Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committees: Getting Started Guide

The purpose of this tool is to support units, departments, faculties, and divisions in forming equity, diversity and inclusion committees.

Overview

EDI committees can play a powerful role in supporting efforts to advance inclusion within your unit as well as at UBC more broadly. The purpose of this guide is to provide an overview of the role that Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) committees can play and offer guidance for developing one within your division, unit, or department at UBC. 

Within this guide you will find a variety of questions and suggestions to support the formation of an EDI committee that is reflective of your local context. Additionally, if you are already part of a well-established EDI committee, the best practices identified and suggestions offered within this guide can also help to enhance the inclusiveness and effectiveness of your existing committee.

All committees, newly formed and already existing, can also refer to the Indigenous Strategic Plan and the Building Inclusive UBC: An Inclusion Action Plan to ensure your committee is aligned with UBC’s strategic priorities around Indigeneity and EDI. 

The sections below are generally sequential but do not outline a standardized process: creating an EDI committee can be an iterative and non-linear process and taking the time to ensure it meets the needs of the unit and its constituents is often more important than meeting an unnecessary or artificially imposed timeline. 

As with any initiative, there are general practices that are foundational to making an EDI Committee more effective: 

  • Explore past and current EDI initiatives in your unit to learn from past experiences and better understand how the committee can support or connect to this work; 
  • Cultivate leadership buy-in and sponsorship at the initial stages and throughout the life of the committee to align with the unit’s strategic direction and to access potential resources;
  • Support the sustainability of the committee by remaining flexible and responsive to local and institutional changes over time while remaining committed to the committee’s EDI purpose and values;
  • Be cognizant of the timing of launching your committee, including academic, budgetary, and operational calendars.

 

An EDI Committee is a group of interested UBC community members within a unit, with a broad array of expertise and experience, willing to work together on issues or concerns related to equity, diversity, and inclusion work. An EDI Committee can be an intentional place to:  

  • support policy reviews and revisions; 
  • initiate educational programing; 
  • address and implement proactive strategies to mitigate concerns regarding human rights (i.e., religion, age, disability) and discrimination (i.e., racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism).

Defining Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

An EDI committee is best served when there is a solid foundation upon which to build. Start with situating the scope and mandate of the committee by developing a common understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion. By defining these concepts clearly, you create a shared understanding that will make it easier to hold members of the committee and the unit accountable to the various goals identified by the committee.

It is important to localize the definitions at the staff, faculty, and student levels, with participation of key historically, persistently, and systemically marginalized groups. As a starting point, over the past three years the Equity & Inclusion Office has supported the development of working definitions for equity, diversity, and inclusion, drawing from broad stakeholder groups, especially those who have been historically, systemically, or persistently marginalized within the UBC community. At the institutional level the following definitions have been used to guide EDI work within the Equity & Inclusion Office and across UBC. 

For more information on these terms and related terms, their use, context and source, access our equity and inclusion glossary of terms. 

Equity

Equity refers to achieving parity in policy, process, and outcomes for historically and/or currently underrepresented and/or marginalized people and groups while accounting for diversity. It considers power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts, and outcomes, in three main areas:

  • Representational equity: the proportional participation at all levels of an institution;
  • Resource equity: the distribution of resources in order to close equity gaps; and
  • Equity-mindedness: the demonstration of an awareness of, and willingness to, address equity issues.

Diversity

Differences in the lived experiences and perspectives of people that may include race, ethnicity, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical disability, mental disability, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, class, and/or socio-economic situations.

Inclusion

Inclusion is an active, intentional, and continuous process to address inequities in power and privilege, and build a respectful and diverse community that ensures welcoming spaces and opportunities to flourish for all., , 

Defining EDI in your own context 

Integrating these terms into the mandate and goals of the EDI Committee’s terms of reference will help to clarify the scope of the Committee’s work as well as where it needs to be located within the structure of the unit to best serve the constituents within the unit. The following are suggestions on how to integrate these terms into the work of your EDI Committee:

These terms are best defined when discussed in relation to your unit’s work and pre-existing structures. This provides an opportunity to create a shared understanding that can reflect the local context and unit culture as well as embed unit specific versions into the operation of the unit. At the same time, by defining these terms in relation to your own context, you may find that they also unlock the ability to challenge pre-existing structures when needed. 

