Shaping Science Policy to Improve Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Reshaping science policy and institutional structures can have a significant positive impact on marginalized groups and communities. The scientific community has long been working to improve inclusion, diversity, and equity and thus facilitate collaboration and foster innovation and discovery. To fully address the problem, there is a need to develop strategies and policies that offer underrepresented populations equal opportunities to advance their careers.

Barriers to Inclusion, Equitable Access, and Diversity

A number of factors contribute to the under-representation of women, visible minorities, people with disabilities, and Indigenous people in science and institutional settings. These include biased indicators of excellence, stereotyping, gendered language, unconscious bias, and few role models.  Unconscious bias is still a source of concern and a barrier to gender equality. Analysis by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada shows, for example, that reference letters for female medical faculty are more vague and shorter and focus less on research. Overall, 13 percent of letters for male faculty contained the words “achievement” and “accomplishment” compared to 4 percent for female academic personnel. The average letter length is 253 for men and 227 for women. Women and other underrepresented groups are also more likely to face barriers such as a more limited access to research funding and less lab time. Their publications are often seen as less significant as well. Additionally, underrepresented academics are more likely to take a break from employment due to medical, community, family, and parental reasons.

Shaping Science Policy to Overcome Barriers

Questions to Address

Professionals and organizations at all levels must play an active role in shaping science policy, including policy-makers, research funding agencies, administrators, scientists, faculty members, trainees, and students. Recognizing that barriers exist is an important first step toward overcoming them. The next is to identify specific challenges and barriers that underrepresented populations face, for example racialized minorities, persons with impairments, LGBT, and women. It is also crucial to examine the impact of systemic barriers on professionals who identify with two or more groups /like sexuality, gender, race, and ethnicity/. Additionally, a major question to be addressed is how bias affects the lives and experiences of individuals in their role of administrators, researchers, faculty, and students.

Training and Development

When it comes to training and development opportunities, including networking, conferences, and workshops, policies must be set in place to ensure that opportunities are clearly communicated with all eligible team members. The policies that institutions adopt must include safeguards so that professionals with care and family responsibilities and career interruptions have access to training and development opportunities. If funding is available for accommodation, child care, and travel, it is important to ensure that all team members have been notified and have equitable access to funding.

Diversity Training

Diversity training aims to enhance core competencies by addressing workplace accommodation of persons with disabilities, reconciliation, micro-aggregations, unconscious bias, anti-discrimination, and anti-racism. Training can include topics such as accommodation and accessibility, intercultural competence, bias awareness, reconciliation, inclusive workplaces, and diverse and inclusive research environments.

Resources for Team Members

All team members must have access to culturally-specific and appropriate resources such as accommodation offices, nursing rooms, onsite child care, medication and prayer rooms, facilities for staff fasting for religious reasons, etc.  Policies should be set in place to allow team members to take leave for ceremonies, celebrations, rituals, and religious obligations. Staff should have access to support services such as relations advisers, disability management professionals, and immigration specialists.

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