A high rate of response to a self-identification survey ensures a more accurate picture of the composition of the workforce. Associations should inform their members on the importance and purpose of these surveys in addition to encouraging participation.
Nonetheless, some members may choose not to respond. A high number of non-respondents could signal there is low confidence in the institution collecting the data. Providing a formal option not to respond to the survey can help to show the difference between a lack of awareness about the survey versus a lack of trust in the institution when there are low response rates. An option for non-response could be at the beginning of the survey in addition to being offered at each question.
It is also possible to design questions for respondents to choose whether they want this information to be disclosed and considered. For example, Queen’s University’s applicant survey asks the following question:
Do you wish to self-identify?
- I do not wish to self-identify
- I wish to self-identify FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY. The information you provide below will be used only by the Equity Office and will not be shared with the Hiring Committee.
- I wish to self-identify FOR THE HIRING PROCESS STATISTICAL PURPOSES. The information you provide below may be used in the hiring process.
The employer, or association conducting the survey, should clearly communicate to respondents why this information is being collected, how it will be managed, and how it will be used. While an overarching statement about being committed to employment equity is important, institutions can go further by indicating concrete action plans for analysis of the data.
For example, the University of British Columbia (UBC) states the following about its self-identification survey:
The questionnaire is confidential but not anonymous. To be able to develop aggregate statistics based on occupational codes, the University must be able to link your equity data to the occupational code your position is classified under. In addition, [the Federal Contractors Program] (FCP) may ask the University to report on aggregate promotions, training, terminations, etc. To do so, the University must be able to track the changes. In all reports provided to the FCP and any internal University report, only aggregate data is used. Equity data on individuals is never reported to ensure confidentiality.10
Employers should also follow practices that have been found by the Treasury Board of Canada to contribute to a high response rate in departmental workforce surveys:
- communicating effectively to all employees the purpose and importance of self-identification;
- involving bargaining agents and other employee representatives in the survey process, especially in the communications strategy;
- distributing the self-identification forms to all employees;
- requesting all employees to return a completed form, whether or not they identify themselves as members of a designated group;
- developing and implementing an effective follow-up strategy with respect to the self-identification survey; and
- assuring employees that information identifying them as members of a designated group will be kept confidential.11
10 University of British Columbia, UBC’s Employment Equity & Census FAQs: https://equity.ubc.ca/how-we-can-help/employment-equity/employment-equity-census-faqs/#c7.
11 Government of Canada, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, “Appendix A: Employment Equity Policy guidelines,” Employment Equity Policy. 2017: https://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=12543.