The definitions should be considered when developing the EDI Committee and again revisited by the Committee to support both achievable and aspirational goals.

An EDI Committee should have a clear scope and mandate to direct its efforts and communicate its purpose. Part of developing the focus and goals will depend on the type of committee and how it will function within a unit. For instance, the committee may be a permanent fixture in the unit or a temporary group that disbands once the goals of the group have been achieved. According to Leon & Williams (2016), there are two general purposes for EDI committees and those that are a hybrid of the two.

A strategy focused EDI Committee is focused on providing direction and guidance on EDI policies, programs, initiatives and systems change. An EDI Committee developed to create a unit-specific Inclusion Action Plan would fall under this category.

An implementation focused EDI Committee is focused on ‘on-the-ground’ EDI initiatives such as the development of a program, events, workshops, analysis of data or reports. An EDI Committee with an implementation focus should secure funding in order to budget for successful initiatives.  

A hybrid focused EDI Committee is a combination of the above, either as it fluctuates between both or combines aspects of both, in order to achieve the unit’s specific EDI goals.

The following questions can help you assess the purpose of the EDI Committee:

  • What does furthering equity, diversity, and inclusion look like within your unit’s specific area of work? 
  • What goals and areas of the Inclusion Action Plan is your unit able to address, either directly or indirectly? Can these goals function as a purpose for the committee?
  • How could this committee support and deepen EDI work already happening in the unit?
  • Have previous research and reviews, such as the Workplace Experience Survey or Undergraduate Experience Survey results, identified areas to be addressed by your unit?  Have barriers to the success of all faculty, staff, and students been identified?  How could they be mitigated?
  • Are students, staff and faculty members within the unit given the opportunity or space to discuss EDI topics as part of the unit’s operations, strategic planning and overall functioning? Is there already an EDI lens or analysis embedded in the operation/function of the unit?
  • What would best advance your goals for equity, diversity, and inclusion – a focus on culture, a focus on systems/structures, or a combination of the two?

The answers to these questions can provide insights as to the need for a strategy focused, implementation focused, or a hybrid EDI committee within your unit. Once a purpose and focus are identified, it would be ideal to ascertain the structure, location, and authority of the EDI committee.  

Additionally, creating or developing an EDI Committee can elevate your unit’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion and connect resources (financial and human) to the work of the committee. To help generate the scope and mandate for EDI Committees the following suggestions can be reviewed:

  • Provide a dedicated opportunity for units to work across and break down organizational silos and develop holistic responses to EDI issues. 
  • Make visible the work that many marginalized students, staff, and faculty members already undertake alongside their regularly assigned duties. 
  • Provide an opportunity to pause in a decision-making process to intentionally focus attention on the implications of equity, diversity, and inclusion for the work or direction of a unit.
  • Help in strategic planning at the unit level to incorporate inclusion actions and goals to support the UBC Strategic Plan, UBC’s Inclusion Action Plan, or your own unit’s priorities. 
  • Form supportive relationships amongst those taking on EDI work and the emotional labour it often entails. 
  • Find ways to recognize and celebrate the additional service work and emotional labour that many historically, systemically, and persistently marginalized students, staff, and faculty members contribute to areas of EDI, without expecting that this work be continued without reflection or endorsement from the leaders within the unit  
  • Continue to develop knowledge, skills, and capacities to engage in EDI work.

The structure of an EDI committee should align with your defined purpose and focus. 

Locating the Committee within the Unit/Department

Understanding the organizational structure of your unit will help to define the best and most strategic place for a committee to sit within the unit, as well as having explicit and defined reporting and resourcing lines. Where the committee is placed depends in part on the purpose, reporting lines, and accountability of the committee. The structure may change over time due to changing contexts, new policies, the political environment, staff capacity, and staff turnover, requiring units to reassess from time to time the location of the committee within the unit structure. In most contexts, locating the committee as close to decision-making authorities as possible will increase both commitment and accountability.  

