Equity, Diversity & Inclusion - What's happening lately?

Institute for Science Society and Policy

By Catherine Mavriplis

Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Ph.D., P. Eng., F.E.C., F.C.A.E., University of Ottawa

Catherine Mavriplis
Young scientists in a lab.

I had the good fortune of holding the NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for Ontario for ten years, from 2011 to 2021. The landscape for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) certainly changed a lot over those ten years and even more in the past few years. 

As funding agencies and organizations, including academic ones, grapple with new requirements to ensure principles of equity, diversity and inclusion are considered, it is natural to see resistance to change. Recently, in Quebec, the discussion took a sharp turn however, with Higher Education Minister Pascale Déry asking the Fonds de Recherche du Québec to revise its evaluation criteria which she sees being linked to “censure”. You can read about it here:

La Presse: Québec demande aux universités de ne pas tolérer la censure

and the response from a few interested parties here:

Le Devoir: Réduire les angles morts des critères d’excellence en recherche.

This last article, for those of you who don’t speak French, is entitled: “Reducing the Blind Spots in Research Excellence Criteria” and I think that’s an apt concept. It gives historical examples of technologies developed without consideration of diversity that have caused real harm, i.e. deaths, and new ones that exclude or bias against entire populations. My favourite quotes from the article are: “Nul besoin de faire des contorsions pour intégrer la diversité à un projet” [No need to make contorsions to integrate diversity into a project] and the closing sentence: “Et, même si la tradition est rassurante, faisons preuve de créativité et d’ouverture à la nouveauté” [And, even if tradition is reassuring, let’s demonstrate some creativity and openness to progress.] Reviewing the ISSP’s 7 recommended good practices for EDI (shown below), I think we can hone in on #2 in this case – “Be intellectually humble”.

To help researchers address EDI requirements in science and engineering research proposals, Prof. of Mechanical Engineering, Eve Langelier, NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering for Québec, and her team have developed a useful resource in the form of a Frequently Asked Questions brochure for EDI in an NSERC Discovery Grant Application. The document addresses all aspects of the Discovery competition: HQP (Highly Qualified Personnel) training, the research proposal itself, the budget and the review process. Many science and engineering researchers will complain that, while their research has nothing to do with EDI, they are frustrated by the requirements being put on them. The document points out where and when EDI must be considered. For those whose research truly has no need for EDI considerations, they write: If the gender-based analysis+ (GBA+) does not suggest the need to consider diversity in a research program, simply explain this.” However, I think it’s important to really brainstorm with your team, a diverse team preferably, whether the science or technology you are developing really is blind to gender. While a biological or medical research project may be obviously linked to EDI, in mathematics or computer science the ultimate end-user is not often thought of by students (or their supervisors).

For example, a few years ago at the ACFAS Conference in the Outaouais, Prof. Donatille Mujawamariya from the Faculty of Education and I hosted a fascinating talk by Transport Québec on the gender-based analysis of driving patterns in the community. Could the world imagine a different road system based on the domestic divisions of labour? Is Tesla or any other self-driving car technology incorporating these considerations? How about city and infrastructure planning? I think if we really scratch our heads and think beyond our traditional boundaries, we can reimagine a better way of doing things.

Change is hard and slow, and there is resistance along the way, but the younger generation is also extremely motivated to create a new world. Here, at the university, we are lucky to have their input and their dynamic ideas to help us take some bold steps toward that future. I believe the greatest advances will come at the interfaces of traditional disciplines and the ISSP is a unique connector on campus to help those happen. I therefore encourage you to read these ISSP best practices once again and really pay attention to #1 below.

Good Practices for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Research, Teaching, and Knowledge Mobilization at the Science, Society, Policy Interface

1. Embrace EDI as a broad, multi-dimensional set of ideas that shapes all aspects of research, KMb, and teaching activities at the SSP interface.

2. Be intellectually humble.

3. Invest in relationships.

4. Co-create evidence and foster collective learning about EDI at the SSP interface.

5. Engage the next generation.

6. Take small steps to make big changes.

7. Advocate for EDI-centred incentive structures.