HR Toolkit

Diversity at Work

Increasing diversity through improved recruitment and hiring practices

To ensure the selection of diverse talent, HR policies and practices should be reviewed carefully to identify barriers and opportunities for improvement. Working towards increased and enhanced workplace diversity is not difficult or complicated– it’s about having solid HR practices.

For a guide to good recruitment, hiring and selection practices, please visit the Getting the Right People section of the HR Toolkit.

Reviewing HR policies and practices with a diversity lens highlights good recruitment and selection practices that help organizations focus on building a diverse workplace. Areas of attention could include:


Broader recruitment efforts

Proactive outreach and recruitment efforts that deliberately focus on increasing diversity can support an organization when engaging a new audience. Some helpful guidelines are listed below:

  • Get the word out. Going through regular channels and contacting usual suspects may feel safer, easier or faster for busy managers, but it won’t bring new or increasingly diverse talent into organizations. Positions should be advertised in a wide variety of places, including community boards, settlement service agencies, employment service centres, cultural community groups, local community centres, local ethnic and community newsletters or newspapers, associations and organizations that serve ethnic communities and language schools. Efforts should extend beyond standard online and sector specific job boards.
  • Build relationships with cultural groups and organizations that work with diverse communities. Contact local immigrant serving agencies that provide employment advice and services to learn more about their programs. This raises an organization’s profile amongst new Canadians and those working with new Canadians. In addition, organizations can take advantage of programs such as temporary foreign worker programs, post-graduation work permits for international students and hire immigrants programs. provides a listing of local connections to immigrant talent and related programs, including immigrant employment councils.
  • Promote the organization as a viable place to work. Individuals may not be considering a nonprofit as a possible employer. New Canadians may come from countries where there isn’t an established nonprofit sector, or where paid employment in the sector is not common or desirable. Partnering with other nonprofits to increase the sector's profile and attending job fairs and networking events increases an organization’s visibility in the community and challenges misperceptions about employment in the nonprofit sector.
  • Connect with the volunteer base. Individuals will volunteer as a way to gain experience, build networks and find work. Volunteers should be made aware of any positions an organization is advertising, as some may be interested in applying. 

The HR Council's Working in Nonprofits section provides information on why individuals should consider working in the nonprofit sector.

Links and Resources

Resources to facilitate the recruitment of Aboriginal Peoples

  • A listing of Aboriginal media, such as BC’s Raven’s Eye or Ontario Birchbark, can be found at
  • A national job board devoted to Aboriginal hiring , the ‘Inclusion Network’ is available at
  • Aboriginal employment officers at local Friendship Centres. Employment officers are among the first to receive new job postings and can be of valuable help to locate candidates. Contact local Aboriginal Human Resource Development Agreement (AHRDA) holders. AHRDA holders work directly with Aboriginal Peoples seeking employment and can help find suitable candidates. A full list of the 79 AHRDA holders is available
  • The Turtle Island Native Network is a resource that provides a listing of Aboriginal groups and organizations by province
  • Aboriginal Human Resource Council Inclusion Network allows for the posting of jobs and has the capability to search for candidates through a résumé database powered through the Workopolis Niche Network
  • Assembly of First Nations - Job Board 
  • Nation Talk – Job Board delivers communications by and between Aboriginal Peoples as well as non-Aboriginal organizations and companies that participate regularly within the Aboriginal community and economy
  • Métis Employment Services offers employers the opportunity to post company job openings on the MES job board and possible circulation to selected community agencies within the targeted area


Links and Resources

Resources to facilitate the recruitment of people with disabilities

  •, the Canadian Abilities Foundation's web site for job seekers provides exposure to employers who are committed to diverse work places. It also serves as  a place for employers to recruit and hire people with disabilities cross Canada.
  • is an online career development and employment portal for Canadians with disabilities. It provides job search tools, career guidance and resources pertaining to education and employment.


Links and Resources

Resources to facilitate the recruitment of experienced workers

  • Helping Experienced Workers Make the Leap: A Value-added Proposition
    In the spring of 2011, the Comité sectoriel de main-d’oeuvre de l’économie sociale et de l’action communautaire (CSMO-ÉSAC) conducted a study designed to determine whether experienced workers, managers, coordinators and younger employees in the sector were interested in keeping people over 50 on the job or helping them return to work. CSMO-ÉSAC also documented the issue of returning to work and integrating experienced workers from the public and private employment sectors into the workforce1. In the fall of 2011, CSMO-ÉSAC organized a day-long session for workers from all age categories and backgrounds as a follow-up for those who had participated in the study. These reflections have guided us as we put together this handbook for managers in the sector. We hope that members of Boards of Directors will also think about issues raised here as they consider how to keep the 50-plus segment of the workforce on the job or help them to return to work.