Consider the following questions and scenarios: 

  • In a highly segmented organization with centralized decision making, having a committee that sits above the sub-units but brings in representation from each area may be effective. 
    • For instance, the UBC Library’s EDI Committee (Diversity & Inclusion Team – DIT) is sponsored by the University Librarian. This is strategic because it means that the DIT is located where all members of the library can participate and across both Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.  
  • In an organization that is highly segmented but with highly decentralized decision making, having a separate committee within each area or as part of the overall unit, may influence various sub-units to have different levels of accountability for establishing equity, diversity, and inclusion measures. 
    • For example, academic departments tend to have their own EDI committees to address unique needs and structures. 

Thus, the location and reporting lines are fundamental to the efficacy of the committee. As a result, the reporting lines that the EDI Committee is able to access through location and accountability can have a profound impact on the ability of the committee to embed equity, diversity, and inclusion in the day to day operations of the unit.      

Decision-Making Authority and Process

Often committees are effective insofar as they are able to make, enact, and/or affect decisions required to achieve change. Yet, committees are rarely given full discretion to ratify decisions; instead committees are often required to take recommendations to an authoritative body for approval, particularly for decisions that impact operations outside of the committee.  As a result, the ways in which decisions are made both within the committee itself and how those decisions are framed (as recommendations, directions, and/or endorsements) and implemented outside of the committee can have a serious impact on the effectiveness of the committee.

The internal process for decision making is also important. When an EDI Committee agrees on the local definitions of equity, diversity, and inclusion, these definitions can then influence both the goals of the committee and how to approach the work completed by the committee. However, there are likely to be varied and contradictory perspectives on the strategies and tactics that ought to be used to achieve the goals identified by the committee. In many cases, identifying and negotiating how your committee will make decisions can change from topic to topic.  

General decision-making approaches include using consensus or voting; within these are many variations such as range voting which allows you to pick more than one option, or using ballot voting to keep members anonymous. When considering how decisions are made at the committee level, it may be useful to consider the decision-making approaches used at the unit, department, or divisional levels. For instance, if votes are cast at a departmental meeting there would be merit to having a similar method at the committee level, or, alternatively, to have a completely different method that allows for deeper discussion before moving the decisions through the other structures of the larger unit. 

Other aspects to consider include power relations between committee members, especially if more junior staff or faculty members, who are also racialized, may not be able to honestly express their views or experiences in front of managers or Department Heads, who may have greater privilege and access to power within the structure of the university. Consider the different measures or meeting facilitation approaches that can address and mitigate the risk that marginalized committee members might encounter by being involved in the committee (see more in Committee membership). 

Additionally, to ensure participation from all committee members, it is important to consider how to make room for different communication and thinking styles, so that all members of the committee are able to share their opinions during a decision-making discussion (e.g., anonymous surveys, dotmocracy voting). 

For more ideas on how to make better decisions in groups, access a video on group decision-making from the Royal Society.

Accountability

The work of the EDI Committee should have mechanisms in place to create transparency, commitment to goals, and a sense of trust with leadership and the wider unit/department. Accountability mechanisms can also be used as a way to share, communicate, and receive recognition for the efforts of the committee.

Accountability can take on a different shape based on the context of the unit/department and the defined scope and purpose of the EDI Committee. The following questions can help determine the ideal accountability methods for your committee.

  • Who does this committee report to and how? Is it in relationship to a specific portfolio?  
  • What accountability structures and reporting duties are currently used for this area of work?
  • When/how are activities/results shared beyond that direct reporting relationship?  
  • How will the committee share its results with the rest of the UBC community, for example to communicate about progress on UBC’s Inclusion Action Plan? 
  • What reports are required based on any internal or external funding to the committee?
  • How is the work of the committee currently reported out to the leadership and the wider unit? 
  • Are leadership or other groups interested in ongoing updates or an annual report?
  • If time and capacity is a barrier, consider creating a skeleton annual report template for essential information only to lessen the workload of the committee. 
  • If the EDI Committee has received funding through the unit, are there budgetary reports that the committee is required to provide? 
  • How can the committee hold the leadership of the unit accountable for infrastructure, incentives and resources that support both strategic aims and implementation of the recommendations made by the EDI Committee? 

