University of Guelph

Founded in 1964, the University of Guelph (the 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 because of its dedication to student learning and innovative research.[1]

In 1990, U of G administered a full-scale workforce census and set up an employment equity policy and plan, following work that started in 1987 when the University made a formal commitment to the Federal Contractors Program (the FCP).” [2]  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.[3]

This means employers must work with employees to identify and remove systemic barriers to selecting, hiring, promoting and training four designated groups – Aboriginal Peoples, members of visible minorities, women and people with disabilities. Employers must also take steps to increase the participation of these groups at all levels of employment by, for example, collecting internal workforce information, or internal representation data, via a self-identification survey that meets the legal requirements of the Employment Equity Act and Regulations. Since then, U of G has conducted a full workforce census in 2000 and taken steps to promote equity and achieve a representative workforce.[4]

Goals of the workforce census

The key goals of the workforce census were to help U of G:

  • Get an accurate picture of the representation 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, without consideration of issues that are unconnected with the ability to perform
  • Adopt and implement, on an ongoing basis, employment equity strategies to identify and remove barriers to equity.

Challenges and planning

When planning how best to 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, 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 (full-time and temporary), located on and off-campus,[5] and making sure that the highest number complete the survey in the time given.

Preparing for the workforce census

Before launching the workforce census, U of G, with guidance from the FCP Criteria and the Guidelines, took the following steps:

  • Organized an Employment Equity Committee (the EE Committee) that was consulted on all major decisions about the survey including the communications, lay-out, content and processes. The EE Committee was chaired by the Director of U of G’s Human Rights and Equity Office (HREO) and made up of senior management members of the University’s academic and administrative operations, representatives from union and employee groups, the Director of the University’s Communications and Public Affairs department, and members from past EE committees at Guelph.
  • Tasked the EE Committee with advising the external consultants hired to do the employment equity research activities on campus, which included the survey of the University’s workforce in 2000, an employment systems review to identify systemic barriers and the development of an employment equity plan.
  • Identified a one-week time period for “Census Week” during which the majority of employees were typically available.
  • Designed 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 to respond to questions.
  • Developed key messages to address the concerns of non-designated groups - on how everyone benefits from employment equity, the goal of identifying and removing barriers to employment, retention and promotion so that all employees are treated equitably, and that anti-discrimination steps would apply to all groups facing systemic discrimination.
  • Created survey packages for all on- and off-campus employees. The package included a survey form, a return envelope, a message from the HREO Director, information hand-outs like frequently asked questions, contact information, U of G’s Code of Confidentiality and a cover letter endorsed by U of G’s President and the presidents of all of the union and employee groups.
  • Addressed privacy concerns by stressing that no individuals would be identified, the information collected would remain confidential and separate from regular personnel records, and that the data collected would only be used for employment equity purposes.
  • Designed a voluntary survey that was short and easy to complete. Alternative accessible formats could be requested, including English and French options.
  • Developed special pin numbers for all employees so that there was some means of identifying them when they returned the survey. After the 2000 census, the option of completing the survey on-line was made available, requiring a Userid, password, and ID number.
  • Maintained strong leadership, support and collaboration among EE Committee members to guide the project to its completion.

Administering the workforce census

  • U of G’s “Census Week” took place March 6-10, 2000.
  • The census 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.
  • An external consulting company administered the census, collected, and analyzed the data off-site, and reported the overall results to U of G.
  • HREO staff and the consultants were available to answer questions or concerns.
  • Since then, U of G has collected, followed up and updated the survey data itself.

