Now public, full report details anti-Black discrimination across City of Brampton departments
Now available on the City of Brampton’s website on an obscure page, the full independent report by Williams HR Consulting details specific concerns with anti-Black discrimination in City Hall including a lack of racial diversity in Fire & Emergency Services, and a fear of job security for racialized contract employees if they speak out about concerns.
The full report expands on the details discussed in the previously released summary version, which included a series of recommendations and discussed a “culture of fear” for Black employees.
Both reports detail Black and racialized staff being concentrated at lower levels of the organizational hierarchy and most Black and racialized participants sharing personal experiences of differential and discriminatory treatment.
According to the 2016 census, 73.3 percent of Brampton residents identified as visible minorities, and 13.9 percent identified as Black.
These numbers don’t translate to City Hall.
In 2019, a diversity and inclusion survey administered by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) found that the City’s workforce was predominantly White, with only 36.8 percent of respondent employees having identified as racialized, which dropped to less than 15 percent among the corporate leadership team.
It showed the vast majority of Brampton residents did not see themselves reflected inside City Hall, and among senior leadership roles the demographic disparity suggested willful intolerance to change.
Transit, Community Services and other departments
According to the full Williams HR Consulting Inc. report, participant feedback indicated that diversity throughout the City’s departments and divisions was widely variable, with “pockets of diversity” present within the organization.
For the the Parks, Maintenance, and Forestry team within the Community Services department, the report noted that racialized staff, specifically Black staff, tend to be employed in temporary contract roles, with participants indicating that they were often afraid to speak up about discriminatory workplace experiences due to the precarious nature of their contracts.
This expanded on the previous summary report, which noted that “within certain departments,” Black and racialized employees are most often employed in precarious employment roles.
The report had positive notes, detailing that leaders in Transit made preliminary inquiries into removing potential barriers to increased diversity within their standard recruitment practices.
Participants described the general composition of certain departments, including Transit, as racially and ethnically diverse, although the number of Black employees in those departments was reportedly much smaller in comparison to that of other non-Black racialized groups.
In contrast, certain departments, such as Fire and Emergency Services, employed very few racialized employees.
Across different departments, participants had emphasized the need to focus equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training efforts on different groups.
Participants in Transit felt that more training should be provided to part-time and front-line staff, while participants in Planning, Building, and Economic Development stressed the need to provide more training to members of middle management.
One tactic endorsed across multiple departments was a “top-down” approach and suggested that members of senior leadership and management generally required EDI upskilling and should take more comprehensive and extensive training.
Participant feedback indicated that there are considerable inconsistencies among different departments regarding the extent to which the contents of the policies are socialized to employees.
In Transit, one employee described how senior leadership regularly sent out bulletins on the policies. Another in Fire and Emergency Services stated that the Respectful Workplace Policy may have been mentioned during their onboarding, but has not been talked about since then.
The summary report showed that some Black participants expressed their distrust of diversification efforts, which they perceived to be flawed, done for optics, and ultimately ineffective at yielding more Black hires.
In the full report, certain participants made reference to the results of the Fire and Emergency Services department’s 2020 firefighter recruitment.
The Fire and Emergency Services 2020 recruitment disaster
At present, efforts to diversify through improved recruitment processes have been decentralized and limited to certain departments, most notably Fire and Emergency Services, the report states.
In 2020, the department had undertaken a systematic reformulation of its hiring policies and practices with the goal of reducing potential bias in decision-making and increasing the diversity of new hires by implementing standardized assessment tools, scoring systems, and metrics.
It was a complete failure, with the reformulation leading to the hiring of one successful Black candidate out of 800 applications.
Concerns were raised in the report that the new process was overly clinical, stripped away too much subjectivity, placed an outsized focus on credentials, and ultimately hindered its goal of yielding more racial diversity in new hires.
Many of Brampton's core institutions do not represent its diverse population.
(The Pointer files)
“Its focus on credentials was hypothesized by participants to have led to a net negative outcome for Black and racialized recruits, who often do not envision certain careers in public service, such as firefighting, as legitimate and/or realistic career paths and so may lack the necessary credentials to enter these fields,” Williams HR Consulting Inc. wrote.
Equity advocate David Bosveld previously raised the issue of discriminatory hiring practices at City Hall.
“It starts with barriers to education, it starts with barriers within education, resources when you know Black community members are starting behind their counterparts from other races,” Bosveld said. “When you post the job, at that point there’s a pool of people deemed qualified or eligible. If you include community members who are underrepresented in creating that job posting and going through the applications we can eliminate some barriers.”
When a posting has strict background requirements, such as “five years management experience, (or) master’s degree” Bosveld said potential applicants likely wouldn’t apply, even though the person may be completely qualified.