Engaging with the above questions will highlight the structure, location, and decision-making approaches that will be most useful for the EDI committee’s focus and goals. No matter the shape, location or reporting lines of the committee, the main purpose should ensure that issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion are being engaged with seriously and resourced adequately to ensure the time and effort of the individuals who serve on the committee.

When recruiting for your committee, consider addressing the following points so that they do not impede your work together.

Membership Composition

The composition of the committee should be an appropriate mix of perspectives and expertise to enable the achievement of the committee’s purpose (see video on group decision making). 

According to Leon & Williams (2016), the ideal committee size is 10-15 members. While there is no hard rule; you should consider what’s appropriate to the size of the unit and manageable for a facilitated discussion. 

  • Membership can be determined by representation, lived experience, expertise or skills. These can also be combined, and be flexible according to the purpose of the committee and the work that is already happening in this space. 
    • Membership can be representative of the perspectives or functions needed to carry out discussions (e.g., this might mean, have a representative from each team within a unit/department). 
    • Membership can be composed of folks skilled in certain topics (e.g., policy creation, consultation, engagement, etc.) to achieve your defined purpose. 
    • Membership can also be a mix of people with different lived experiences as well including those with visible and invisible group affiliation with historically, systemically, and persistently marginalized peoples. 
    • Ideally a mix of people from all of these groups would be best to ensure the committee was diverse in all ways possible.  
  • Some people may not feel that they have the EDI expertise to participate in the committee. How might you build capacity? 
    • An auxiliary group can be formed where learning about EDI becomes the focus. For example, at each monthly meeting the group could discuss the implications of a campus (or other) report on EDI at UBC from the last 10 years. If each person commits to reading it and one other article to provide perspective and nuance to the issues raised, the learning could be shared among the group.
    • Alternatively, the learning group members could each commit to attending at least one learning workshop offered by the Equity & Inclusion Office, Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, Conflict Theatre or First Nations House of Learning.

As Leon & Williams (2016) note, “appointing individuals with a great passion and interest in diversity work but lacking the authority, skills, or expertise necessary to carry out this work can be a major drawback. We advise against membership defined by the over-representation or under-representation of a particular group in the committee (e.g., staff, diversity professionals, faculty, or minorities).” 

The intentional distribution of representation in the membership of an EDI committee is an important factor that cannot be taken lightly. A rushed and thoughtless selection process can lead to an unbalanced, or even worse, a committee who leads the unit in erroneous directions with regard to equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

Another consideration to explore in the development of an EDI Committee is which levels of the organization should hold membership within the committee. In a strongly hierarchical organization, it may be difficult to have critical discussions with a member of the unit’s leadership present. And yet, without leadership present, the committee may not have the mandate or authority to carry out any of its decisions. 

As the membership of the committee is explored the following questions might be helpful: 

  • How can leadership be involved in the committee, without necessarily being present at the committee meetings? 
  • How can questions, power (resources), and direction be provided without leadership being involved or present at the meetings?
  • How can the structure and location of the EDI Committee enable connections to leadership without having members feel unable to ‘speak truth to power’ when power differentials exist on the committee? 

Bringing together a diverse group also means including different constituents like students, student-staff, all levels of staff, as well as post-doctoral students and sessional instructors, depending on the department or unit. These members can provide direct recommendations and input or be consulted as a group to inform the decisions and directions the EDI Committee proposes.

This is particularly important when these members are directly affected by recommendations, activities or policies implemented by the EDI Committee.  

  • When you would like to include student voices, below are a number of questions that ought to be considered: 
  • How will students be invited into the EDI Committee process?
  • By election? Consensus? Other mechanisms?  
  • Would they have a seat on the committee, be a voting member of the committee?
  • How will participation by non-salaried members (students, sessional faculty, and hourly paid staff), and oversubscribed faculty members be recognized?

In addition to leadership, other external partners, such as those who have a connection or stake in the work of the unit and could provide insights or information to the committee, could participate through  formal or informal relationships. For instance, some perspectives or individuals may only be necessary for certain meetings and may not require a formalized role on the committee. You may invite these people/groups yourself or you could provide meeting information for folks who are interested in attending a meeting set up for a particular purpose or with a particular focus. 

