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Canada Research Chairs program announces new, more ambitious equity targets

Changes affect four equity-seeking groups: women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous people and visible minorities.


After 13 years of slow progress towards its equity goals, the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program is redoubling efforts to improve diversity within the program. On July 31, the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS) – which represents the three granting councils under which CRCs are allotted – announced more ambitious targets for representation of four equity-seeking groups: women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous people and visible minorities.

The new targets are an addendum to the program’s 2006 Canadian Human Rights settlement agreement, which grew from a complaint brought against the program in 2003 by eight female researchers, who argued that its poor representation of equity groups was discriminatory. The addendum includes both more ambitious goals and new accountability measures which represent “not just carrot, but some stick too,” for institutions that don’t make progress toward the new goals, according to David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

“In the past few years we’ve found not only that some institutions aren’t achieving their goals, but were even going backwards,” says Mr. Robinson. “It’s pretty clear that more needed to happen.”

The new targets will be based on each group’s representation in the Canadian population at large, as determined by the 2016 federal census. That means substantial leaps over the existing targets, which were instead tied to each group’s availability within the available pool of university researchers – a methodology that critics said reinforced broader under-representation of diverse groups in academia.

The target for women will go from 31 percent to 51 percent, persons with disabilities from 4 percent to 7.5 percent, Indigenous peoples from 1 percent to 4.9 percent, and members of visible minorities from 15 percent to 22 percent.    

“What I like about this is that it reminds us that the commitment is to all four groups,” says Malinda Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta who has researched equitable hiring in Canadian universities. “A lot of people have focused on the fact that the eight original complainants were women, and this has often been looked at as mostly about gender equity. The other groups have often been lost in the discussion.”

Dr. Smith says that’s partly because institutions failed to collect the data needed to show progress on the other three equity groups – and when they did, often used varying methodologies that couldn’t be compared across institutions. “Those in charge of collecting this data are often not diverse themselves,” she says, “and may be uncomfortable framing and presenting these questions. That leads to intransigence, so they raise issues of privacy and other concerns as to why they can’t collect it.”

The 2017 Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Action Plan began to address that problem by requiring institutions to outline how they aimed to achieve the original targets, publish those plans online, and achieve them by this coming December. Nominations for each equity group grew substantially after the EDI plan. By this June, representation met, or exceeded for the first time, the original targets.

That success wasn’t unqualified, however. For example, more senior Tier 1 chairs still exhibit far less diversity than Tier 2 chairs. Only 24 percent of Tier 1 chairs are women, and only 14 percent are members of visible minority groups. Less than one percent are Indigenous – just five out of 795. To address that gap, the country’s largest 15 universities, which collectively hold 70 percent of research chairs, will no longer be able to aggregate targets across tiers. Instead, they’ll need to show equivalent diversity among both.

The addendum also includes, for the first time, measures to support LGBTQ2+ faculty, including collecting self-identification data and developing best practices for recruiting and retaining LGBTQ2+ faculty.

Institutions that don’t meet targets will risk punitive action. “They risk losing funding for positions,” says Mr. Robinson. “You would hope that isn’t necessary, but it’s an important motivator to take this seriously.”

Universities will have until 2029 to meet the targets, at which point the numbers will be reviewed in light of more recent census data.

One critique of the equity-based approach is that it prioritizes diversity over excellence. That argument doesn’t pass muster with Alice Aiken, vice-president, research and innovation, at Dalhousie University. Dr. Aiken says Dalhousie has been working with a search firm to help the university avoid the tendency to go looking for candidates “in only the usual places,” in a conscious bid to bolster diversity in the faculty’s ranks.

“One of the things that just yanks my chain is when people say the first consideration has to be excellence,” says Dr. Aiken. “There are about 2,000 research chairs in Canada. If you can’t find 2,000 excellent scholars from all sorts of backgrounds, you’re not looking very hard.”

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  1. Ninad / September 11, 2019 at 14:13

    How will this legislation ensure that women, minorities and people with disability will be allowed to apply for these positions.
    CRC does not allow direct application and mandates nomination plus commitments from university leadership to support CRC nominees. Those sitting in leadership positions in Canadian universities make every available excuse and only nominate those which suit these leaders and will help advance the career of current leadership which is white males and some white females.
    The population of Canada is most diverse in the world yet leadership in academic institutions is white males and females.
    This CRC legislation is no different to the past and current immigration policies by which physicians are allowed in Canada and then made into cab drivers since no policy exists on facilitating these foreign graduates in Canadian healthcare.

  2. Heather / September 13, 2019 at 06:16

    When we talk about equity in universities, do funding formulas for promoting equity take into account the fact that women dominate in almost every field, except some of the STEM fields?

  3. Mary Lightbow / September 16, 2019 at 12:19

    The extreme lack of gender diversity in nursing, education departments, national defence, and public schools is huge but never mentioned or addressed in gender-based funding initiatives.