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Reduction of bias in the selection process

Job Descriptions

To create barrier-free job descriptions:
  • Separate essential and non-essential qualifications
  • Focus on what needs to be achieved (not how it will achieved)
  • Use plain language (rather than sector-specific or HR jargon)

Techniques and examples:

Specify the need, rather than how it’s achieved. Examples: Instead of requiring a valid driver’s license, ask for the ‘ability to travel and provide own transportation.’ Or instead of requiring that a candidate reside in a given location, ask for ‘the ability to report to work within 30 minutes of call.’

Ask for ability wherever possible. This enables candidates with transferable skills to compete. Ability means the candidate has the potential to do the job, but may not have had the opportunity to develop the potential. Candidates can demonstrate ability through past achievements, including volunteer experience. Example: Instead of requiring knowledge of a law or experience in implementation, ask for the ability to learn, interpret and apply a law.

Ask for related work experience. Instead of specific Canadian work experience, a certain number of years of experience, recent experience or transferable experience may be adequate.
Example: Instead of asking for ‘three years experience as a tax auditor, ask for ‘experience in tax auditing involving a variety of industries, including several complex audits.’ Or instead of ‘experience with Word XP,’ ask for ‘experience with Microsoft Word’ or ‘or similar application.’
Focus on the qualities or knowledge needed to perform the work effectively. Avoid focus on a specific credential (a degree, diploma, certificate or license). Include a credential in a job advertisement only when required by law (i.e. Registered Nurse) or where it is the only means of obtaining the skills, knowledge and ability needed to perform the work effectively.

Specify the kind of communication required. Example: Specify ‘listening and/or speaking on the telephone’, ‘writing’ and/or ‘negotiating agreements’ rather than asking for ‘an ability to communicate effectively.’

Specify the working conditions. Elaborate the number of hours of work per pay period for a part-time position and the expected duration of the term for short-term positions. For shift or late-night work, include information about security.

Focus on the desired ability or skill instead of a personal trait. Instead of requiring a ‘mature, cooperative person’, ask for ‘ability to work effectively as a team member.’ Write clearly and simply, using common words, a straightforward style and simple sentences. Avoid jargon, technical and legal language, and acronyms.

Considerations for the interview process

It is important to be aware of how personal bias can negatively impact diversity efforts. For a complete list of biases please visit the performance management section of the HR Toolkit.

The following suggestions and considerations help reveal and remove bias that may affect who is selected for an interview, how the interview is conducted, and final selection of candidates. Removing bias form the hiring process is not a quick fix. It requires ongoing review of hiring practices - both the process and the outcomes- to uncover systematic barriers.

  • Develop a clear and consistent set of guidelines for everyone involved in the hiring process. Use a consistent and formal application process. Clearly explain the entire process to candidates to shape realistic expectations and reduce misunderstandings
  • Consider having one employee responsible for receiving résumés, this person can block the names of each candidate from those involved in the review and assessment of potential candidates. Recent research shows that many Canadian employers show a bias towards traditional Anglophone names, likely making assumptions about language skills, values and experience. Replacing names with candidate numbers for the résumé review phase removes this name bias
  • Establish a recruitment philosophy specifically focused on skills, regardless of how those skills were developed or where a candidate was trained
  • Focus on the content rather than the style of the résumé, stylistic differences in format and content can easily lead to qualified candidates being screened out at early stages in the process. In many countries, a CV might be ten pages long and provide great detail on each experience, while in Canada, the preference is for very concise CVs
  • Avoid subjective terms in the recruitment process, such as ‘best cultural fit.’ This can unwittingly exclude qualified candidates without gaining a deeper understanding of their potential contributions to the organization. 

Tips for a more inclusive interview process

  • Establish an interview team to reduce individual bias. Include members of diverse communities or staff with a good understanding of cross-cultural issues to provide insight on socio-cultural responses that others on the panel may question
  • Determine if applicants have any accommodation needs when scheduling interviews
  • Ensure the interview site is accessible
  • Be informed of holy days of different religions to avoid scheduling interviews at these times
  • Provide consistent and clear information to all applicants about the selection process
  • Be aware that many disabilities are invisible. Avoid generalizations based in race or ethnicity. Do not assume that a person's appearance defines their nationality or cultural background
  • Ask questions that focus on ‘how’ an applicant will apply his or her skills, ‘how’ they would handle a particular situation, etc.
  • Ask all interview candidates the same questions and score responses with a grid. All questions should related relate to the job description
  • Careful use of vocabulary is recommended in order to avoid or re-phrase words that could have different meanings in other cultures or languages
  • Check assumptions around body language and other non-verbal communication. Be aware of culturally influenced behaviours and communication patterns that may impact how a candidate is perceived during the interview process


Do not view silence as a sign of disrespect or lack of knowledge. Many immigrants speak English or French fluently, but it may not be their first language. Silence may simply indicate they need a moment to process the question and formulate an answer. Silence following a question may mean something vastly different to an Aboriginal person than to a non-Aboriginal person; language pacing and rhythm can vary greatly between cultures.