Recruitment Tactics

A broad and appropriate use of recruitment tactics will ensure you attract diverse perspectives within the composition of your committee. Consider the nature of your unit to define the best areas to advertise. Consider using multiple tactics to capture a wider group. Below is a list of ideas for recruiting members; your unit might have experience using another method that works well in your context. 

  • Advertising at unit-wide meetings
  • Posters in common areas
  • Nomination by managers or peers
  • Speaking at smaller team meetings to promote and answer questions
  • Promotion in e-newsletters
  • Identifying changemakers/champions in the community who may be receptive and have them reach out to their networks.
  • Recruitment messaging should mention both how individuals’ participation in the committee has benefits for the broader community, for the unit, and for the individual themselves. 

Leadership and Facilitation

Creating or improving upon the structure of an EDI Committee is a wholly different task than continuing to lead and facilitate the group. If you have been tasked with the EDI committee development or improvement, think through who may be the ideal individual to lead the committee and how they can be supported: this person may or may not be you. Here are a number of questions to consider:

  • Whose portfolio of work does this work best fall under given the goals of the committee?
  • Is the amount of work suitable for one leader or is a co-chair model suitable? 
    • How can the co-chair model represent multiple areas of expertise, or work within the unit/department?Consider a rotating model, where the Chair/Co-Chair positions shift after a certain period. This can allocate leadership/facilitation labour and opportunities across the committee members. This provides a great way to diffuse silos and support sustainability of the committee and the institutional memory needed for longer-term initiatives as well as upskilling more junior members.

The facilitation of these meetings and the overall work of the group needs to strike the right balance of seriousness (the work of gathering people, identifying issues, and completing tasks) and hopefulness (dreaming, motivation, passion, and innovation) so that all contributions help to make a difference, not only to the experiences of committee members, but for the whole unit. The leader of the EDI committee will need to have some expertise in meeting facilitation in order to have meaningful, inclusive, and productive conversations. 

EDI Committee Work: Labour and Recognition

Often one of the aspects that is only realized after the fact, is that EDI work requires emotional labour and effort, alongside intellectual and physical labour, that does not always receive the recognition it deserves. Meaningful EDI work manifests in emotional labour when done honestly and with integrity, because it requires exploring sometimes painful subjects and experiences of exclusion, while also digging into our own thinking and behaviours that may be maintaining oppressive systems. 

No one is exempt from their participation in the institutional reproduction of oppression and marginalization. Typically, this work falls to oversubscribed faculty, staff, and students, particularly those whose identities and group affiliations are aligned and represent the success of marginalized groups in larger society. As noted above, all committee members need to be adequately affirmed, recognized, and compensated for this additional labour.

Consider the following suggestions:  

Affirmation

Making space before and after meetings for individualized or group supports that will help committee members participate fully and feel good about their contributions. For example, a pre-meeting with students to ensure they feel equipped with an understanding of the institutional context of what is being discussed. Similarly, a post-meeting with marginalized folks to check in about the level of emotional labour being undertaken, and suggested strategies to re-calibrate the shift in labour and tasks to ensure the success of the group. 

Recognition

How will you incentivize participation from members? This might look like:

  • Providing honoraria, food and drink at meetings, etc.;
  • Faculty, department, or unit awards for participating and accomplishing goals;
  • Hosting a round-table or other public recognition for the work;
  • EDI committee members and work praised in newsletters and other communications. 

Compensation 

It is especially important to compensate students, sessional instructors, or staff who are working outside of their job descriptions. How will their time and efforts be compensated? 

Honorarium;

Gift Cards;

Administrative buy-outs for faculty members;

Staff members time is recognized as part of their work for the unit. 

Special Considerations: Students, Sessional Faculty, and Hourly-Paid Staff

As noted earlier, students, sessional faculty, and hourly-paid staff are often asked to participate in EDI committees, but not always compensated for this work. These members are often the most marginalized and precarious within the university system. An intentional approach to recognizing and compensating these members is necessary to achieve the equitable and inclusive approach that ought to underpin all EDI committees. 

How should student participation be recognized? 

