Frequently Asked Questions

Whether equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is familiar or new to you, you may have questions about how best to implement or understand concepts of EDI in your life and work. 

Here you will find some answers to common questions that might pop up in EDI learning. Use these as a starting point for learning, or a perspective to accompany the learning you've already begun. 

Have more questions or concerns that aren't addressed here? Submit your question to the Anonymous Question Box and get an answer.

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Interested in reading more about EDI? There's lots of resources available, and we encourage you to use more than one source in your learning. Check out our EDI resources page to get started.

EDI Resources for Learning

1) What's the difference between equity and equality; diversity and inclusion?

Both equity and equality have to do with fairness, but they are different approaches to it. Equality is treating everyone the same way, or giving similar opportunities or chances. Equity is treating everyone in the way that considers the uniqueness of their person and circumstances with the end goal that everyone gets the (different) resources and support that they need to succeed. In other words, equity means to understand the differences and the specific needs of each individual and to give opportunities and considerations so that individuals may achieve similar outcomes.

Diversity is about having many different voices and perspectives, such as gender, ethnicity, and age. Inclusion is about ensuring all voices are truly and fully considered and integrated, such as ensuring everyone gets an equal opportunity to contribute or speak. It’s possible to have inclusion without diversity and diversity without inclusion so that’s why you often hear about both talked about together.

Taken all together, EDI is about promoting respect among all peoples and supporting everyone’s right to exist as an individual within our community. You are likely already incorporating many aspects of EDI in your daily life: respecting religious celebrations, days off, or prayer time; dedicating more time to mentor a student who is struggling with a concept or task; asking if someone prefers their full legal name or something else; supporting bathroom access for women in male-dominated spaces; recognizing the importance of mental health in your peers and/or students; and many more. EDI is not something alien; it’s part of our daily life. Equity, diversity, and inclusion are some of the ways that we formally talk about those concepts and commit to pursuing that ideal of respect and cooperation.

2) Does EDI mean that I have to favour hiring people based on their race, gender, disability, or otherwise?

We must not favour hiring individuals based on age, race, gender, etc., whether in bias for or against any group. Hiring with an EDI mindset means assessing each applicant with an open mind, and setting aside any preconceived ideas based on metrics of race, gender, disability, etc. This can mean that you will need to consider if any applications require special attention due to inherent bias against the applicant throughout his or her or their life that might mean they have not been provided the opportunity to excel as much as another, more privileged applicant.

One important facet to keep in mind when hiring is unconscious bias. Without conscious effort, it can be difficult to recognize when we’re showing preference for a particular type of person, and that can bias the hiring process. Often interviewers, not just in academia, favour applicants that they imagine they could get along with personally. In turn, that often means favouring applicants who seem similar or familiar to the interviewer, whether that means shared life experiences, age, race, or any number of social factors. 

Equitable hiring doesn’t mean specifically hiring people to make your work group diverse. It means that you’re working to recognize and correct any unconscious biases that you might not know are at play, so everyone gets a fair chance regardless of who’s interviewing them, how different they are from the norm of the field, and trying not to perpetuate patterns of privilege that can make equally-talented people look unequal. It is important to use a wide range of metrics when evaluating applicants.

3) I work in STEM - why am I expected to include EDI in my research?

It can be easy to think that STEM has nothing to do with EDI. However, efforts to consider and support EDI are very important in the progress of STEM fields and work. As there continues to be a noticeable, disproportionate large majority of men in STEM, women may feel reluctant to continue their studies or work in their fields, or choose to transition to a different field. Efforts to support women in STEM are valuable to addressing this issue, while choosing not to acknowledge this reality means perpetuating the status quo and missing out on many valuable contributions from a large proportion of the population. 

Many STEM fields are home to researchers from a broad range of backgrounds and ethnicities. Without acknowledging EDI in your work environment, it may likely lead to conflicts and working issues if differences of experience, norms, and opinion are not thoughtfully and openly considered and planned for.

EDI should also be considered and incorporated in the research process itself, from inception of the work until its completion. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) affirms this stance in their resource, Equity, diversity and inclusion considerations at each stage of the research process. In their words: 

“This document is designed to assist the research communities served by NSERC with embedding equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) considerations relevant to each or any stage of the research process… : research questions, design of the study, methodology and data collection, analysis and interpretation, dissemination of results…

“Considering equity, diversity and inclusion in the research process, where relevant, promotes research excellence by making it more relevant to society as a whole, ethically sound, rigorous, reproducible, and useful.”

Integrating EDI is important to fields across the spectrum, from social sciences, to health, to natural sciences. For example, when developing a product or technology, it is important to incorporate the needs of people from all communities and backgrounds. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is often designed around a male body, whether it’s masks, body armour, or footwear, resulting in poor fit and lower efficacy for women users, or even increased risk of injury. University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics found that women wearing seatbelts in car crashes were 73% more likely to receive serious injuries than men. Oversights like these are much more likely to happen when EDI is not purposefully considered and incorporated into every stage of research planning. Promoting EDI within research teams will help to bring together different perspectives when conducting the research or engaging the public. 

