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Photo: Anne Webb Senior Policy Adviser with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Serge Villemure, Director with NSERC, Dr. Denise O'Neil Green, Vice-President Equity and Community Inclusion at Ryerson University; Steve Liss, Vice-President Research and Innovation at Ryerson University.

Ryerson takes the lead on roundtable about EDI in research funding

Ryerson University has taken the lead to organize an unprecedented forum bringing professionals from federal research funding agencies, university research professionals, academic leaders and EDI professionals together to explicitly discuss equity, diversity and inclusion.

Dr. Juliet Daniel, McMaster University

This was the brainchild of Dr. Denise O’Neil Green, vice-president, equity and community inclusion, who noticed that as federal agencies pushed for greater inclusion of EDI, this did not bring individuals like herself to the table.

“After speaking with colleagues at Ryerson and across the sector, it became clear to me that such a forum would need to be initiated.”

Dr. Green says having done EDI work for over 25 years, she realized that everyone must be brought together to tackle this protracted problem of diversifying faculty among the CRC and other federally funded research programs.

“And, equity professionals needed to be brought to the table as equal partners,” she underscores.

As a result, a roundtable organized by her office and NSERC on February 23, 2018 at the Chelsea Hotel attracted over 70 participants from across Canada. NSERC is Canada's federal funding agency for university-based research and student training in natural sciences and engineering.

Serge Villemure, NSERC’s director of scholarships, fellowships & chairs for women in science and engineering, says the forum was the very first opportunity that this group could engage in a dialogue with the granting agencies.

“EDI is widely understood as a priority for research therefore being able to exchange on priorities, challenges and the move forward was very important and timely.”

Participants discussed matters such as university and agency systemic tensions, organizational structure and accountability, training, the collection of data, and setting goals.

Dr. Juliet Daniel of the Department of Biology at McMaster University says the meeting was long overdue.

“There were a few catchphrases that I really liked such as ‘inclusive excellence’ and also one of the common themes that came up was this notion of shared responsibility and accountability.”

She says it’s not just the burden of the underrepresented groups to be championing this issue but it’s the shared responsibility of everyone at all of our institutions.

“I think it was awesome that Ryerson took the lead and was courageous enough to do it because it does take a certain level of courage to do something like that,” she says about the forum.

Dr. Steven Vamosi, University of Calgary

Dr. Steven Vamosi, associate dean, diversity, equity and inclusion in the Faculty of Science at University of Calgary says Indigenous Peoples must be part of the conversation because, traditionally, they have been underrepresented at the university at all levels.

He says it was good to hear that there is concerted interest across the nation, in terms of making training effective and teaching people about their internal biases, and the biases that are working against those in traditionally underrepresented groups.

Dr. Vamosi hopes the roundtable signifies that there will be real change in how things are done that will effect meaningful change, in terms of both who is represented at universities and also that they are included not just there.

Meanwhile, Steven Liss, vice-president, research and innovation, says equity is a key component of an excellent and impactful research enterprise.

“Diverse worldviews and collaborative cross-cultural approaches enhance our research agenda and are necessary to solve today’s most pressing issues,” he says.

“This event is the beginning of a timely and important discussion as we work collaboratively to incorporate equity, diversity and inclusion into our culture and processes.”

Villemure says they learned about each other’s priorities and about some of the actions being implemented in universities.

“We also learned that universities’ priorities are in line with that of granting agencies. The need for collaboration between universities and granting agencies was made clear, with each bringing something valuable to the collaboration.”

Dr. Green says this partnership was very valuable for both federal research funding agencies and the university sectors. She plans to provide a summary report of the round table discussion this fall.