Did it affect more than just her personal feelings?
- List the ways in which organizations can show their inclusivity to all religions. Was Chen being intentionally exclusive? What is the importance of cultural and religious awareness training?
- Name other post-work teambuilding activities that could be considered exclusive. How might this reinforce the notion of “majority rules?” List other bonding activities the team could have done that would have also included Gita.
- Name some learning opportunities (i.e., training sessions) that could be beneficial for the staff at Auto Motor Assembly. Who should champion these initiatives?
What is the difference between exclusion and discrimination? Is not telling Gita about the late start on Monday an exclusionary or a discriminatory act?
Additional Resources for Case 12:
- Creating Space for Religious Diversity at Work (article by Harvard Business Review), here
- The benefits of religious diversity in the workplace (blog post by Inclusive Employers), here
- 8 Ways to Promote Religious Diversity In The Workplace (blog post by Vantage Circle), here
- How to Manage Religious Diversity in the Workplace (article by Chron), here
As you work through each case study, it will be helpful to understand some basic concepts from social science research to help you anticipate and manage some of the complexities of DEI in the workplace.
So much of what happens in the workplace is very technical. Whether it’s putting together financial statements or audits or simply creating internal resources, there is usually a right way, and a wrong way, to do something. DEI strays from this way of thinking. Because it is focused on the self and looking within, it is better to think of DEI as a journey where the end remains unknown. There is no one right way of doing this work, but there are lots of wrong ways.
As such, the frameworks provided can be categorized as per the different DEI journeys that exist, which occur at the societal, organizational, and individual levels. As we start to think about how we can move the DEI agenda forward in the accounting profession, and the workplace in general, we must first consider these three levels on which DEI journeys occurs:
- The Societal Level. The DEI journey at the societal level allows us to understand where DEI stands at the societal level and addresses societal-level issues. For example, work on the societal level could involve finding ways to combat racism within Canada’s political, economic, social, and legal systems. Steps forward on the societal level typically involve providing frameworks, codes, laws, and legislations to encourage all types of organizations to move forward.
- The Organizational Level. The DEI journey at the organizational level seeks to create a broader culture of inclusion throughout an organization, be it an organization in the private, non-profit, or government sectors. Steps forward on the organizational level involve finding ways for an organization to operate through an equity perspective. This means examining all systems, structures, processes, policies, and practices from a DEI perspective.
- The Individual Level. The DEI journey at the individual level allows you, as your own person, to advance your own DEI agenda. This involves building your own awareness around DEI and other related topics and taking the time to understand why DEI is important to you.
Let’s review each level mentioned above, along with corresponding frameworks that fall under each.
1. The Societal Level
Many of the existing issues in the DEI space can be linked to colonialism. Often thought of as a historical event, colonialism remains unfinished and is constantly in progress. To this very day, colonialism remains embedded within Canada’s political, economic, social, and legal fabric.
Hundreds of years ago, concrete systems were put in place designed to benefit the European settlers and disadvantage Indigenous populations. Systemic racism, which remains alive today, refers to the ways whiteness and white superiority have become embedded in the policies and processes of our institutions, resulting in a system that advantages white people and disadvantages people of colour (notably in employment, education, justice, and social participation).
What’s more, this oppression has grown to impact not only Indigenous people and other people of colour, but has expanded its reach to all other non-dominant groups, including women, people with disabilities, and members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community (to name a few). Canada’s systems are fixed as such, engrained with systemic racism, patriarchal values, and more.
It's important to recognize that there is a societal level that exists not only in Canada but across the entire world.
2. The Organizational Level
A) Types of DEI Journeys at the Organizational Level:
This type of work seeks to create a workplace culture that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all. In doing so, there are two types of DEI journeys that an organization must take.
The internal organizational DEI journey involves improving how things are done internally from a DEI perspective. Internal factors to consider include:
- The people (board members, leadership team, senior management, staff—full-time and part-time, and contractors)
- The communications (style, content, and images used)
- The business processes (policies, practices, procedures, and systems)
- The products or services provided.
