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Defining underrepresentation

The identification of representation gaps involves comparing the existing workforce with an external availability estimate. In estimating external availability, it is important to decide whether to use representation by general population as a benchmark, or if using the labour market, to determine the geographic scope (i.e. local, regional or national).

The default geographic level of comparison for professional occupations is national labour market availability. Because the PhD or other terminal degree is the entry level requirement for most academic positions, there may be a temptation to consider the population that holds that qualification as the appropriate comparator. This could be counterproductive to equity goals by institutionalizing systemic barriers that can exist at the undergraduate and graduate level for Indigenous or equity-seeking group members for example, Black Canadians or Indigenous peoples are under-represented in PhD attainment in Canada, and setting a target by PhD representation in the labour market will not assist in diversification. Requirements instead of a PhD may be normal terminal degree for a discipline, years of experience within a discipline or traditional knowledge. For these reasons, representation for population may be the best target.

Representation by national population has been accepted as the target for the CRC program. However, associations may wish to negotiate additional criteria for employment equity programs. For example, where the student body or the regional population includes a higher percentage of Indigenous or racialized people than the national average, it may be appropriate to analyse the internal workforce in relation to the local external availability figure. The York University Faculty Association (YUFA) overcame significant employer resistance to using any figure other than national availability and negotiated an academic unit threshold of 25% for members of racialized groups. This represents a midway point between the national labour market and the labour market availability for the Greater Toronto Area.16

As the YUFA agreement disaggregates the “visible minority” category, it has also been able to negotiate for a review of the impact of existing employment practices on specific groups. In the Memorandum of Settlement for the 2018-2021 Collective Agreement, York University and YUFA agreed to strike a joint sub-committee to look at how best to increase the representation of Black faculty.17 Similarly, other academic staff associations have negotiated language to address members of groups historically disadvantaged in their province or region. The Employment Equity Program negotiated by the Dalhousie Faculty Association (DFA) specifies that, “Mi'kmaq people will be given preference among Aboriginal Peoples and African Nova Scotians will be given preference among visible minorities.”18

Defining underrepresentation and setting targets for people with disabilities poses a particular challenge, as people are often reluctant to disclose disability and there is limited national data. The CRC program uses 7.5% as a target for persons with disabilities. This is higher than estimated labour market availability of persons with disabilities, but lower than the estimated population in the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability.

While institutional employment equity programs aim to remedy underrepresentation within occupational categories, negotiated provisions generally consider representation at the level of the hiring unit or department. This addresses both underrepresentation in the bargaining unit as a whole, and patterns of underrepresentation within academic fields. For example, an institution where gender balance is achieved only because women make up a disproportionately high percentage of academic staff in education and a low percentage in engineering, could not be deemed to have met its employment equity obligations.

Brock University Faculty Association’s (BUFA) language provides an example:


20.01 General

a. The Parties agree that the University is better able to advance its essential functions, namely the pursuit, creation and dissemination of knowledge through teaching and research, if members of designated groups (Article 20.01 (a)(ii)) are well represented in the Bargaining Unit. To that end, the Parties agree to the principle of employment equity and agree to work toward increasing the proportions of women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, members of visible minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons in the Bargaining Unit through the appointment of members of designated groups to probationary and tenured/permanent and limited term positions while sustaining the University’s commitment to excellence. Consistent with that principle:

i. Where two or more applicants are equally qualified as the best candidate (see Article 19.02) or not substantially apart in their qualifications as the best candidate, and one of these applicants is a self-identified member of a designated group, then the applicant who is a self-identified member of a designated group shall be recommended for appointment.

ii. For the purposes of this Article, the Parties recognize women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons as designated groups. Any Department/Library/Centre with more than 40% representation of women (i.e. women hold more than 40% of the probationary and tenured/permanent positions in the Department/Library/Centre) will be deemed to have achieved a gender balance and, in this instance, the employment equity procedures in this Article will apply to candidates from the other designated groups (i.e. Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, members of visible minorities, and LGBTQ persons).19

16 Collective Agreement between York University and the York University Faculty Association (May 1, 2018 – April 30, 2021).
17 Memorandum of Settlement in the Matter of Negotiations for a Renewal Collective Agreement between York University and the York University Faculty Association.
18 Collective Agreement between the Board of Governors of Dalhousie University and the Dalhousie Faculty Association (July 1, 2017– June 30, 2020) Article 1.09.
19 Collective Agreement between Brock University and the Brock University Faculty Association (BUFA) (July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2020).

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