4) What do I do if I notice an EDI-related issue in my group? 

You might be wondering what EDI-related issues look like. They can arise from any number of things - differences in viewpoint and experience, or cultural norms, expectations, etc. They might also present in many ways. Some examples are: friction or arguments between group members, microaggressions that build up over time, avoidance of each other or the group, cliquish behaviours, withdrawal from the group. There may be other forms of bullying or discomfort from certain individuals in the lab who feel excluded or isolated. If you can, try to watch for these feelings within your group.

There are many reasons why an EDI-related issue might occur. The persons or circumstances are embedded by an unconscious bias that is resulting in the issue. To address a circumstance like this, education might be the solution. There are many resources for EDI here. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to have a personal chat with the team member(s) involved and see if you can resolve the issue. 

If you are uncomfortable approaching your group, try approaching a group leader (e.g. principal investigator) who might be an ally and feel more comfortable bringing this issue to the group. If you are uncomfortable with approaching anyone in your group, submit a request to the FES Anonymous Question Box if you would like to remain anonymous.

In some circumstances there might be a conscious belief that has EDI implications and education does not foster tolerance and acceptance from the group and all its members. In this case, if education does not improve the situation, please contact the Office of the Student Ombuds or reach out to the Postdoctoral Office regarding the dispute.

5) I’m having conflicts with my co-workers, who do I talk to?

There are many reasons why conflicts occur within working groups. Luckily, many can be resolved with open, unbiased conversation about the issue with the involved co-worker(s) in a safe space. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to have a personal chat with the person(s) involved and see if you can resolve the issue. If it’s an issue of unconscious bias, education might be the solution. There are many resources for EDI here.  

If you are uncomfortable approaching your group, try approaching a group leader (e.g. principal investigator) who might be an ally and feel more comfortable helping resolve this issue within the group. If you are uncomfortable with approaching anyone in your group, submit a request to the FES Anonymous Question Box if you would like to remain anonymous.

In some circumstances, the conflict might not be resolved without outside support. In this case, please contact the Office of the Student Ombuds or reach out to the Postdoctoral Office regarding the dispute.

6) What is unconscious bias? 

Biases can be thought of as preferences or a prejudice for or against one thing, characteristic,  person, or group compared to another that are usually unfair. These preferences can have positive or negative consequences. An unconscious bias is one that you don’t realize you have, your blind spots. They are automatically triggered responses to whatever (whoever) it is that you have a bias towards that is outside of your control or awareness. Some examples are “she is too young” or “he is close to retirement so basically out the door anyways.” 

Unconscious biases are part of being human; everyone has unconscious biases because everyone has been socialized, is part of one (or many) cultures, has experiences, has been influenced by institutions and other people, and has memories. Sometimes these biases don’t manifest as thinking but as feelings. For example, you might feel more at ease around people who are more similar to yourself, whether in age, experience, etc. 

To address these, think about what is going on internally, in your mind, in different circumstances. Get in touch with what is happening in the moment and ask yourself “how does this feel?” You might be surprised to realize you have feelings that suggest unconscious biases you hadn’t considered or didn’t realize you had! And that’s okay: being mindful that you, like all people, have biases is the first and most important step to make sure your biases are not problematic.

7) Why do people often have pronouns in their email signatures now? Do I have to do that as well?

There are a variety of reasons for people to include their personal pronouns in their email signature. Some people choose to have their pronouns in their email signature because they are a nonbinary or transgender individual, and want to make it easier for their coworkers to use the proper gender when speaking about them. Other people have unisex or gender-ambiguous names and want to make it easier for their coworkers to use the proper gender when speaking about them. A large portion of people include pronouns in their email signature so that conversations about gender are normalized, which makes is easier for nonbinary individuals to discuss their preferred pronouns and reduce their negative experiences of misgendering.

You don’t need to include your pronouns in your email signature, the choice is yours.

8) What do I do if I don't know someone's gender? Or if I misgender them?

In many cases, we assume that knowing someone’s gender is critical. However, many gender activists are challenging that norm, as being asked to clarify one’s gender continuously can feel very isolating to individuals who present in non-traditional ways or are still themselves discovering or becoming familiar with their identities. So, the first step is to ask yourself if you really need to know. Often, someone’s gender should have no relevance to your relationship with them or the task at hand. 

If you do find yourself needing the information, ask them, politely, how to address them or how they prefer to be named. Once someone has told you how they are addressed, it’s important to respect their identity. Use the pronouns that are used by the individual in referring to themselves, or the pronouns they tell you to use. Another thought in the gender rights movement is to avoid the term preferred pronouns as someone’s pronouns are not a matter of preference, they are a matter of fact, decided by the individual.  