The external organizational DEI journey involves improving how things are done externally from a DEI perspective. External factors to consider include:
- Clients, customers, patients, etc. (any external stakeholders)
- The community in which the business operates.
- Supplier diversity
- Corporate social responsibility
B) The Maturity Model
A maturity model is a tool that helps people assess the current effectiveness of a person, group, or initiative and supports figuring out what capabilities they need to acquire next in order to improve their performance. Maturity models are useful in determining where an organization is in their DEI journey, along with where they hope to be in the future.
Many maturity models exist; however, we are providing one example below. The following maturity model highlights five stages an organization can go through on their DEI journey:
The following table illustrates key indicators of the above maturity model:
Representational diversity (i.e., gender, ethnicity, etc.)
Visible and invisible
dimensions of diversity
Broad scope of differences
Commitment and awareness
Accountability for creating inclusive
Inclusive leadership, DEI change agents, hold
Dedicated staff and budget
Distributed across the
External Advisory Board
C) The Business Case for Advancing DEI
Issues of racism, discrimination, power, and oppression in the workplace are not new. While social movements have been around for centuries in one way or another, the field of DEI in the workplace, specifically, has only been around for about 40 years. As it began to evolve, DEI experts and practitioners realized that if they were going to get organizations to embrace DEI initiatives, they would need a convincing business rationale, including a framework to support this work. This resulted in the business case model for diversity, which provides justification for undertaking DEI work.
The business case for DEI is as follows:
i) Better marketing strategy. A diverse organization can leverage DEI for its marketing and public relations. It has a better understanding of its customers and is seen as an organization that does diversity well, attracting customers who value DEI. The key here is being perceived as an organization that is diversity friendly.
ii) Better resource acquisition. A diversity friendly organization will attract diverse, talented applicants many of whom would not have otherwise applied for fear of being the only person from a non-dominant group at the organization. An internally diverse organization is privy to a broadened talent pool and so can better overcome the existing skills gap. It is also able to respond to increasingly diverse communities and gain support (social and financial) from diverse stakeholders.
iii) Better problem-solving. The more varied the experience, perspective, and knowledge of employees, the better the organization will be at critical analysis and problem-solving, especially when faced with a challenge never faced before.
iv) Increased creativity and innovation. Diversity of experience brings diversity of knowledge and thought. Varied perspectives, if managed carefully, promote greater creativity and innovation within organizations, giving them an advantage when it comes to trying new things or developing new services and products.
v) Greater system flexibility. An internally diverse organization is more adaptable to external conditions. External conditions can be anything from changes in the economy, labour markets, laws, and regulations, to competition from other organizations.
vi) Mitigation of legal and reputational costs. An internally diverse organization stands greater chance at avoiding legal and reputational challenges. There exists various legislation and codes for organizations to consider, such as the Employment Equity Act, the Accessible Canada Act, and the Pay Equity Act.
vii) Increased staff satisfaction. Research shows that an internally diverse organization has higher staff engagement, satisfaction, and, therefore, overall effectiveness.
D) Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Benchmarks
Written by 112 expert panellists, the Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Benchmarks is another maturity model to help organizations determine a strategy and measure their progress in managing diversity and fostering inclusion. The report is organized into 15 categories that identify levels of achievement and individual benchmarks. These range from inactive to best practices and are paired with useful tools to make it a living document for users.
Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Benchmarks: Standards for Organizations Around the World © 2021, Nene Molefi, Julie O’Mara, and Alan Richter. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.
3. The Organizational Level
A) Understanding Your “Why”
Understanding your “why” means to understand your purpose—in this case, your purpose for undertaking DEI work. Why are you (or your organization) undertaking DEI work? Why are you prioritizing a certain DEI-related initiative? Why might you agree with a certain initiative (or why not)? Discerning the importance of DEI work, to you (personally) and to your organization (as a whole), will help you to answer questions like these as your “why” becomes the reference point for all your decisions and actions moving forward.