“They self-eliminate because the posting hasn’t been created to be inclusive of lived experience,” Bosveld said.
“For example there’s a guy that I know that built a youth football team from scratch… On his resume he won’t be able to fit the traditional criteria of five years of leadership experience, but we know in the community he has five years of leadership experience in spades. He’s actually built it, he’s done exactly what they’re asking for but they’re not asking for it in the application.”
The report noted a positive thing about Fire and Emergency Services' updated recruitment process in the review, which was that it included the option for applicants to self-disclose identity-based data. This was something that Williams HR Consulting Inc. recommended the rest of the City’s departments should collect moving forward.
“Having accurate data is fundamental to any EDI effort and, in particular, to the ability to measure and monitor progress towards established goals,” Williams HR Consulting Inc. wrote. “The compilation and communication of identity based data is critical to gain a more fulsome understanding of Black and racialized employees’ workplace experiences and enable leaders to establish objectives and address barriers to EDI goals more effectively.”
Williams HR Consulting Inc. recommended that the City should leverage the learning outcomes of the past efforts to level-up its recruitment and hiring practices to revamp, and ideally standardize, existing processes across all departments.
The consultant recommends the City adopt an equity-focused approach to diversity in recruitment efforts, which recognizes sociohistorical differences between Black communities and racialized groups that have resulted in material gaps in opportunity, advancement, and professional experience, rather than a strictly equality-focused approach.
Bosveld said that often having a community member or a panel of community members sit in on the hiring process can avoid these terrible outcomes.
“If you don’t have that in-house, build your hiring process and just have a community advisory panel,” he said. “Build your job posting, send it to them to have a look at, take some feedback, do some edits and create a posting that people generally feel is a bit more inclusive, a bit more open and a bit less restrictive.”
After the resumes are received, Bosveld said the community panel could help go through them and participate in the interviews themselves.
“The traditional HR person who doesn’t have this lens is going to skip over some because of bias or perception of lack of credentials or qualifications, when the community person might say, ‘Hey, let’s take a second look at this one’ or ‘Hey let’s bring this person in for an interview.’”
The review also recommended the City create pathways of career advancement and progression for Black employees, many of whom reported feeling “stuck” in their jobs.
One way mentioned is to develop formal training and mentoring programs to support professional development opportunities, noting a particular benefit in involving Black leaders, supervisors and managers as it would give value to Black participants who will have shared life experiences.
While the fire department made the effort to push for the reformulation in an attempt to tackle its noticeable lack of racial diversity, the report also noted concerns about hiring do not appear to reach the upper echelons of certain departments– although the names of specific departments weren’t listed.
Multiple senior leaders said they had not received or heard of complaints or concerns from employees within their departments about a lack of EDI in hiring processes, while participants belonging to their departments expressed such concerns to the review team.
Yet all senior leaders and Human Resource (HR) professionals who participated in the review recognized the need to diversify the workforce and have more equitable recruitment practices in place.
While leaders in certain departments, such as Transit, have made preliminary inquiries into removing potential barriers to increased diversity within their standard recruitment practices, the majority of departments have yet to undertake a thorough assessment.
Additionally, the extent to which hiring managers and other recruitment decision-makers receive training regarding fair recruitment processes and EDI considerations is unclear.
In HR, one participant told the reviewer that they did not receive training regarding hiring prior to acting as a hiring manager for a recruitment.
The participant assumed that this lack of training was due to assumptions made about their prior experience in recruitment, but questioned whether training would have been provided if they had not been an HR professional.
Participant feedback, including from members of senior leadership and management, made clear that there is a perception of significant nepotism throughout the City. Black participants cited experiences in which friends, family members, and personal contacts of existing employees—and particularly more senior members of management, who tended to be White—were hired over potentially more qualified candidates.
While not mentioned explicitly in the report, David Barrick, Brampton’s former CAO, who was fired in February was recruited through a process led by Mayor Patrick Brown. The pair had prior connections through PC politics before Barrick’s hiring. Barrick would then go on to hire a number of staffers he’d previously worked with in Niagara Region.
A participant raised that there have been attempts to curb nepotist practices, including through the use of a disclosure form, though feedback suggests that these attempts have not been widely socialized, consistent, or made clear to employees.
White employees more likely to consider departments supportive of Black coworkers
Many participants described an overarching culture of fear, oppression, and reprisal at the City with respect to bringing forward complaints in general, and specifically complaints regarding discriminatory conduct.
All participants agreed that employees do not trust HR or the investigation process, and believe their complaints will not be treated confidentially, and truly believe they will have reprisal brought against them for making complaints.
Suspicions of information leaks have arisen because of instances when confidential information has been shared with City employees in violation of confidentiality obligations, and are noted to be the primary cause of employees’ lack of trust in HR.
