The University of Guelph (U of G) includes seven colleges, with programs spanning the natural and physical sciences, social sciences and the humanities. The U of G, which is committed to equity, is ranked as one of Canada's top comprehensive universities for its commitment to student learning and innovative research.
In 1990, U of G administered a full-scale workforce census and established an employment equity policy and plan, following work that started in 1987 when the University made a formal commitment to the Federal Contractors Program (FCP). Under the FCP, provincially regulated employers with more than 100 employees that want to earn federal government contracts of $200,000 or more must show a commitment to implementing employment equity for four designated groups: Aboriginal Peoples, members of visible minorities, women and people with disabilities.
Since then, U of G has conducted a full workforce census in 2000 and taken steps to promote equity and achieve a representative workforce. The key goals of U of G’s workforce census were to:
- Get an accurate picture of the four designated employment equity groups in U of G’s workforce
- See if its workforce reflected the Canadian labour market
- Create an environment that attracts a diverse workforce and encourages all current and prospective employees to work to their full potential
- Adopt and implement employment equity strategies to identify and remove barriers to equity.
Facing the challenges
When planning how to best collect data in 2000, U of G faced several challenges, including:
- Getting buy-in across the organization, including 11 union and employee groups
- Countering negative perceptions about employment equity and individual abilities
- Strong sensitivities around the information being asked for, its use, handling and confidentiality
- Responding to the exclusion of non-designated groups and employee concerns that the focus was only on the four designated groups
- Balancing limited resources with the need to reach several thousand employees located on and off-campus.
Preparing for the workforce census
Before launching the workforce census, steps included:
- Organizing an Employment Equity (EE) Committee that represented all key players, to consult on all major survey steps
- Designing a comprehensive communication strategy, including community consultations, town hall meetings, information sessions, employee group meetings, a poster campaign, campus press articles, notices in paycheques, radio announcements and a toll-free telephone line
- Sending key messages to address the concerns of non-designated groups – on how everyone benefits from employment equity, the goal of removing barriers so all employees are treated equitably, and that anti-discrimination steps would apply to all groups facing systemic discrimination
- Creating survey packages with a simple survey form, a return envelope, information handouts, contact information, a covering letter endorsed by U of G’s president and the presidents of all of the union and employee groups
- Addressing privacy concerns by stressing that no individuals would be identified, the information would remain confidential and separate from regular personnel records, and that data would only to be used for employment equity purposes.
Administering the workforce census
U of G’s “Census Week” took place March 6 – 10, 2000. An external consulting company was hired to administer the census, collect and analyze the data off-site and report the overall results.
The census form in 2000 was on paper and included four questions. All employees who had worked there for three months or more were asked to voluntarily declare whether they were members of one or more of the four designated groups
The consultants and staff from the Human Rights and Equity Office were available to answer questions or concerns.
Workforce census results
In 2000, the return rate was 74% and the response rate was 70% for regular full-time employees. The consultant analyzed and interpreted the data, and compared the results to external labour market availability data (Statistics Canada census data).
The results showed that members of the four designated groups were all under-represented in varying degrees among University employees in one or more federally defined employment equity occupational groups, on the main campus and at satellite campuses.
After the 2000 census, the consultants did an employment systems review, to help U of G identify and remove discriminatory barriers in its policies, procedures and practices. The workforce analysis helped inform this process, as did interviews and focus groups with a range of university constituents, including “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and transsexual” (LGBTT) persons.
The employment systems review revealed many positive features of U of G’s work environment that supported employment equity goals. However, the review also found inconsistencies, policies, practices and some elements of the workplace culture that negatively affected employees, especially equity-seeking groups.
Acting on the results
The analysis and review was shared with the EE Committee, and also shared in employee newsletters, list-serves, meetings, university papers and on the HREO website.
U of G used the findings and EE Committee recommendations to develop an employment equity plan for 2003 – 2007. This plan included an ongoing commitment to employment equity, setting and communicating equity goals for hiring in under-represented areas, creating tailored outreach and mentoring programs, developing and delivering equity training for managers and supervisors, and continuing staff training in human rights and equity. The plan also held managers and senior managers formally accountable for meeting goals, monitoring and reporting on progress.
Results are stored on a database, which U of G regularly updates by providing surveys to employees who are new or who want to change information they had previously submitted. The entire survey package is now available on-line. This data will provide important information for the next employment equity plan, which is now being developed.
Best practices and lessons learned
Best practices and lessons learned include:
- Before starting to collect data, address such key questions as the purpose of collecting data, what data will be collected, about who, how, when, etc.
- Get buy-in and feedback from key constituencies in the organization, and conduct community consultations well in advance of the survey launch
- Share ownership of the process with all stakeholders, and work collaboratively to make sure the process is transparent
- Address participants’ privacy protection and confidentiality concerns
- Develop a plan that contains realistic expectations and reflects the organization’s structure, resources, technology, culture, needs and circumstances
- Invest in a well developed communication strategy
- Update data on a periodic basis, and do follow-up
- Strive for high return/response rates to get the most accurate picture.
 University of Guelph, “Employment Equity Survey March 6 to 10” (1 March 2000), online: News@Guelph www.uoguelph.ca/atguelph/00-03-01/articles/equity.html [EE Survey Article].
 Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Federal Contractors Program, online: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada www.hrsdc.gc.ca.
 All full-time and temporary employees located on the U of G’s main campus were surveyed, as were employees not located in Guelph, i.e. those working at the University’s agricultural colleges (Alfred, Kemptville and Ridgetown campuses) and at the U of G’s research stations.
 See U of G’s Survey Package on the OHRC’s website for a list of representatives who sat on the 2007 EE Committee.
 The return rate is defined as the percentage of surveys returned either blank or completed.
 The response rate is defined as the percentage of those who completed the survey.
 University of Guelph, Employment Equity Systems Review Summary Report, (2002) at 2, online: www.uoguelph.ca/hre/eep/docs/esrevieweng.pdf [Systems Review Report]. For more details about the 2000 Workforce Census results see University of Guelph, Report of Employment Equity Workforce Analysis (2000), online: www.uoguelph.ca/hre/eep/docs/eewfa_eng.pdf [2000 Census Results].
 The employment systems review aimed to identify and remove barriers for “equity seeking groups” at the University who have historically been disadvantaged in employment. This included those who fell within the four designated groups and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and transsexual persons.” Systems Review Report, supra note 61 at 1.
 For example, the University’s climate was “generally positive,” the senior administration was strongly committed to employment equity, and equity considerations had been incorporated into faculty hiring policies and procedures to make the process more streamlined and transparent. Ibid. at 2.
 Ibid. at 8.
 For U of G to get the support and high participation rate it required, the EE Committee was aware that its organizational culture required a process that was highly consultative and transparent to succeed.