What does "self-identifying" mean on a job application?

Self-identifying on a job application is the process of disclosing your race, gender, and if you belong to an employment equity group. Employers will sometimes ask candidates in a survey to self-identify as part of the application process.

Designated employment equity groups include members who are: 

Canadian employers acknowledge that as part of an employment equity group, you have likely faced more barriers than others who are not part of an equity group. Self-identifying questionnaires allow employers to recognize members of one or more equity groups to give them a fair chance at being hired.

You are not obligated to self-identify in a questionnaire, resume or cover letter to get a job interview. Your qualifications and work history are enough to consider you for an interview. In fact, at no point during the recruitment process are you ever obligated to self-identify. Most questionnaires will have an option to “prefer not to respond.” 

However, you should know that as part of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) practices, companies are more deliberate about offering opportunities to people from equity groups. Some even state that they will give preference to candidates from an equity group right in the job ad. Beware that if you self-identify, sometimes it could also work to your disadvantage. Some companies may use this information to eliminate certain candidates for the job. 

In some cases, it may be beneficial to self-identify. When a job posting says that they are an “Equal Opportunity Employer” this means that they are actively trying to hire qualified candidates from an equity group. Also, for some jobs, the equity group experience could be relevant to the role’s requirements, so it might be to your advantage to self-identify. For example, some jobs require a “lived experience,” which means they are not only looking for candidates that have qualifications but who also have first-hand experience with the challenges of being part of an equity group.

According to interviews conducted by Diversity Canada, employers across Canada agreed that being part of an equity group alone should not be the only reason you choose to apply for a job. The skills you have to offer should be a good match for the position, regardless of your cultural background, community group affiliation, status as a person with a disability, or gender or sexual orientation.

Once you’re Hired - Voluntariness

Your employer can make it mandatory for you to complete a self-identifying questionnaire once you are hired. According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, an employer has every right to collect self-identifying data from its staff, provided that they make it clear that self-identification is entirely voluntary. Even if your employer asks you to fill out a questionnaire, you still have the right to select “prefer not to answer” if you choose not to self-identify. 

The employer must also clearly indicate in the questionnaire that the information being collected is confidential and will only be used by, or disclosed to, other persons within the organization.

For More Information

Last updated: November 30, 2023 4006565