Feds announce $5.3M for diversity and inclusion in academic research

Federal Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan announced $5.3 million in federal funding and launched a pilot program to address systemic barriers in academic research at Wilfrid Laurier University on Thursday.

"You need that diversity of perspectives ... to get results that’ll benefit everyone," minister says

Federal Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan announced $5.3 million in federal funding for diversity and inclusion initiatives at 15 universities and colleges, including Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Wilfrid Laurier University is one of 15 post-secondary institutions receiving part of $5.3 million worth of grant money from the federal government to make academic research more inclusive.

Federal Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan announced the funding in Waterloo, Ont., on Thursday morning.

Duncan also announced the launch of a pilot program called Dimensions: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada.

The program will attempt to deal with barriers faced by groups including women, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, visible minorities and members of the LGBTQ community. 

A charter outlining the equity, diversity and inclusion principles will be available to all research disciplines and fields at post-secondary institutions. Representatives from Wilfrid Laurier signed the charter Thursday morning.

"We know when we include everyone, our institutions will be stronger, our research will be better," said Duncan, speaking to reporters after the event.

Diverse voices make stronger research, minister says

Duncan noted that exclusion can create knowledge gaps, and pointed to the example of early airbags, which were designed primarily by male engineers.

"When the airbags went off, it was women and children who were injured and killed," she said. "You need that diversity of perspectives to ask diverse questions and to get results that'll benefit everyone."

Representatives from Wilfrid Laurier University signed the Dimensions charter Thursday. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The Dimensions charter is based in part on a UK-based initiative called the Athena SWAN (Scientific Women's Academic Network) program, Duncan said.

Since that program launched in 2005, it has had a positive impact on gender-related issues, according a study out of Loughborough University in the UK cited by the federal government.

Duncan told reporters she saw the benefits for herself when meeting with officials in the UK last summer.

"It's things you wouldn't always think about ... the way people think about culture," she said.

"There are no early morning meetings because parents look after children. There are no meetings at 4 o'clock because parents have to pick up children."

Laurier to hire senior equity advisor

Deborah MacLatchy, the president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier, called it an exciting move.

Laurier will receive $384,700 of the funding over a two year period.

The money will go toward hiring a faculty member to serve as a senior advisor in equity, diversity and inclusion, two EDI faculty colleagues and a research associate to help support the university's commitment to be more inclusive.

MacLatchy said developing diverse role models is a special priority for Laurier, and that they hope to hire more professors from under-represented groups. 

She said young people are more likely to become interested in science and research when they see researchers who look like them.

"Having a system that is well represented so you can say 'I can see myself doing that kind of work, doing that kind of research' is one of the biggest motivators and one of the biggest ways to address some of these barriers," she said.

The first round of grant funding was made available to small university and colleges, including:

  • Aurora College
  • Cape Breton University
  • HEC Montréal
  • Lakehead University
  • OCAD University
  • Ontario Tech University (formerly University of Ontario Institute of Technology)
  • Royal Roads University
  • Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
  • Université de Moncton
  • Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières
  • Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue
  • University of Regina
  • University of Winnipeg
  •  Vancouver Island University
  • Wilfrid Laurier University

The pilot program is supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.


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