When you know your purpose, it becomes easier to focus on where you are going, what matters most to you, and what decisions are aligned with your goal. Whether it’s about undertaking DEI work in general or undertaking a specific initiative, the power of having a purpose helps to solidify commitment to your goal.
While there’s no one way for discovering your purpose, there are many ways you can gain deeper insight into yourself. To understand your “why”, you can ask yourself the following questions:
Answering questions like these will help you determine your purpose for undertaking DEI work. This lies at the intersection between what you care about, what you can contribute, and what will be valued most.
B) Equity Perspective
Consider Canada’s varying systems—we have a legal system, a political system, an economic system, a healthcare system, and more. All of these systems are used to view Canadian society from different perspectives. Following this idea, you’re encouraged to try and use an equity perspective. Using an equity perspective will anchor you in a way that allows you to make sense of certain issues from a DEI point of view in the workplace, and, in particular, the accounting profession.
An equity perspective helps you see the same thing from a new perspective while providing a clearer focus and a more complete view. It’s something you can use daily and is essential in making sure we ask the right questions that make us think about being more equitable and inclusive in every aspect of our work.
An equity perspective is not just meant for DEI committees, Human Resources departments, or leadership teams. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to creating an inclusive organization and everyone is capable of applying an equity perspective to their work.
To use an equity perspective, ask yourself questions like these:
- Who is excluded in the work I do?
- What’s contributing to this exclusion?
- What can I do differently to ensure inclusion? Do I need to create a new process or system? Can I repurpose an existing one?
C) Oppressed–Privileged Spectrum
Let’s begin our discussion of this framework with two important definitions: oppression and privilege.
Oppression refers to the use of power to exclude an individual or group, often to further empower or privilege another individual or group. This social inequality is woven throughout society’s systems, much like systemic racism.
Privilege refers to a special right or advantage given only to a particular group. Peggy McIntosh (2003) describes privilege as something that exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.
When asked about their identity, white individuals don’t typically say, “I’m a white man” or “I’m a white woman.” Rather, they might say they are an entrepreneur, a friend, or an extrovert, for example—all things that don’t have to do with their race. On the other hand, when asked about their identity, it’s more common for a Black individual to say, “I’m a Black man” or “I’m a Black woman.” The same goes for members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community (who might say, “I’m a gay man”) or for those with disabilities (for example, “I’m a blind woman.”).
This shows that some people see certain aspects of their identity as more prominent, while others do not see those same aspects in the same notable light. How someone sees their identity as prominent or not lies in whether they view that identity as oppressed or as privileged. If an individual sees one aspect of their identity (for instance, being Black, gay, or blind) as a hindrance in society—as something that holds them back—the difference becomes all the more obvious to them.
The following image illustrates different aspects of identity, categorized on an oppressed–privileged spectrum. Each of your different identities can sit anywhere on an oppressed–privileged spectrum, and where you sit on the spectrum depends on which identity you’re talking about. Note that this list is non-exhaustive as there are many different ways in which we can identify ourselves and the world can identify us.
D) Bias → Stereotype → Prejudice → Discrimination Loop
Let’s begin our discussion of this framework with four important definitions:
Unconscious bias is an attitude or belief that operates outside of our awareness and, in many cases, does not align with our consciously held beliefs.
A stereotype is a preconceived assumption about a group of people. A stereotype assigns the same characteristic(s) to all members of that group, regardless of differences that might exist between specific individuals.
Prejudice is a negative preconceived attitude about members of certain groups based on their physical, social, or cultural characteristics.
Discrimination is the unequal treatment of an individual or group based on their personal characteristics, behaviours, and membership to certain groups. It involves actions or practices that have a harmful impact on people that are perceived as “different.”
