First look at the Diversity Works research

CASE TeamNews

First look at the Diversity Works research

Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) experiencing disability have vastly different employment experiences than their white counterparts. Their employment journeys are riddled with unique barriers often so subtle yet so toxic in nature that it silences them from voicing their internal suffering. The labour market reality for BIPOC Canadians with disability confirms that they are among the most marginalized in the country with the lowest employment rates, poor access to social services, high underemployment, and high dependency on welfare compared to other groups of citizens.

In November 2021, with funding from the Government of Canada’s Workplace Opportunities: Removing Barriers to Equity program, CASE launched a study titled Diversity Works, to explore the unique challenges faced by Black, Indigenous, and people of colour experiencing disability as they navigated various stages of the employment journey with the assistance of supported employment service providers. Using mixed research methodologies, this pan-Canadian study engaged 70 supported employment service providers, 23 employers, and 70 BIPOC jobseekers experiencing disability.

Preliminary findings from the Diversity Works research

There were many commonalities among the responses of jobseekers and service providers about what constituted major challenges and barriers to employment. Language and cultural barriers, employer and co-worker discrimination and bias, and lack of Canadian work experience were among the top reasons from both groups. However, their classifications of these challenges were different. Jobseekers ranked employer and co-worker discrimination as top challenges in finding and retaining employment, in comparison to service providers who listed language and cultural barriers as their top two challenges. This variance in the perceptions of service providers and jobseekers has implications on jobseekers’ employment experiences regarding their awareness (of racism, discrimination, and unfair treatment) and readiness to navigate said barriers. Lack of Canadian work experience was a key barrier faced by racialized immigrants experiencing disability. The devaluation of pre-migration work experience and education hindered their ability to secure meaningful employment in their professional fields. This was not perceived as a top barrier by service providers.

Top challenges and barriers to employment

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The research also explored the nature of finding and sustaining work from the jobseeker perspective. In our qualitative engagements, we found racism to be the most talked about barrier to finding work​ as well as a bigger barrier than ableism according to jobseekers. They shared that the employment programs that assist them in finding work, lacked supports around countering and managing racism. They found themselves frequently strategizing for ways to disclose both identities- their race and their disability during the hiring process. Jobseekers found themselves worried about their race being an “issue” when applying for “disability hire” opportunities and similarly their disability being a barrier for opportunities that target racialized communities. Jobseekers felt that there was a general mistrust of their motives and interest among employers.

The majority of participating service providers felt that their clients were predominantly white, even when their organization was located in a highly diverse region. Service providers from organizations who were collecting client data had a clear picture of the gap between the diversity of service-users in relations to the broader population of jobseekers in the region. When asked to account for this gap, here were some of the most common responses:​

  • Implications of a centralized referral system. Less community outreach meant less visibility in the community​
  • Hesitation from racialized groups to seek support from Employment Ontario​
  • Requirement of social insurance number
  • Racial discrimination in health services resulting in delayed diagnosis.​

While several organizations described their front-line staff as highly diverse, some wondered if the fact that their staff were predominately white was a reason why services-users were also predominately white.

77% of service providers believe that their organization employs a diverse group of service providers.

Only 48% believe their organizations employ a diverse group of managers and directors​.

When we asked jobseekers about their experiences in using supported employment services, some common responses included:

  • Lack of awareness of services- the overwhelming majority of BIPOC-D jobseekers in our focus groups/interviews were not aware that supported employment services were available​
  • Stigma related to disability in racialized communities​
  • BIPOC-D job seekers often talked about the silence around disability in their communities, and seeking support for disability inside or outside of their community was not common practice.

The full research report which will be released in August 2022, will provide more details on the challenges and barriers facing jobseekers, the strategies they used to find and keep work, and about the challenges faced by service providers in providing employment services to BIPOC-D jobseekers. Meanwhile, consider these questions: 

  • Why do you think racialized jobseekers experiencing disability are not accessing supported employment services?
  • What can employment service organizations do to increase their engagement with racialized jobseekers?
  • What are the reasons for low BIPOC representation at leadership levels within supported employment sector?

To be notified when the Diversity Works Research Report is available in August, please sign up for our newsletter. For any questions or comments about the research or questions above, please contact shifat@supportedemployment.ca.