Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Does Not Come at the Expense of Research Excellence
The murder of George Floyd and countless acts of anti-Black racism.
The rise in xenophobia and anti-Asian racism amid COVID-19.
The uncovering of mass graves of Indigenous children in Canada.
These horrific acts only add to a long, unending history of racial violence. However, over the last few years they have, finally, led us to have a meaningful and painful discourse on oppression within our society and corresponding privilege, enabling a collective shift in our understanding of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). Many of us are reflecting within ourselves — perhaps for the first time — about our biases, and how they inform our actions or how we treat others.
They have also spurred workplaces and organizations to renew their commitments to improving EDI, to enabling meaningful change, and to having — sometimes uncomfortable but urgently needed — discussions on the barriers that lead to underrepresentation and discrimination. At CIFAR, we still have a lot of work to do. But it starts with a plan, a common understanding of what EDI means, and how the organization will hold itself accountable.
In Spring 2020, CIFAR’s Board of Directors approved the Action Plan on Equity, Diversity & Inclusion. CIFAR defines EDI as follows: Equity means recognizing that there are systemic reasons for discrimination and marginalization and taking action to remove these barriers, with an understanding that fairness is required for equal outcomes. Diversity refers to the various dimensions of difference expressed amongst individuals and groups. Dimensions of diversity include, but are not limited to: race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, class, place of origin, immigration status, Indigenous identity, and more. Inclusion can be understood as a set of practices or policies that are deliberate in their efforts to ensure all individuals or groups can meaningfully participate.
The Action Plan provides a clear and comprehensive approach for improving EDI in all areas of the organization: from leadership and governance, to HR and talent, to our research community and programs. Each initiative is included in CIFAR’s annual Operating Plan with a corresponding dedication of resources, and the expectation that several initiatives will be phased in over the next few years.
As the Head of EDI, I work with my colleagues to ensure that CIFAR remains committed to this work. I believe that it is paramount that CIFAR, a leading global research organization, is also a leading voice on EDI in the research community, moving beyond performative actions to creating systemic change.
Recently, CIFAR began data collection to set goals, identifying trends and areas for improvement, including asking program applicants to fill out a demographic census. These steps will help us to understand who is applying for our programs, how to focus our outreach and if there are barriers we need to address in the selection process. We plan to expand this to our existing research programs, staff and our Board, with the addition of inclusion questions to assess work and research culture.
Without EDI, we cannot achieve excellence — having researchers from different backgrounds and perspectives is what leads to bold questions and solutions.
We are also starting to infuse EDI into our selection process in other ways, asking questions about how EDI will be incorporated into proposed research programs, as well as asking about applicants’ knowledge and experience as it relates to EDI.
Throughout 2022, CIFAR will continue to re-examine our policies, procedures and practices. We will look at Board diversity and inclusion, workplace culture, research programs, and events. We will look at opportunities for members of the CIFAR community to actively learn and participate in conversations about EDI in the research community.
Speaking outside the walls of CIFAR and to the global research community as a whole, I cannot stress enough: EDI does not come at the expense of research excellence.
Without EDI, we cannot achieve excellence — having researchers from different backgrounds and perspectives is what leads to bold questions and solutions. In fact, numerous studies have shown that diverse teams are more innovative, engaged, and productive than homogenous teams.
That is why we must address the very real barriers faced by equity-deserving communities in research — especially if we want to foster, for years to come, a diverse and thriving CIFAR community of the next generation of researchers.
To do so, we must acknowledge that systemic biases exist in all aspects of our society, whether it’s the justice system, or health care, or education, or within research. We must acknowledge that systemic biases and barriers lead to a drop in the number of researchers from equity-deserving communities as they move past the early-career stage. We must check our individual biases. We must support researchers early in their careers, to help them build the networks, mentors and sponsors to advance their academic journey. This support is important for all early-career academics, but particularly important for researchers from equity-deserving communities.
As an organization, we are at the beginning of our EDI journey, but my colleagues and I at CIFAR are committed to moving us forward.
Illustrations: Cornelia Li
CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.