These are all interrelated concepts that have different impacts on human thought, feeling, and actions. Unconscious bias can easily turn into stereotyping—how you categorize and label people at a subconscious (or even conscious) level. With the repetitive mindset of how you label certain groups (stereotype), your attitudes and feelings toward that group begin to change (prejudice). And, when your attitudes and feelings start to change, your actions and behaviours start to change (discrimination).
The following image illustrates this pattern, using the example of someone with blue hair:
E) The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council Competencies
The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC) Inclusive Workplace Competencies is a research-based framework that you can incorporate into your training programs and existing competencies model to support the knowledge, skills, and behaviours your organization needs to create an inclusive workplace.
The competencies fall into three spheres of influence:
F) The Intercultural Development Continuum
The Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC) is used when discussing the various approaches to engaging with DEI. It describes the developmental journey individual people take when engaging with cultural differences or similarities.
Let’s examine each point on the IDC:
When Denial is present within an organization, diversity is typically ignored.
When Polarization is present within an organization, diversity is typically uncomfortable.
When Minimization is present within an organization, diversity is typically not heard.
When Acceptance is present within an organization, diversity is typically understood.
When Adaptation is present within an organization, diversity is typically valued and involved.
Applying These Frameworks
At the end of each case study, you will find a list of questions that pertain to the topic of each case study. These questions are meant to raise issues and trigger critical thinking about the case. The frameworks outlined above will help you in your understanding and analysis.
The topic of DEI is very broad and very deep. Recall the equity perspective discussed earlier: there is no one way or right way to carry out this work, and anything can be thought of through a DEI perspective (whether in the workplace, the home, or general society). These frameworks simply offer you some direction on how to think about these issues as they pertain to the workplace.
Committing to DEI work and integrating it into your day-to-day is a long but rewarding journey. As mentioned, the issues in the DEI space are broad, deep, complex, and multi-faceted, and a lot of the learning around DEI comes down to awareness and experience. The above information provides you with some structure with which to approach this work.
2SLGBTQI+ is an acronym that stands for Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, and other sexual and gender identities. However, this term is often intended to capture terms beyond what the initials suggest; 2SLGBTQI+ is typically used as an umbrella term to include a much wider range of identities related to sex and gender that fall outside the dominant norms of heterosexual and cisgender identities.
Prejudice and discrimination based on a person’s abilities—physical, mental, emotional, neurological, or intellectual.
Occurs when employees disassociate from their job and feel a lack of connection to their responsibilities. May involve employees coming into work late or not putting 100% into their tasks. Typically, a result of lack of psychological safety and, therefore, of employee engagement.
The process of giving equitable access to everyone along the entire spectrum of human ability and experience, whether they’re able-bodied or have a disability—visible or invisible.
In the workplace, accessibility refers to how organizations make space for the unique characteristics that each employee brings to the table from an ability perspective.
The state of being responsible for what you do and what you say.
An active and consistent effort to use your privilege and power to support and advocate for people with less privilege and power.
The human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. The inherent desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than yourself.
Occurs when recruiters and hiring managers form opinions on candidates based on aspects of their identity (i.e., race, birthplace, gender, etc.), rather than on their qualifications.
The justification that DEI practitioners and academics use to demonstrate the benefits of an inclusive workplace to an organization.
In the context of the workplace, someone who witnesses or hears about a harmful behaviour at work but who is not directly involved in the behaviour itself. This definition is helpful as it indicates that a bystander doesn’t have to physically see an incident occur; they can also hear about it indirectly through others.
This definition can be further broken down into two types of bystanders: active and passive.
An active bystander is someone who observes any type of harmful behaviour and takes action to challenge that behaviour and support the employee(s) who may have been harmed. Being an active bystander is another great way to demonstrate allyship in the workplace.
Alternatively, a passive bystander is someone who observes any type of harmful behaviour and does not take any action to challenge that behaviour or support the employee(s) who may have been harmed.