Minimal eye contact does not mean a lack of confidence or certainty when responding to interview questions
. Some candidates may avoid eye contact with figures of authority as it is considered disrespectful in their culture.

Some candidates will appear modest or humble.
This is so especially when discussing personal accomplishments or uncomfortable talking about themselves due to a cultural orientation towards community over the individual. For example, Aboriginal candidates may find it distasteful to focus on themselves and may tend to speak about group rather than individual accomplishments. Rather than asking specifically for individual strengths, it may be more effective to ask candidates how they overcame obstacles or achieved results in previous jobs.

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The recruitment of new Canadians

Foreign credentials

Immigrants often have international credentials that may not be immediately recognizable to a Canadian employer. Recruiters may skim résumés seeking the names of recognized institutions. They may also face challenges in assessments of foreign credentials. Similarly, international experience is often devalued or considered irrelevant in Canada.

An organization that recognizes the transferability of an immigrant’s training and education gains a definite competitive advantage. By using Canadian credential assessment services, employers are able to increase their familiarity and comfort level with international credentials.

If it is unclear how international qualifications compare to Canadian credentials, assessments can be based on other criteria. Candidates can:

  • Describe their years of experience in a field or job, or in performing specific tasks
  • Explain their skills or demonstrate them in practical tests
  • Demonstrate their knowledge through written examinations

For regulated occupations, state clearly the licensing or certification required by law. In some circumstances, it may be possible to hire at a lower level of responsibility and help the candidate obtain the required licensing while on the job. If so, this should be stated in job postings.

For non-regulated occupations, consider voluntary certification that may apply. If candidates who have this certification are preferred, this should be stated in job postings.

For more information about foreign credential assessments, a fact sheet has been developed by the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials.

In Canada, provincial and territorial governments are responsible for the assessment and recognition of foreign credentials. These agencies can help assess foreign credentials such as certificates, diplomas and degrees and how they compare to Canadian standards. Assistance is offered through these agencies or potential employees can be asked to have their credentials assessed as part of the application process.

For more information on hiring newcomers to Canada, including the assessment and selection of internationally trained workers, visit the Foreign Credentials Referral Office.

Language as a real and as a perceived barrier

Strong language skills are important to most nonprofit employers because of the public nature of their daily work. Organizations need to assess the language skills required to perform each specific job, as not all jobs have the same requirements.

There are several programs and services available to help immigrants improve and assess their language skills. For more information, please visit the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks.

Employers should be mindful of bias against people speaking English or French with different or ‘heavy’ accents. While the presence of an accent does not indicate language proficiency, it can impact intelligibility. Intelligibility can be improved with practice and coaching. It is important to recognize the added value of languages (beyond English and/or French) spoken in the workplace. Employers who provide direct services to a culturally and linguistically diverse audience are enormously benefitted by staff with additional language knowledge.

As resource constraints make it difficult for many nonprofits to provide support for language training, employers may need to be creative about the support they provide. While private language instruction may be out of the question, less costly options such as on-line language learning tools, local conversation circles and language exchanges may be available. Rather than paying for language classes, organizations may prefer to provide time off for studying or meeting with an internal language coach. This is also an opportunity for internal skills exchange or peer mentoring. It may also be possible to match a new employee in need of improved language skills but in possession of excellent technical skills with an employee who has strong language proficiency but lacks technical abilities.

Links and Resources

Additional resources

Employer's Guide to Integrating Immigrants into the Workplace
Created by Hire Immigrants Ottawa, this guide is designed specifically for small- and medium-sized organizations with  limited in-house human resources capacity. The guide addresses common issues such as languages skills assessment, foreign credentials and work experience; working with cultural differences; and preparing the workplace.

Hiring and Retaining Internationally Trained Workers

This website provides links to guides and resources to assist employers in hiring and retaining internationally trained workers. Resources are identified for multiple provinces.

Beyond the Boomers: A Guidebook for Building an Immigrant Workforce in the Nonprofit Sector
Created by the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, the goal of this guidebook is to help nonprofit employers develop an inclusion strategy that will enable them to attract, recruit and retain the best qualified candidates. This guidebook is a practical tool that is employer-focused. It acknowledges the unique challenges and strengths of the nonprofit sector and is part of a long-term change initiative of focus on developing awareness, attitudes and practices for the creation of culturally competent, inclusive and respectful nonprofits.

Business Critical: Maximizing the Talents of Visible Minorities - Employer's Guide
A Conference Board of Canada guide designed to help Canadian organizations maximize the talents of visible minority employees. It provides concrete strategies and tools that can be used by leaders, human resource managers and line managers to create inclusive workplaces that respect, value and promote visible minority talent. provides organizations with the tools and resources they need to better recruit, retain and promote skilled immigrants. The site also profiles good examples and innovative practices of employers across the country.

Next section: Creating an inclusive and supportive work environment

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