Thinking through student participation is especially important as participation should be designed in an equitable way, that is not overburdening for an already beleaguered campus community group. Extra effort should be made to value students’ time and energy through honoraria, ensuring meetings have nutritious food and drinks. In addition, if possible, consider reciprocating their participation in the committee in other forms of recognition or support, such as including lines of their contribution to the committee in reference letters, or supporting their professional development opportunities (e.g., providing some financial support for conferences).  

How can sessional instructors be compensated, for whom service is not part of their current workload allocation? 

Consider asking each sessional instructor what kind of compensation would be helpful, given workload, research program, other considerations. 

Remember the goal is to demonstrate equitable forms of recognition and compensation.

How can hourly-paid staff be included, recognized, and compensated when the work of the EDI committee falls outside of their job description and duties?

Staff involvement in EDI committees can be complex as staff are often the backbone of a unit and their employee-employer relationship(s) are governed by various bodies and contracts. For instance depending on the employee group (CUPE 2950, CUPE 116, BCEGU, etc.) there can be issues with time and work that falls outside of a staff member’s job description. Supervisors and managers will likely need to approve the additional time taken away from their main area(s) of work to: a) sit on the committee, and also b) complete related tasks that might fall outside of their role within the unit. In contrast, Management and Professional (M&P) staff, like students and faculty members, have more autonomy and flexibility with their work schedule to make time for additional committee work. 

To support staff members who are interested in participating consider the following: 

Ensure that the leadership has identified and communicated the importance of having several staff members contribute to the EDI committee with staff and their direct supervisors. 

Where a staff member attends an EDI committee and it is outside of their regular work duties, how will this time and energy be compensated and/or recognized?

Membership Cycle

A membership cycle can help your committee to be sustainable and remain refreshed with new voices. Having new members join the committee at regular intervals can broaden support for EDI. As more members of the unit become involved overtime, increasing proportions of staff or faculty will (hopefully) grow their awareness and competencies in EDI. It can help make service work fairer by spreading the workload across staff and faculty over time.

What is the cycle of work in your unit, and how does it relate to the academic and business calendars? Is the committee ongoing? If not, how does it define a cycle?

How can you ensure institutional memory and knowledge transfer between outgoing and incoming committees/committee members? 

Could an outgoing co-chair remain on the committee for the next cycle to provide support and institutional knowledge for a new co-chair?

If key roles and individuals are core to achieving the purpose of the committee, could other members rotate at various intervals?

How can outgoing members help in the orientation and transition of new members?

How are you recording the work of the committee so that future members can easily look back at work that has been done previously?

An under-acknowledged barrier to successful committees is the ability to have the key voices in the same room for enough time to discuss and work on a topic. Differing priorities, schedules, calendars and locations are often barriers that are exacerbated by workload capacities. Consider the following suggestions to help your committee thrive: 

Set up regularly scheduled time/date for your meetings (e.g., every third Thursday at 10 am) and set dates so people are aware of upcoming commitments and can reprioritize (monthly gatherings are a common strategy).

Allow members to send a proxy or designate in their place if they are unable to make a meeting or nominate another member if they are no longer able to be part of the committee.

Set up video conference (Skype, Zoom, etc.) or dial-in options for members who may be located on another campus or working from another location.

Select a designated meeting space that is accessible for members and guests of the committee. 

Check in during the first meeting on the accessibility of all aspects of the committee meeting, and regularly thereafter as situations/membership changes might affect what works for people. 

Set up a way for all committee members to access meeting minutes, agendas, resources, any documents and a member directory, ideally using the same system or method that members are familiar with using for work within the unit/department, whenever possible.

Once you have thought through and discussed with potential EDI Committee members each of the sections above, a guiding document, such as terms of reference, is helpful to collect and share these decisions. 

Having Terms of Reference (TOR) in the early stages of the committee helps so that you do not lose focus, and prevents the group from becoming too broad so that it fails to succeed in what it sets out to do.

TOR can be a living document that can be updated based on changing contexts. Typically, TOR will state succinctly much of what has been discussed in this guide. Common headings within a TOR include:

Committee purpose/mandate

Membership composition

Committee processes

Accountability and reporting structure

Review and amendments procedures

For more information, refer to the Activating Inclusion Toolkit’s Building Your Planning Team tool.