The overarching culture in a company with shared values, goals, and attitudes. When all employees have aligned beliefs with their organizational values, it creates a strong environment where employees can thrive.
A strategy many people use in the workplace to cover or downplay certain parts of their identity that are stigmatized, out of fear of attracting unwanted attention or making others feel uncomfortable.
According to business anthropologist Joerg Schmitz, “culture is what is expected, reinforced, and rewarded within a group.”
Diagnostic indicators of one’s DEI efforts and outcomes at an organization. A way to track DEI efforts at an organization to measure the outcomes and progress of DEI efforts, assign goals, develop accountability, and ensure transparency.
There are two types of disabilities present within society: visible disabilities and invisible disabilities.
A visible disability is a disability or health condition that can be seen just by looking at a person. Examples of visible disabilities include Down Syndrome, amputations, or wheelchair requirements.
An invisible disability is a disability or health condition that cannot be seen by others. This refers to things like chronic illnesses or conditions, cognitive or learning disabilities, or mental health-related disabilities. Examples of invisible disabilities include autism spectrum disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or diabetes.
The unequal treatment of an individual or group based on their personal characteristics, behaviours, and membership to certain groups. It involves actions or practices that have a harmful impact on people that are perceived as “different.”
The presence of difference—visible or invisible—within a given setting. When it comes to DEI, diversity refers to the variety of differences among people (and, in our case, among people in the workplace). The following are just a few examples of ways that people can be different from one another. Note that these two lists are by no means exhaustive.
These differences can include visible differences:
- Gender expression
- Gender identity (which can also be invisible)
- Indigenous identity (which can also be invisible)
- Visible disabilities
- Physical appearance
- Language or accent
These differences can also include invisible differences:
- Sexual orientation
- Invisible disabilities (i.e., learning disabilities, mental health-related disabilities, etc.)
- Religion or belief system
- Marital status
- Parental status
- Socioeconomic status
- Work style or experience
- Thinking style
- Personality type
A group in society that is positively privileged, unstigmatized, and generally favoured by the institutions of that society (particularly the social, economic, political, and educational systems). Dominant group members have greater access to wealth, power, and status because dominant group membership automatically confers privilege.
Achieved when employers recognize and reward employee behaviours through words and actions.
The mental and emotional commitment an employee has to their organization and its goals.
Employee Resource Group (ERG)
Voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with the organization’s values. Groups of employees who join in their workplaces based on shared characteristics or life experiences, such as being a woman, a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, or a person of colour. Generally based on providing support and community and increasing awareness.
Recognizes that certain groups have historically been disadvantaged by systems put in place which favour another group (or groups). Works to break down barriers so everyone has access and opportunity, and no one group (or groups) is disadvantaged. It’s about fairness, justice, access, and opportunity for everyone.
*Note: What’s the difference between equity and equality?
Equality means that we treat everybody the same, without recognizing the differences among people. Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that each person starts from a different place and requires different resources and opportunities to succeed, treating everybody fairly.
A process by which people become isolated or segregated from the services offered to others because of the diversity they present. Exclusion can be intentional or unintentional and ultimately stems from some version of not feeling valued or welcomed.
A person’s innate, deeply felt identity as man, woman, or another gender. It refers to the spectrum of complex self-perceptions, attitudes, and expectations people have about members of both sexes and is the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions, and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender diverse people.
A state in which all parts are of the same kind or alike. For instance, a ten-person team comprising individuals who are all white males in their thirties would likely be a homogeneous team.
Human Resources (HR)
The department in an organization that performs human resource management functions; responsible for managing the employee lifecycle (i.e., recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, succession planning, and offboarding employees).
A social construct of a person’s sense of self that is based on social categories that influence self-perception and the perception of others. Personal identity is based on personal attributes, such as physical traits, skills, and other characteristics. Social identity is based on attributes and characteristics of the groups a person is aligned with, such as a racial group or a religious group.