If you make a mistake with someone’s gender, remember that it’s not about you. Humans are imperfect, accidents happen, and if this accident was unintentional, striving to improve oneself next time is the best response. Avoid focusing on yourself in the moment, whether it’s getting flustered and embarrassed, affronted at being corrected, or overly guilty. In most situations you should correct yourself and move on, similar to if you accidentally used a wrong name. Drawing a lot of attention to yourself and the error can make the person who’s been misgendered feel even more awkward and excluded.

9) What is a safe space and why does it matter?

Safe spaces are where people feel that they are able to express themselves without fear of judgement. This is especially important for people who may have different ideas or life experiences than other members of the group. 

Often when trying to grow a culture for your group where people feel safe, important things to consider are if people feel comfortable being different from other members of the group, whether they feel comfortable expressing ideas that conflict with the general thought of the group, and if they feel comfortable choosing not to share certain parts of their experience with the group.

Safe spaces can be locations like an office, or a conversation between individuals, or anything or anyplace that supports the comfort and safety of individuals. It’s not about enforcing rules, but rather allowing individuals to express themselves freely, make mistakes and learn from them without feeling targeted. A safe space allows people to grow. If an individual accidentally offends someone in a safe space, they should not be made to feel lesser or bad, as long as they are doing their best and strive to correct that behaviour. 

It is important that people feel safe in the spaces that we collaborate in because if someone does not feel safe, they are less likely to share their ideas or experience with the group and that can have a huge negative effect on the work. By allowing everyone to feel safe, more people are able to contribute to collaborative projects.

10) I’m worried about my pregnancy affecting my position. How do I manage pregnancy and family care as a student (or postdoc)?

First, you are under no obligation to discuss your specific health with your supervisor. If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, you should feel free to discuss your pregnancy and parental leave plan ahead of time. However, if your research involves situations or variables that could impact either your health or the health of the child, we urge you to discuss options with your supervisor to ensure your safety, at whatever time you or your health practitioner deem it advisable. 

Should you choose to disclose a pregnancy, for health or personal reasons, FES supports that adopting required measures to protect your safety and health during your pregnancy are not a reason to terminate your position. Your rights are affirmed with the following:  

The Alberta Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, including pregnancy and maternity. Denying or restricting employment opportunities in hiring, promotions, or transfers because of a woman's pregnancy contravenes the Act.
-Alberta Human Rights Act; Pregnancy, and maternity/paternity leave section

Graduate students have multiple resources available for support during pregnancy and parental leave. The Graduate Student Association (GSA) Collective Bargaining Agreement information can be found here. Parental leaves for postdoctoral fellows are often dependent on the grant agreements through which PDFs are funded, though general advice can be found here on how to apply for employment insurance if leave is not supported by their grant. Often, length of leave can depend on the specific grant, and supervisor.

There are also extenuating circumstances in cases of high-risk pregnancies, medical emergencies, or health issues. Certain issues can arise, including restrictions on working alone or working after normal office hours. Often, a doctor’s note can be acquired in these cases to support safety measures that could affect working conditions, or to extend leave. All members of the UofA community are welcome to visit the University Health Centre (UHC) for medical care and advice.

Programs exist on-campus and off-campus to aid with childcare. On-campus, graduate students can apply for GSA Child Care Grants, and postdocs can refer to these Campus Life and Resources. You can also refer to Child Care Resources for Faculty and Staff, including the six non-profit Affiliated Child Care options available on campus.

PDFs employed by a Future Energy Systems research project are encouraged to contact their project’s Principal Investigator and contact FES directly for information about supports for parental leave, including adoption, that FES can help connect you with.

11) How do I discuss my mental health with my supervisor?

If you have a good relationship with your supervisor, talk to them. Optimally, your supervisor is there to support you and your wellbeing, and you should feel free to lean on their mentorship as needed. However, not all working relationships are equally open, and that might mean you’re less comfortable discussing your mental health with your supervisor. In this case, we encourage you to seek additional support and resources that can help you with your mental health or support you in your conversation with your supervisor. 

One good first step on your mental health journey is to talk to a doctor - your own or at the University Health Centre (UHC). You can also seek a psychologist, therapist, or psychiatrist. The UHC can help connect you to a Mental Health Consultant, as part of the Edmonton Oliver Primary Care Network (EOPCN). With all mental health professionals, the importance of finding someone that fits your needs, personality, etc., can’t be understated. If you meet someone and it doesn’t feel right, try someone else. 

Here are some other resources that can support you in understanding and improving your mental health:

In cases where you feel you cannot continue your studies, graduate students are able to apply for an Approved Leave of Absence. Information on this process can be found here.