I don’t work on human populations, so I don’t have to worry about integrating sex, gender, or diversity in my research. NSERC is now evaluating Discovery grants on their “consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion in past and planned training of HQP” – but because of my field, I don’t have much experience writing about diversity. My mentors haven’t been able to provide much advice. What are NSERC reviewers looking for in that part of the evaluation criteria?
– Anonymous, Ecology
Dr. Editor’s response:
I’ve written previously that science, as a human endeavor, is always political, and that scholars have options to integrate anti-racist practices into their research, teaching, and service. With those previous pieces in mind, I’d argue that you – and all researchers – should consider how to integrate sex, gender, and diversity into your day-to-day work, even if you don’t study humans. My argument aligns with the effort that Tri-Council is putting forward, as they promote inclusive practices by evaluating grant applicants on their ability to write about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI).
In describing how to write about EDI in grant applications, I also invite you to audit your own practices. How much are you doing to actively support the inclusion of people who are underrepresented in your field? When was the last time you discussed supporting equity and inclusion with your colleagues and trainees?
There are some simple and straightforward things you can do to advance inclusion. For instance, the next time you’re invited to speak at an event or on a panel, you can include the two following sentences in your acceptance email: “Thank you for inviting me! As a heads-up, I have a policy of not participating in panels that have only men or only white people as speakers, so please ensure that we have at least gender and racial diversity among the speakers at this event.”
I’m not suggesting that you write about such a policy in your grant applications; instead, I’m suggesting that you integrate inclusive practices into your working life, so that you can cultivate the kind of workplaces in which people from underrepresented and equity-deserving groups feel they belong. As you work to make your own research more inclusive, you’ll come to learn about and integrate inclusive practices that you can then describe in your grant application.
With that recommendation as a baseline, let’s delve into how you write about EDI in your next Discovery grant application. To learn more about this topic, I spoke with Nicole Kaniki of Senomi Solutions, who was the first director of equity, diversity and inclusion in research and innovation at the University of Toronto, and with Jamie McInnis, the director of applied research and innovation services at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). Dr. Kaniki and Ms. McInnis suggested two overarching categories in which you might describe your approach to EDI in your next grant application:
1. Inclusive working and learning environments
It’s one thing to hire staff and bring in trainees from a diverse array of demographic groups; it’s another thing entirely to provide the kind of environment in which they’ll want to stay. To maintain and grow diversity among your colleagues, you’ll need to support equity and foster inclusion in the day-to-day of your work.
There’s no standard, singular way to provide an inclusive environment for your staff and trainees. If you work in a lab, you’ll want it to be accessible for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices; see, for example, the Accessible Biomedical Immersion Laboratory at Purdue University. For the ease of colleagues who have low vision, make sure that your signage follows the Canadian National Institute for the Blind’s Clear Print Accessibility Guidelines and includes braille. It’s likewise a good idea to have inclusive signage on washrooms, so that your trans, genderqueer and nonbinary colleagues are able to use the washrooms comfortably. If you have all-gender washrooms, consider printing and posting one of Egale Canada’s downloadable posters.
But trying to identify and follow all possible guidelines for inclusion and accessibility can lead you to a difficult situation – notice, for instance, that Egale Canada’s posters, with their low-contrast print at the bottom of the page, don’t follow CNIB guidelines. If you’re focusing on checking boxes on some master checklist, you may not be doing the fundamental and systemic work that’s necessary to begin to undo generations of exclusion and oppression. And since NSERC’s assessment rubric is looking for challenges related to EDI that are specific to your “institution and field of research” (as per their merit indicators PDF), some externally developed, general EDI checklist is not going to address what your reviewers are looking for.
When Dr. Kaniki speaks about an inclusive environment, she emphasizes what a space feels like for its users, rather than what it looks like. For example, she notes that, in inclusive environments, people from different identities and backgrounds are able to collaborate effectively. That might mean knowing when your colleagues are fasting, or when they have an important holiday; it might mean coaching first-generation scholars on lab norms, or providing flexible working hours for colleagues with childcare responsibilities.
“It’s not peoples’ intention to exclude,” emphasizes Dr. Kaniki, “so you may not know if your practices are exclusionary.” So view the need to foster an inclusive environment as an ongoing process.
And if that process is to be ongoing, that means it isn’t enough to simply state that all your new hires will be required to complete the TCPS2 or your institution’s online training. Instead, make learning about and supporting inclusion an activity in which all staff – new and continuing – participate.
2. Inclusive practices and actions
Just as inclusive environments might look different from one context to another, so too will inclusive practices and actions vary among disciplines, approaches, and regions. As Ms. McInnis notes, the best way to give Tri-Council peer reviewers the information they need to assess your understanding of EDI is to “share information about specific actions that your group is doing that are inclusive.”
A lot of grant applicants write about EDI training – but what happens in your research team once that training is done? If you have an article-reading club, for example, have you ensured that you’re reading articles by a wide breadth of researchers in your discipline? Have you thought about focusing on a particular subject area during pride month in your region? Or integrating a conversation about mental health literacy into your work-in-progress meetings? Do you involve your trainees in decision-making to ensure that diverse perspectives are included at multiple points of time?
Then, notes Dr. Kaniki, you can include sentences in your grant that begin with phrases such as, “on an annual basis, we do X”; “as a team, we do Y”; or, “with our research participants, we do Z.”
You create an inclusive environment for working and learning through your day-in, day-out practices and actions, emphasize both Dr. Kaniki and Ms. McInnis. And doing so isn’t just some political or moral obligation: it’s imperative to the quality of your research. Diversity in science research means that different questions get asked and scientific breakthroughs are possible at a different level. My favourite example: Susan M. Smith’s 1988 discovery that female black-capped chickadees initiate extra-pair copulations outside of long-term monogamous partnerships (see Smith 1988) – a discovery made at a time when it was believed that only males in monogamous partnerships would initiate extra-pair copulations; a discovery made by observing the behaviours of female chickadees, against the grain of conventional ornithological data collection at the time.