Public Policy Forum: Building Inclusive Workplaces

Originally posted on Public Policy Forum.

By: Eddy Ng, Anjum Sultana, Kory Wilson, Simon Blanchette, and Rochelle Wijesingha


A one-size-fits-all approach to pandemic recovery will not work. Programs tailored to the specific needs of specific groups will be important for a strong recovery, as will equitable access to critical supports, such as the infrastructure needed to overcome the digital divide. Businesses, governments and employees must all commit to reskilling — particularly when it comes to those from diverse groups who face barriers and bias — to develop an effective and inclusive skills and employment ecosystem that leaves no one behind.  


  1. The effects of COVID-19 have been uneven when it comes to Canada’s industries and workforce and, so far, we are seeing a K-shaped recovery where some sectors are recovering very well while others are doing markedly worse.

  2. Pandemic responses have had uneven impacts, deeply affecting access to education and training opportunities for members of some disadvantaged groups. This has had, and will continue to have, consequences for well-being, mental health and skills development and utilization during the recovery period and beyond.

  3. Retraining will be crucial as some sectors will forever be altered by the impacts of the pandemic. But pre-existing systemic barriers, exacerbated by the pandemic, may prevent many Canadians from acquiring and effectively utilizing skills for which demand is growing, such as digital skills, soft skills, and leadership and management techniques made more relevant for a world of ubiquitous remote work.


COVID-19 has disrupted many industries. Jobs in some sectors have been lost forever, while other sectors have gone through significant changes with new jobs now emerging. What has emerged from the pandemic thus far is a “K-shaped” recovery where some businesses and industries are recovering quickly — or have already fully recovered – while others are still struggling. In some areas, such as for many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – and particularly for firms in the hospitality, retail and entertainment industries – the impact has been deep and threatens to be lasting. This report explores many of the factors underlying these divergent realities, including sectoral and industry differences, and pays special attention to those factors that have resulted in members of diverse groups being disproportionally impacted. More specifically, this report aims to explore how COVID-19 has exacerbated barriers to skills development, upskilling, reskilling and skills utilization faced by women, Indigenous peoples, racialized people, young people and persons with disabilities.

While the dominant discourse on the skills gap focuses mainly on the shortcomings of workers, the evidence shows that, in many cases, workers with the needed skills are out there, but that systemic discrimination, exclusionary policies and practices, make it hard to see them, leaving employers looking for skills in all the wrong places. We need to examine the levers — policies, programs and incentives — available to encourage employers to set targets and develop and implement effective strategies, policies and practices to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We also need to narrow our focus on these areas, especially considering that the economic impacts caused by COVID-19 may be with us for some time. This report highlights the skills needed and barriers that exist to accessing skills training within the context of the pandemic. It closes by exploring what can be done post-COVID-19 to overcome these barriers.

Building Inclusive Workforces DOWNLOAD THE REPORT


About the Authors

Eddy Ng is the James & Elizabeth Freeman Professor of Management at Bucknell University. Prior to that, he held the F.C. Manning Chair in Economics and Business at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada. His research focuses on managing diversity for organizational competitiveness, the changing nature of work and organizations, and managing across generations. His work has been funded by grants from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. He has published 4 books and more than 90 peer-reviewed journal articles and monographs. He has been featured in popular media outlets in Canada and the U.S. such as the CBC, the Globe and Mail, the Financial Post, ABC News, CBS News, and NPR. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and an Associate Editor of Personnel Review. He is also the Program Chair for the Gender and Diversity in Organizations division of the Academy of Management.

Anjum Sultana is an award-winning public affairs strategist, sought-after media commentator, accomplished public speaker, and published health equity researcher with expertise in gender equity, public health, and civic engagement. Anjum is the National Director of Public Policy & Strategic Communications at YWCA Canada, the country’s largest and oldest gender equity organization. Anjum currently serves on the boards of the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA), Regent Park Community Health Centre and Toronto Environmental Alliance. In 2020, Anjum was noted as one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30 in Sustainability. Anjum holds a Masters in Public Health from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

Kory Wilson (Kwakwaka’wakw), BSc. JD, is the Executive Director of Indigenous Initiatives and Partnerships for British Columbia Institute of Technology. She is Chair of the National Indigenous Education Committee of Colleges and Institutions Canada and Chair of the World Federation of Colleges and Polytechnics Indigenous Affinity Group. Kory has over 20 years of experience in post-secondary education, community development, and the legal profession. With a deep commitment to education, she knows innovative and creative solutions are a must to move Reconciliation into ReconciliACTION. Education and access to knowledge are key to moving everyone forward. When people know better, they do better.

Simon Blanchette has been a research associate with the Diversity Institute for several years working on the organization’s seminal DiversityLeads project, the Diversity Assessment of the Superclusters (for ISED) as well as a range of projects for the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH) and the Future Skills Centre. He has presented his work in prestigious international conferences, such as the Academy of Management Annual Meeting and the European Group for Organizational Studies Annual International Colloquium. Simon is also a lecturer in management in the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. He is the coauthor of several recent studies on women and work as well as training gaps and skills gaps in SMEs, and has previous experience as a consultant. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University and Master of Science in Management (specialized in Strategy) from HEC Montreal, where his thesis focused on creative ideation and innovation.

Rochelle Wijesingha has a PhD in Sociology from McMaster University and holds a Master of Arts in Sociology from the University of Windsor. Her doctoral research focuses on equity, diversity and inclusion in higher education. Prior to joining the Diversity Institute, Rochelle worked as a Research Associate at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Rochelle was the recipient of the Edward F. Sheffield Award and her work on cultural taxation was featured in Nature and C&EN.