Most Black and racialized participants spoken to for the review were able to provide examples of racially discriminatory conduct or comments by colleagues that they recalled being personally witness to or hearing about.
The report noted a marked difference in perception between Black employees and senior members of leadership and management regarding the state of the workplace for Black and racialized staff.
Senior members of leadership and management who participated in the review process—all of whom were non-Black—spoke about the workplace environment and culture in far more positive terms, and were consistent in their belief that the departments they oversaw were supportive of Black and racialized staff.
Black and racialized participants didn’t agree.
This is in line with the previously released Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI) 2019 survey which found that Black employees reported notably lower feelings of inclusion compared to non-Black employees.
Specifically, the CCDI found only 32 per cent of Black respondents agreed that all employees have equal opportunity to advance at the City, whereas 58.7 per cent of White respondents agreed. A similar finding was noted in the CCDI audit conducted for the Peel Regional Police.
Bosveld said that it’s clear current leadership in the City doesn’t grasp the issue that anti-Black community members have been excluded.
“This is the same argument we’re having at the school board, this is the same argument that we’re having with the police, this is the same argument that we’re having at the municipality,” Bosveld said.
“We’re not represented in positions of power as Black community members so our lens is missing largely from hiring positions, from leadership direction, we are excluded and as a result that exclusion is perpetuated ongoing and we don’t get the transformative change we’re fighting for and it’s exhausting, it’s frustrating.”
Bosveld said that with leaders being unable to acknowledge the issues, they can’t be the one to fix them.
“They need to go back, have another kick at the can, and… say, ‘Look, we don’t know how to do a good job at this, we don’t know how to get it done, we need Black folks in these conversations and in these reflections so that we can talk about this lens and where the community members are coming from and eliminating these barriers.’ Because this is not good enough.”
The failure of Human Resources (HR)
Participants in the review reported that they do not believe the City’s internal investigators understand or have any substantive knowledge about anti-Black racism, and that they fail to recognize discriminatory behaviours directed at Black employees as such.
Many participants expressed that the complaints they raised about potentially discriminatory conduct were not sufficiently addressed or investigated by their supervisors or HR.
In addition, union staff expressed frustrations related to not being adequately represented by their unions when they have brought forward allegations of anti-Black racism and discriminatory practices.
While there is a “Human Rights Advisor”, a new position created in 2021, which sits as part of the Employee and Labour Relations team within the Human Resources division of the Corporate Support Services department, accessing– or even trusting them– is another issue.
The review notes that there is no clear direction or understanding regarding how work should be delineated between HR professionals and the Human Rights Advisor.
There is currently no clear or written process in place that sets out how employees can access the Human Rights Advisor’s services. Additionally, to make a complaint or raise a concern with the Advisor, they will have to submit complaints to HR, at which point the HR Business Partner may exercise their discretion to refer a complaint.
The Human Rights Advisor has typically only investigated complaints that involve potential corporate liability, such as complaints that address the policies and the Code of Conduct.
Since there is a significant lack of confidence in HR among employees, the affiliation has led to some employees becoming similarly distrustful of the Human Rights Advisor’s ability to carry out fair and fulsome investigations.
Still, many employees expressed that they remain hopeful that the Human Rights Advisor can act as an avenue to direct complaints that were “sidelined” by HR and management.
The report said that investigations training was provided to HR Business Partners, HR Associates, Labour Relations Associates, and Senior Labour Relations Advisors over the course of only four days in 2020.
This was the first time training on conduct of investigations was provided, and participants responded to the training with some resistance because they felt “burdened by having to follow the processes covered in the training.”
It is unclear whether similar investigations training has been provided to supervisors and members of management, who may also act as investigators under the policies.
The training did not address how to triage complaints and investigate with an anti-oppressive approach.
Some HR professionals have been reported to prejudge allegations or hold adversarial attitudes towards complainants, to the extent that they may steer a complaint resolution process or investigation towards a particular conclusion. In one example given in the review, a participant in HR recalled HR Business Partners referring to certain employees as “problem employees” and saying things such as, “We can get them on X.”
Participants reported that HR professionals may have breached their confidentiality obligations regarding complaints, which may lead to reprisal against the staff who made them.
Williams HR Consulting Inc. stated that failure by the City to consistently prevent and address breaches of confidentiality and reprisal seriously undermines procedural fairness.
Participants reported that racialized employees are also more often subjected to excessive discipline where allegations against them have been substantiated, relative to non-racialized employees, suggesting that corrective action is not imposed in a fair and impartial manner.
The Pointer reached out to City Hall communications for interviews with Transit, Community Services, Fire and Emergency Services and the Equity Office, but did not receive a response.
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