Western backs federal equity efforts

Western has joined an early chorus of voices in endorsing a federal initiative that backers say will promote equity, diversity and inclusion among the nation’s postsecondary researchers.

“Diversity in research means stronger research,” said Mark Daley, Western’s Associate Vice-President (Research). “Of all the important things that have happened in the Canadian science space, this is one I’m most optimistic about. This is a ray of hope.”

The Dimensions: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada program focuses on equitable hiring and promotion opportunities for researchers who are women, Indigenous People, visible minorities, people with disabilities and/or members of the LGBTQ2 community. While the program is not mandatory, and specific implementation details are still being worked out, Western is among several universities that have backed the Dimensions Charter of Eight Principles of Inclusion.

The program is based on the UK’s Athena SWAN program, which has been credited with improving gender equity in universities in science, technology, engineering and math since implemented in 2005. The Canadian iteration broadens the scope considerably – making it applicable to all disciplines and fields of study at all postsecondary institutions.

Institutions like Western that endorse the charter commit to embed equity, diversity and inclusion principles in their policies, practices, action plans and culture.

Athena SWAN was the first program to measure and reward postsecondary institutions for improving gender balance in hiring, promotion and support for academic, professional and support staff. Member universities that signed up received bronze-, silver- or gold-level funding awards, depending on their practical progression along equity principles.

Before Athena SWAN, Daley said, many UK universities aspired to be more equitable, but the numbers didn’t bear out their good intentions.

They do now.

“Here, we have a framework that demonstrates results. Other interventions that had been ‘Oh, we’ll just try harder’ didn’t work,” Daley said.

What Dimensions ensures is accountability along defined measures of success, he said.

The Dimensions announcement was made last week by Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, following nine months of consultations held across Canada with postsecondary researchers and leaders, as well as community members from under-represented groups, non-governmental organizations and government representatives.

Attending the announcement in Waterloo were Daley, BrainsCAN Executive Director Fay Harrison and Co-scientific Director Lisa Saksida, who were involved in the process.

“The launch of Dimensions EDI is an important step in increasing diversity and gender equity in Canada’s research community,” Saksida said. “We were proud to be part of the consultations and help champion this new program.”

Western signed on to the vision and the broader intellectual framework, recognizing this is critical to building on excellence. It is also the right thing to do, accord to Western representatives.

“EDI strengthens the scientific community and enhances research excellence and innovation,” Harrison said. “This is why EDI policies are such an important aspect of BrainsCAN strategies – we want to ensure all participants have equal opportunities to excel.”

Daley agreed, “Equality and inclusion are social and moral imperatives. If we aspire to be a just society, we have to take approaches that will lead us to a just society.”

The announcement included an initial $5.3-million investment to help 15 smaller institutions move towards their equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

The federal government also announced postsecondary institutions may soon apply to join a pilot project Dimensions. The Canadian pilot program is supported by the three federal research granting councils: the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).