The feeling and the reality of belonging. Inclusion allows you to feel safe, respected, heard, engaged, motivated, and valued for who you truly are.
A hiring process that actively recognizes diversity and embraces a wide range of qualities, perspectives, and experiences that candidates bring to an organization. It’s more than recruiting people from non-dominant groups to tick off a box. Inclusive hiring practices aim to level the playing field for all applicants in order to fight against recruitment bias and any form of discrimination.
Describes leaders who are aware of their own biases and preferences and actively seek out and consider different views and perspectives to make fairer decisions.
An organization that prioritizes employee wellbeing, regardless of employee title, pay, or involvement. A work environment that makes every employee feel valued while acknowledging their differences and how these differences contribute to the organization’s culture and business outcomes. All employees are given the tools and supports they need to develop and advance in their careers with equity front-of-mind.
An analytical framework that acknowledges humans are made up of many different identities. Examples of different identities include race, gender, sexuality, and class. The way these social identities combine within us, or intersect, mean that we all experience privilege, oppression, and discrimination differently.
Marginalized individuals and groups experience discrimination and exclusion in society because of unequal power relationships.
Everyday slights or invalidations toward people from non-dominant groups. They are indirect, often unintentional, expressions of bias and prejudice that surface subtly in speech, behaviour, and actions.
An umbrella term to reflect a variety of gender identities that are not exclusively man or woman.
A group in society whose specific characteristics—physical or cultural—differ from the dominant group. Because of these differences, individuals in non-dominant groups are often set apart by unequal treatment, creating the space for oppression to grow in the form of limitations, disadvantages, or disapproval.
The use of power to exclude an individual or group, often in order to further empower or privilege another individual or group. This social inequality is woven throughout society’s systems, such as with systemic racism.
Describes the core ethics or principles by which the company will abide, no matter what. The guiding principles that give employees direction in the organization, drive the business forward, and are able to give employees a set of core beliefs to identify with.
A social process of marginalization through which a person highly values their own group while denigrating and excluding anyone from a different group. Captures expressions of prejudice.
Disingenuous allyship based on the idea of self-gratification, rather than your responsibility within a community.
Refers to an individual’s personal dedication and obligation to a cause or belief. One’s personal imperative demands attention, action, and is unavoidable.
The social production of an effect that determines the capacities, actions, beliefs, or conduct of individuals or groups in society.
A negative, preconceived attitude about members of certain groups based on their physical, social, or cultural characteristics.
Refers to a special right or advantage given only to a particular group.
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack is an essay written by anti-racist activist Peggy McIntosh. She describes privilege as something that exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.
While white privilege is often the first thing people think of in these discussions, privilege extends beyond race. It applies to all types of identities.
Below is how the Government of Canada describes Protected Groups:
“Under the Employment Equity Act, the government is required to strive to meet representation levels, based on estimated workforce availability, for the four employment- equity designated groups:
- Aboriginal peoples*
- Persons with disabilities
- Members of visible minorities**”
*Note: Though “Aboriginal peoples” is the term used by the government, we recommend replacing this with “Indigenous peoples.” “Indigenous” comes from the Latin word indigena, which means “sprung from the land; native.” Therefore, using “Indigenous” over “Aboriginal” reinforces land claims and encourages territory acknowledgements, a practice which links Indigenous peoples to their land and respects their claims over it.
**Note: Though “members of visible minorities” is the term used by the government, we recommend replacing this with “people of colour.” The term “visible minorities” is widely used in Canada because of the Employment Equity Act; however, there is a growing sense that the term is outdated, and even discriminatory, because of population shifts (see here and here).
The belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes and that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.
Prejudice and discrimination based on a person’s race.
When it comes to the workplace, religious diversity refers to the vast range of different religions or religious denominations that may be apparent among the stakeholders of an organization.
