Jan. 19, 2022

How to create equitable, not identical, pathways to success

Equitable Pathways Working Groups identify barriers faced by our campus community

Diversity makes our campus community stronger and enhances excellence in research, teaching and learning, and our workplaces.

But for members of equity-deserving groups — women, Indigenous Peoples, visible/racialized persons, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ2+ persons — the pathways to an equitable experience are not always readily accessible. We have not yet reached inclusive excellence.

“Most scholars agree with the big-picture perspective that equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility on our campus are important. However, we also know from experience that the big picture is not always reflected in everyday practices,” says Dr. Malinda Smith, vice-provost and associate vice-president research (equity, diversity and inclusion).

"We are not always attentive to the aspirations for higher education, the stories and the lived experiences of members of the five equity-deserving groups, and we have more knowledge of some groups than others.

“We are committed to moving beyond a one-dimensional and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to EDI by proactively identifying the needs of each group in a way that better helps us create more equitable pathways to success, and understand similarities, differences and intersectional experiences within our university,” she says. “This is important because equity, diversity and inclusion and Indigenous engagement are foundational commitments and practices at our institution, and they must be woven through everything that we do.

Ultimately, our aim must be to ensure that all members of the campus community feel like this is a place in which they can flourish.

To examine and map the specific experiences, Smith has led the creation of seven Equitable Pathways Working Groups (EPWGs) that will identify where we have made progress, as well as any enduring barriers and obstacles to the entry into, and success within, the university.

The EPWGs aim to chart how we can ensure the full participation of members of the five equity-deserving groups in all facets of campus life. Their findings will inform campus action plan for the Dimensions EDI pilot specifically, and equity, diversity, and inclusion in the research ecosystem more broadly.  

“These working groups ensure we close the knowledge gap by being attentive to different dimensions of equity, including equity among equity-deserving groups,” Smith says.

Focus on research ecosystem

The main objective of the Dimensions pilot program is to foster transformational change within the research ecosystem at Canadian post-secondary institutions. It will do so by creating a structure of metrics to assess an institution's commitment to improving EDI, culminating in institutions applying for a Dimensions Award. UCalgary is one of 17 institutions participating in the pilot to develop the assessment program and will be applying for a Dimensions Award in the late summer/fall 2022. 

“While the focus of Dimensions is on the research ecosystem, the University of Calgary is a research-intensive institution as a whole,” Smith says. “We need to expand our perception of the research ecosystem so that its influence and impact on campus experiences is better understood.”

Embedding EDI and Indigenous Engagement in the research ecosystem will help to ensure that we are being proactive in increasing them in other areas of the university at the same time. “EDI and Indigenous Engagement doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” says Smith.

“By embedding these practices into all aspects of talent identification, recruitment and selection, for example, we can have a positive impact on related areas like student experience, funding decisions, and award selection.” Examples of ongoing initiatives include the Equity, Diversity and Inclusions in Research and Teaching Awards Pilot Plan and the work of the Indigenous Research Support Team.

Working groups formed for equity-deserving people

A working group has been formed for each equity-deserving group: women, Indigenous People, LGBTQ2+, persons with disabilities, and visible/racialized persons. Indigenous Peoples are one of the Equitable Pathways Working Groups, and the work of this group is shaped by the UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, ii' taa'poh'to'p ,and the pursuit of parallel pathways and ethical spaces of engagement. 


The groups are composed of a chair or co-chairs, members of the campus community from all areas (students, faculty, staff, support staff, management and professional staff, and postdoctoral scholars), and all equity-deserving groups. There are also two additional working groups, one focused on the language of EDI and a second focused on EDI data.

“Disaggregated data is key to our efforts to map our progress over time, which is why we have a EDI data working group devoted to it,” explains Smith. “Our expanded Employment Equity Census and new Student Equity Census are providing us with insights about the overall experiences of our campus community as well as the specific experiences of equity-deserving groups community.”

In addition to quantitative data, the working groups will use a variety of methods to answer qualitative questions about each group’s experience at UCalgary, including, but not limited to:

  • What is already being done at UCalgary for each equity-deserving group?
  • What are the similar and different barriers and obstacles faced by each equity-deserving group?
  • What supports, services, awards, opportunities do we have for each equity-deserving group?

The information that these groups seek will be data driven, research informed, and reflect the stories and lived experiences of our campus community. The work will take into account the nuances and intersections within each group's experiences.

The working groups will also focus on the language of EDI, and how members of equity-deserving groups want to self-identify and be understood. “Language is evolving, and much of what was once considered ‘standard legislated language’ is now out of date,” says Smith.

“We need to be attentive to ensuring that we have a consistent set of terms that we can use for benchmarking that takes into consideration how people wish to be spoken about and perceived. Our Language of EDI working group will be looking at this closely and developing useful tools and guides for our campus community.”

Those who want to get involved with any of the seven Equitable Pathway Working Groups can visit the Dimensions web page and contact equity@ucalgary.ca  for information and  opportunities.