School board implements diversity plan

January 24, 2013 - All News

Special to SAF
Peel’s public school board is implementing a plan intended to create a fairer and unbiased hiring and promotion process at all levels of the organization.
The systemwide changes in policies and practices are seen as part of an overall board effort to ensure staffing ranks start to become more truly reflective of the diverse community schools in this highly-multicultural region serve.
Last February, the Peel District School Board hired Turner Consulting Group, a firm specializing in helping employers create diverse and inclusive workplaces. The Toronto consultant conducted a review of hiring and promotion practices and policies to assess how fair the process is in application at the board.
Research focused on issues affecting racial minorities, Aboriginal Peoples, persons with disabilities and persons from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities. It included focus groups and surveys involving some 2,600 employees.
Trustees formally received the final report at a regular meeting Tuesday night, along with a detailed action plan entitled The Journey Ahead: Our Action Plan for Equitable Hiring and Promotion in Peel.
The plan seeks to establish a “bias-free” hiring and promotion process by providing those making decisions with tools, training and resources to create a level playing-field for all job applicants vying for teaching, management and board staff positions.
At a cost of $68,000, the 111-page report contained 33 findings and a 14-page action plan recommending more than 80 measures the board should take to secure equity, diversity and inclusion in its hiring process.
According to the report, among the things focus groups and an online survey revealed was that many teachers view the board’s hiring process as being relationship-based rather than merit-based and nepotism was considered a barrier to employment or advancement for some applicants.
“What we were hearing was that there was some staff that were having difficulty with the promotion process,” Education Director Tony Pontes said of board consultation with employees. “They didn’t feel that it was consistent and fair.”
Members of the community had also indicated they weren’t getting a fair opportunity to apply for some positions, Pontes added. Although he believes nepotism has never “driven” a hiring decision.
For some time now, the board has been making public commitments to seek diversity in its workforce and has made that commitment a documented system goal. Additionally, the board has pledged to celebrate and acknowledge the diversity among the students and families in its schools.
However, the board continues to find itself under fire from some employees and community members for not living up to those commitments. Board officials have been accused of overseeing systemic failures that allow discrimination in hiring practices and classrooms.
Just last November, the board and Heart Lake Secondary School Vice-principal Ranjit Khatkur announced they reached a settlement in an application that claimed systemic discrimination played a role in her being overlooked for promotion. Neither side has offered any further comment.
The administration has continued to profess a genuine desire to correct any poor public perceptions about the organization’s openness to diversity.
While the consultant’s report found some hiring or promotion practices were not always followed or in place to ensure objectivity during the decision-making process, Pontes said, there was no finding of systemic discrimination.
“Some practices may be unintentionally creating barriers, but there were no conclusions around discrimination,” he said, noting the review was only meant to look at hiring and promoting practices.
Senior Consultant Tana Turner said the consulting team did not have the data needed to determine whether systemic discrimination exists.
“All I can say is there appears to be bias,” she explained.
To offer any conclusions on systemic discrimination, researchers would have needed to know whether individual job applicants were members of a minority group. That information is not collected by the board.
Part of the action plan includes a process that would allow staff to voluntarily identify themselves as members of a minority group. That information would be used by the board to determine how well or how poorly this initiative to bring diversity to the employee ranks is working.
Among the actions recommended are:
• full documenting of the “non-discriminatory reasons” for hiring or not hiring and promoting or not promoting each candidate;
• ensuring interview questions assess a candidate’s ability to work with a diverse student population and a diverse group of co-workers;
• using interview teams when there is more than one applicant considered;
• updating the board’s hiring manual to support unbiased decision-making;
• making human resources personnel responsible for entry-level hirings instead of principals;
• conducting recruitment in the broader community;
• mandatory diversity and inclusion training for principals, vice-principals, managers and senior leaders.
The action plan is being implemented between now and June 2014.