Representation in the workforce refers to having employees of different races, religions, ages, ethnicities, genders, and more. This applies to all staff, from individual contributors to those in leadership and executive roles.
Prejudice and discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender identity.
Describes a person’s potential for emotional, spiritual, intellectual, intimate, romantic, and/or sexual interest in other people and may form the basis for aspects of one’s identity and/or behaviour.
A preconceived assumption about a group of people. Assigns the same characteristic(s) to all members of that group, regardless of differences that might exist between specific individuals.
A negative, unfair assumption about an individual or group based on a societal perception that views everyone from this group as similar.
The ways that oppression is embedded in policies and processes throughout society. This results in systems that advantage some groups over others based on personal characteristics, behaviours, and membership. It involves practices that have a harmful impact on the groups that are perceived as “different.”
“The ways that whiteness and white superiority become embedded in the policies and processes of an institution, resulting in a system that advantages white people and disadvantages people of colour, notably in employment, education, justice, and social participation.” (The University of British Columbia)
The methodically organized, strategic process of getting the right talent onboard and helping them grow to their optimal capabilities, keeping organizational objectives in mind. This involves the full scope of HR processes to attract, onboard, develop, motivate, and retain high-performing employees.
The practice of doing something only to prevent criticism and give the appearance that people are being treated fairly (i.e., hiring a person who belongs to a non-dominant group).
An attitude or belief that operates outside our awareness and, in many cases, does not align with our consciously held beliefs.
A systematically perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of colour by white peoples and nations for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.
“A social construction that has created a racial hierarchy that has shaped all the social, cultural, educational, political, and economic institutions of society. Whiteness is linked to domination and is a form of race privilege invisible to white people who are not conscious of its power.” (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 353)
 CPA Ontario Annual Report 2022 (Page 31)
 United Nations Universal declaration of Human Rights: https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights
 Ontario Human Rights Code: https://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/ontario-human-rights-code
 Note that Canadian human rights law prohibits discrimination based on the ground of family status.
 Treasury Board of Canada, Policy on Harassment Prevention & Resolution, https://www.tbs-sct.canada.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=26041
 Note the difference between equality (i.e., the same treatment) and equity (i.e., fair treatment) discussed the Terminology Section of this Case Collection.
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Culture Amp. (2022). Workplace Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Report: Understanding the DEI landscape. https://www.cultureamp.com/workplace-dei-report-2022
Dixon-Fyle, S., Dolan, K., Hunt, V., Prince, S. (2020, May). Diversity wins: How inclusion matters. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diversity-wins-how-inclusion-matters
Ellingrud, K., Martinez, M. D. M., Prince, S., Yee, L., Sandhu, I. (2022, March 4). Companies say diversity matters. So why aren’t they becoming more diverse? World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/diversity-inclusion-equity-business/
Laker, B. (2022, April 11). Leaders: Stop Just Checking the Box on Diversity. Make An Impact. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminlaker/2022/04/11/leaders-stop-just-checking-the-box-on-diversity-make-an-impact/?sh=26a829ef5851
McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding prejudice and discrimination (pp. 191-196). McGraw-Hill.
Neuman, K. (2019, December 10). Race relations in Canada 2019: A survey of Canadian public opinion and experience. Environics Institute for Survey Research. https://www.environicsinstitute.org/projects/project-details/race-relations-in-canada-2019
Perna, M. C. (2021, May 26). Workplace Discrimination And Abuse Far More Common Than We Might Think. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2021/05/26/workplace-discrimination-and-abuse-far-more-common-than-we-might-think/?sh=4032f2cc46f7
Statistics Canada. (2020). Survey on Sexual Misconduct at Work (SSMW). Ottawa, ON.
Tysiac, K. (2021, May 24). Accounting profession continues to zero in on DEI issues. Journal of Accountancy. https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/news/2021/may/dei-diversity-equity-inclusion-issues-in-accounting-profession.html