Recording a Benchmark: Unpacking the U of A’s First Workforce Diversity Census

Four members of the Workforce Diversity Census Advisory Group unpack the data and discuss the impact of the U of A's inaugural census.

Evergreen Circle on South Campus

Canadians are in the midst of a cultural shift - one that changes how we recognize who we’ve been in the past while we move to better understand who we are as a society at this moment. Frank conversations around reconciliation as well as naming and dismantling systemic barriers related to racism, sexism, sexuality, and ableism are rightly furthering our collective focus on the value of equity, diversity and inclusivity.

This has led to a movement at Canadian post-secondaries - including the University of Alberta - to better see how truly diverse their populations are. As Chris Andersen puts it, in the context of data analysis, “when we value something, we measure it.” And that’s exactly what the U of A did with the launch of the inaugural Workforce Diversity Census. With the results now recorded, we asked Helly Goez, Chris Andersen, Deborah Williams, and Wendy Rodgers – all members of the Workforce Diversity Census Advisory Group—to unpack the data and to discuss the impact of recording this benchmark.

You can read the full report online. Here are a few of the key takeaways:

1. The turn out

In November and December of 2019, the university’s inaugural census went out to more than 10,000 faculty and staff across our five campuses; 59.6% of our community responded. As Deborah points out, “60% response is incredibly high” and is reflective of the U of A community’s willingness to participate in the exercise. This provides the U of A with a benchmark to compare and track future progress.

2. Representation














Latin American


South Asian




West Asian


Another Visible Minority*


Indigenous /

Percentages total more than 100% since Census participants could check more than one answer.

The 2019 data provides us with a starting point to see what representation looks like within our faculty and staff. For instance, in the 2019 Workforce Diversity Census, 3.2% of U of A respondents self-identified as Indigenous/Aboriginal. 22.8% of respondents self-identified as a member of a visible minority.*

*Does not include individuals who self-identified as Indigenous as this was asked in a separate question.

Looking at data like this, Chris explains that a census represents "a particular way of looking at the world." The questions that we ask matter because they provide space for respondents to see themselves reflected in the questions or not. "Because of the questions asked this time around, the data tells us a lot about the diversity of the community at the University of Alberta." We're able to see a snapshot of what representation looks like among our faculty and staff because they saw themselves reflected in the questions asked.

3. There was a willingness to be seen and to self-identify

Protecting privacy was of the utmost importance for the census team. As Helly explains, “a lot of discussion went on around confidentiality: how the data would be stored and analyzed, and how to protect people’s confidentiality.” 

Without a point of comparison to adjudicate any trends yet, Helly points out that there is one takeaway that can be found when looking at the benchmark numbers: “more people felt comfortable self-identifying in terms of their gender identity, their ethnic background, and so forth. Even a few years ago, people were way less open to self-identifying. This reflects some positive societal changes.”

Feeling safe needed to be matched by also feeling seen. That’s why the language of the survey really mattered and relied on the input of “a cross-campus working group that had great experts and advocates like Chris and Helly, and consulted with members of the EDI Scoping Group,” Deborah explains. Helly adds that “we wanted the words to invoke a sense of inclusivity so that people would be able to find themselves represented.”

4. No surprise, there are gender gaps

Gender is one measurement that the university was able to compare to existing employment statistics. Because of this, we know that men were less likely to complete the census, while participants who identified as women were more likely to complete the census. 

Gender Identity





Gender-fluid or non-binary


Another Gender Identity


As a result, existing HR statistics were included as an added comparison in the report. 

The benchmark data did highlight a gap that reflects the Canadian gender gap - with women being the majority of employees at the university but a minority of the “Faculty, FSO, Librarian, Excluded Academic Administrators” category. Since 2019 the university has continued to change, there have of course been positions lost, but there have also been new hiring policies implemented that are intended to further encourage more equitable, inclusive, and diverse hiring and career progression opportunities. Wendy notes that “we won’t know whether or not any movement is happening on this until we have additional data to compare the current data too.”

5. What’s next?

In the more immediate future, the continued collection of data. Recognizing that there were individuals who may have missed out on completing the census in Fall 2019, either because they were not here yet or they may have simply ran out of time, etc., there is an effort to invite new participants. For instance, we are surveying new employees every quarter now. 

And anyone who would like to update their information by completing a new questionnaire is welcome to. To do so, please email to indicate your interest. Expressions of interest received by the end of June will be included in an August administration.

In addition, the university is now working with students to create a census that will help us establish bench-marks to better understand our learner population. 

6. The Possibilities of the U of A for Tomorrow

As is always the case in a time of change, there have been concerns that the transformations needed to carry the university forward could lead to a loss of diversity within our workforce. Recognizing this, Wendy admits that given the realities around gender ratios and employment agreements, a gender imbalance is expected with regard to position disruptions. With this in mind, Wendy assures that university leadership knows and accepts the responsibility “to make sure restructuring embraces and protects equity, inclusivity, and diversity within our community.” Restructuring will provide opportunities to encourage individuals who may have historically been under-represented in certain roles to apply for new positions that offer career advancement. The updated hiring policy and increased bias awareness training will help ensure this during restructuring and in the years that follow. Chris explains that “part of the work of the census is to make sure that we are able to maintain our EDI and Indigenous Initiatives goals going forward in the context of the U of A for Tomorrow.” Helly adds,“And to help guide the goals of restructuring through the lens of EDI.” 

This week the university will be sharing the U of A for Tomorrow’s EDI and Indigenous Initiatives principles. These principles will help inform the restructuring of units, opportunities for career progression, and the reduction of structural barriers to inclusion. The successes of these efforts, as well as those goals outlined in the U of A’s EDI Strategic Plan will be monitored as we continue to move towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. 

In Summer 2021, the EDI Scoping Group will be updating the goals of the Institutional EDI Strategic Plan.