    Given the greater variance in male behaviours, the probability that the best researchers will be male is higher in an equal opportunity system and even higher in one that demands equal outcomes. The variability has a greater impact ib positions that require the best relative performance (politicians, researchers) versus positions that just require a certain level of competence (eg, lawyer, nurse).

    the equal gender outcome rules will result in a rise in observational studies (lots of surveys), a decrease in the use of scientific and quantitative methods (women dont do math), and a brain drain to other countries and private institutions that choose researchers based on their work rather than on their gender.

    to see how trudeau’s gender experiment works, dont watch the research grants. Instead, look at the tradionally gender-skewed fields of nursing, education, physics, math, and the military. We will likely see the same effect that resulted when scandinavian countries tried equal-outcomes instead of equal opportunity.

  4. Prof. Abos Jabos / January 28, 2020 at 18:50

    The Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program is enforcing their diversity, inclusion, and equity (DIE) policy by banning able-bodied white males from even applying to the CRC program at several universities until all quotas are reached. If Universities do not follow this policy then CRC will take away their funding. For example, some Universities are above their quotas for women and minority groups but are below on indigenous and disabled scholars. To address the gaps, CRC is forcing these institutions to allow everyone to apply (including groups that are exceeding the quotas) except for able-bodied white males. This policy is supposed to remain in effect until all quotas are reached.

    A policy based on “inclusion” and “equity” is being enforced through exclusion and inequity. Excluding faculty members on the sole basis of sex and skin colour is, dare I say, sexist and racist (unless of course sexism doesn’t apply to men and racism doesn’t apply to white people). CRC and universities are using nice language like “only those in the 4 designated groups are eligible to apply”. People reading this then need to see who are in the four groups. A much simpler approach is to say “everyone is allowed to apply except for able-bodied white men”. They do not use the latter language because it is deeply offensive and discriminatory, even though that is exactly the position CRC has forced universities to take. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter how you phrase it. It is very unfortunate that people are not speaking out against this and that CRC isn’t seeing the painfully obvious hypocrisy in their policy.

    I think if given an equal opportunity, individuals in the 4 designated groups will have no problem at all competing against white male faculty for these prestigious CRC positions. Unfortunately, the indirect message that CRC is sending to the 4 designated groups is that they aren’t good enough, and that the only way they can increase their representation is to compete on an uneven playing field. Another obvious problem is that the value of the CRC is diminished if you exclude a large group of faculty members from being able to apply. It is like going to the Olympic games only to compete against 70% of the countries. I’m sorry, but the value of that gold medal just isn’t the same. Dr. Aiken’s arguments surrounding excellence are simply wrong. The only way to secure the very best CRCs is to make sure EVERYONE is allowed to compete for these awards. If you want to give preference to certain groups then fine. Whether you agree with this or not, it is done all the time at universities when hiring faculty, staff, etc. Just do not outright exclude people. The CRC program is denying many faculty members, especially some of Canada’s young rising stars, from being able to advance their careers based on factors they have no control over, and quite frankly, factors that have absolutely nothing to do with ones ability as an academic.

    The 8 female researchers mentioned in the article argued that their poor representation was discriminatory. This is a flawed argument on many levels, especially at the present time. For example, if an institution is below their target for disabled scholars, then does this automatically mean they are discriminating against this group? The answer of course is no. Some of these institutions are doing as much as they can to recruit these individuals. It is not systemic discrimination that is resulting in the under-representation of this group or any other group. There are a range of obvious factors that could potentially contribute but are often ignored by the social justice warriors (e.g. no disabled faculty even applied; those that got forwarded to CRC got rejected because they didn’t pass the scrutiny of peer review; internal competitions selected someone that had superior qualifications, etc.). Automatically attributing under-representation to discrimination is overly simplistic and unbelievably naive. This is one of the countless problems with a quota system.

    Now what IS discriminatory is a written and enforced federal policy that outright bans able-bodied white men from even applying and threatening to remove funding from a University if it doesn’t comply with their policy. Unfortunately, you won’t see a group of white men complaining about this to the human rights tribunal any time soon. In fact, you won’t hear them complaining about this in any public setting. Why? Because a white man speaking out against sexism, racism, and discrimination will be laughed out of the room and will somehow be labeled a racist, misogynist, and any other awful label you can give a person. After all, white males are not permitted to speak out against injustice because they are all privileged and part of the oppressive patriarchy that has ruined society. Sadly, academia has moved so far away from being a place of learning and scientific excellence. DIE is the new gold standard measure of success. We can only hope that discriminatory DIE policies die so that Universities can go back to doing what they were designed to do. Let’s move away from equality of outcome and start focussing on equality of opportunity.

    Prof. Abos Jabos