Between 2018 and 2022, U of T’s proportion of Indigenous-identifying employees increased by just 0.2 per cent. To increase its staff diversity, U of T has been undertaking various initiatives, such as allocating more substantial funding to hire Indigenous scholars and creating research networks that specifically support Indigenous researchers. 

Despite this, Indigenous employees at U of T continue to face issues. Not only have improvements in Indigenous representation been slow, but the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) states that these employees do not receive the same salary levels. 

EDI report indicates slow progress

Since 1996, U of T has published an annual report revealing information about its employment equity. This report uses data from U of T’s Employment Equity Survey of faculty and staff, and its 2022 data was integrated into the university’s equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) report that year. Around 91 per cent of U of T employees chose to respond to the survey for the latest issue of the report, although this percentage includes respondents who selected “I choose not to answer to this survey.” Only 73.1 per cent of U of T employees actually answered the survey questions. 

According to the 2022 report, 1.2 per cent of all university employees identify as Indigenous. Representation is slightly higher at U of T’s St. George campus than at Scarborough or Mississauga. However, this number is quite similar to previous years’ statistics — the proportion of employees identifying as Indigenous remained at 1.2 per cent in 2021.

The report states that more Indigenous staff have been awarded promotions than in previous years. Six respondents — 0.8 per cent of the total number of Indigenous employees — reported receiving one. Meanwhile, 2021 employment equity data noted that there had been less than five promotions in that previous year.

Initiatives to improve Indigenous representation among employees

While progress may seem slow, the university has tried improving Indigenous representation in its faculty and staff in recent years. The EDI report highlighted measures such as hiring an advisor to the Principal to help develop the university’s initiatives to support Indigenous staff and students, as well as an Indigenous Community Engagement Coordinator at the Hart House.

Furthermore, U of T launched the Diversity in Academic Hiring Fund in 2016, which aims to increase the number of Black and Indigenous hires at the university. The initiative has funded 100 faculty positions, with U of T allocating funds to hire 30 more people through this program in the last fiscal year. 

Another measure the university is using to increase representation is the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. This award funds up to two years of a postdoctoral fellowship salary and employer costs and is available for seven Indigenous and/or Black students annually. Some years have seen as many as nine students supported through the fellowship. This program exists primarily to increase the hiring of postdocs from underrepresented groups, and some recipients have chosen to stay on at U of T through assistant professorships. 

The university is also working to foster a stronger community of Indigenous researchers and scholars. For example, it launched the Indigenous Research Network in 2021. This initiative seeks to connect faculty members and staff across all three campuses who identify as Indigenous or conduct research in this field so that researchers are less isolated and have greater access to grants and training practices. 

Salary discrimination and Indigenous faculty

Despite some improvements in representation, the UTFA states that faculty members continue to face salary discrimination based on their Indigeneity. 

In August 2019, the association began looking into filing a grievance against the university for monetary disparities specific equity groups face at U of T. They hoped to seek retroactive payments to address discrimination while establishing a permanent fund to ensure these employees are paid fairly in the future. 

UTFA’s president, Terezia Zorić, and the chair of its Equity Committee, Arjuman Siddiqui, wrote in an email to The Varsitythat the UTFA is currently waiting on the administration to provide data on the demographics and salary amounts for UTFA members, which the association needs to present a formal grievance before the Grievance Review Panel. 

“Gaining access to data that is under the control of the Administration is a perennial problem for UTFA, which we have been partially successful in challenging more recently,” Zorić and Siddiqui wrote. They hope U of T will provide them with the required data in the next two months. 

The university declined to provide additional comment about the grievance at the time of publication.

More broadly, Siddiqui and Zorić wrote that the UTFA’s priorities lie in pursuing equity for Indigenous members, including respecting those members’ preferences for how the UTFA supports them. They wrote that the UTFA is currently working to create an Indigenous caucus.