Canada’s research funding agencies raise the bar for a more diverse and inclusive research community

We would like to commend the research leaders who have committed to changing the culture and climate of research to create an inclusive and diverse workforce. We too intend to do our part to break up the bias that is preventing groups underrepresented in science—including but not limited to women, Indigenous peoples, members of visible minorities/racialized groups, and persons with disabilities—from achieving their rightful place in scientific leadership. This change must begin with us as leaders and we accept this challenge.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) are committed to supporting a diverse and inclusive research community and recognize that equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strengthens the research community and the quality, relevance and impact of research. We have already made a number of important improvements and commitments with respect to raising the bar as it relates to EDI.

First, CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC (the agencies), under the leadership of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC), have developed an EDI Action Plan. This plan outlines the work we will be collectively undertaking to enhance equitable and inclusive access to research support and participation in the funding system, including a commitment to ensure that our peer review panels and advisory and governance committees are representative, inclusive and diverse. The agencies have also developed a joint EDI statement that captures our commitments; this statement and a public version of the EDI Action Plan will be released in the coming months.

Complementary to the Canada Research Chairs EDI Action plan and its mechanisms to address systemic barriers within the program, a key new Tri-Agency program, Dimensions, which launched in May, helps drive deeper cultural change within the research ecosystem. Fundamental to achieving results is the need to identify and address systemic barriers—particularly those experienced by members of underrepresented or disadvantaged groups. Institutions commit to the program’s charter and to implementing its principles to foster increased research excellence, innovation and creativity within the post-secondary sector across all disciplines through increased equity, diversity and inclusion.

CIHR has established a Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) Framework to ensure the integration of EDI considerations across CIHR and the health research enterprise. Within this Framework, CIHR’s Sex- and Gender-Based Analysis in Research Plan is addressing who is studied, engaged, and ultimately benefiting from research. For example, CIHR requires that applicants outline how sex- and gender-based analysis is considered within their research design, and reviewers are required to assess if it is a strength or weakness of the application.

NSERC is requiring research funding applicants to incorporate EDI considerations and analysis in their research and in their training plans and research environments.

SSHRC has adopted an Indigenous Research Statement of Principles. This commitment emphasizes the importance of Indigenous perspectives and knowledge systems to increase and expand our knowledge and understanding about human thought and behaviour.

All of these initiatives are designed to remove barriers to participation in agency-funded research, in the research system, and to enhance research excellence.

To address bias within the funding system, the Tri-Agency EDI Action plan and CIHR’s Equity Strategy commit to addressing programs, processes and/or policies where the evidence shows bias, as was demonstrated through CIHR’s recent decision to sunset the Foundation Grant program. To this effect, the agencies will look to ensure that no grant or award funding provided by the agencies will be used in support of and/or participate in events or panels where the participation does not reflect these principles where possible, including the inclusion of underrepresented groups.

We acknowledge that, while these are important steps, the leadership of the agencies has the opportunity to play a more active role in shaping EDI practices within Canada and beyond, and this includes recognizing the importance and value of ensuring all underrepresented groups in science are meaningfully included in agency-supported events and panels.

As signatories on this letter, we personally commit to refusing to participate on panels or in events that are not inclusive and do not reflect the diversity of the Canadian population.

Michael Strong, MD, FRCP, FCAHS, FAAN
Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Digvir S. Jayas, PhD
Interim President
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

Ted Hewitt, PhD
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

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