Some key results

  • In 2000, the return rate[6] was 74% and the response rate[7] was 70% for regular full-time employees.
  • U of G’s current return and response rates are 80% or higher, and a bit lower in the case of temporary employees.[8]
  • The external consultants analyzed and interpreted the data, and compared the results to external labour market availability data (Statistics Canada census data).[9]  
  • The key results from the data analysis 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.[10]
  • 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.[11]
  • The employment systems review revealed many positive features of U of G’s work environment that supported employment equity goals.[12] However, the review also found inconsistencies, policies, practices and some elements of the workplace culture that negatively affected employees, particularly equity-seeking groups.[13]

Acting on workforce census results

  • A review of the workforce analysis and the employment systems review was shared with the EE Committee and circulated to the broader employee population through their representatives on the EE committee, employee newsletters, list-serves, meetings, university newspapers and the HREO website.
  • U of G used the consultants’ findings and the EE Committee recommendations to develop an employment equity plan for 2003-2007 (the EE Plan). This EE Plan included:
    • Senior leadership’s ongoing commitment to employment equity
    • Setting and communicating equity goals for hiring in underrepresented areas, as appropriate.
    • Tailoring outreach and mentoring programs for designated groups that are under-represented, and groups that are historically disadvantaged in employment.
    • Developing and delivering equity training for managers and supervisors. 
    • Continuing to offer staff human rights and equity training courses
    • Holding managers and senior managers formally accountable for meeting goals, monitoring and reporting on progress.
  • The workforce census results are stored in a database, which U of G regularly updates by providing surveys to employees who are new or who want to change previously submitted information.
  • Follow-up is done on a periodic basis to communicate with employees who did not return a form.
  • The entire survey package is currently available in an on-line format.
  • U of G’s new employment equity plan for 2008-2012 can be found on U of G’s website at www.uoguelph.ca

Best practices and lessons learned

  • Before starting to collect data, develop a framework that addresses 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.[14]
  • Design an appropriate survey instrument, consider what kind of data is to be gathered, and what your organization is prepared to do with the data once it is collected.[15]
  • Invest in a well-developed communications strategy.
  • Update data on a periodic basis and do follow-up.
  • Strive for high return/response rates to get the most accurate picture of the workforce and to meet the expectations for establishing a successful employment equity program.


[1] University of Guelph website, online: www.uoguelph.ca/. In 2008, U of G was ranked by Maclean's magazine as the fourth-best comprehensive university in Canada (“comprehensive" indicating institutions with significant research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees): See Maclean’s, “Comprehensive Rankings” (2008), online: Macleans.ca oncampus.macleans.ca
[2] 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.
[3] Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Federal Contractors Program, online: www.hrsdc.gc.ca [FCP Program].
[4] See Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Guidelines for the Employment Equity Act and Regulations: Guideline 4 Collection of Workforce Information, online: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada www.hrsdc.gc.ca [Guidelines].
[5] All full-time and temporary employees located on the U of G’s main campus were surveyed, as were employees not located in Guelph – those working at the University’s agricultural colleges (Alfred, Kemptville and Ridgetown campuses) and at the U of G’s research stations.
[6] The return rate is defined as the percentage of surveys returned either blank or completed. 
[7] The response rate is defined as the percentage of those who completed the survey.
[8] The FCP expectation is a return rate of 80% or greater.
[9] After 2000, the University’s Institutional Research and Planning office has assumed this responsibility.
[10] 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].
[11]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 people who fell within the four designated groups and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and transsexual persons.” Systems Review Report, supra note 10 at 1.
[12] 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.
[13] Ibid. at 8.
[14] For U of G to get the support and high participation rate it needed, the EE Committee was aware that its organizational culture required a process that was highly consultative and transparent in nature to succeed.
[15] U of G decided to design a short four-question employment equity workforce survey that complied with the Guidelines and provided a sufficient level of data that it, as an organization, was prepared to address and act on. The University decided not to ask other questions, such as about sexual orientation, because there was no comparator data available from Statistics Canada at the time. In a March 10, 2009 telephone interview with Commission staff, Patrick Case added that, “we did not want to commit to collecting data and not have hard answers as to what we were going to do with this data.” The Guidelines for the Employment Equity Act and Regulations and FCP Criteria also do not require contractors to collect such data. See FCP Program, supra note 3 and Guidelines, supra note 4.