U of T to take significant steps to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in research activities

Photo of U of T sign in fall
(photo by Laura Pedersen)

The University of Toronto’s division of research and innovation will take important steps to promote equity, diversity and inclusion in research activities across Canada’s largest post-secondary institution.

The changes are detailed in 49 recommendations of a university working group struck in the spring of last year by Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president of research and innovation. The recommendations cover everything from the way U of T researchers are supported and funded to the procedures governing nominations for awards and other honours.

The working group also recommends that U of T’s research services work closely with other university bodies, as well as partner hospitals and community groups, to implement measures to help the university attract and retain a diverse group of top researchers and create an inclusive environment. 

Goel has accepted all the recommendations that are directed to the research and innovation office and has committed to working with relevant university officers on recommendations that are in the jurisdiction of those offices. 

“While the University of Toronto has long been committed to equity and diversity, moving forward on these recommendations will create a more systematic approach by applying an equity, diversity and inclusion lens to all of our internal programs and competitions – basically everything we do,” he said.

“I thank the members of the working group for their thoughtful assessment and constructive recommendations.”

Goel struck the working group to address a key objective in the university’s 2018-2023 strategic research plan. The plan called for, among other things, the integration of “best practice recommendations into our internal procedures and programs in order to encourage broad and diverse participation and to counter bias in peer review and selection processes.”

The working group took into account the calls to action in U of T’s response to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its findings, meanwhile, are also expected to inform the university’s implementation of the federal Canada Research Chairs Program’s action plan on equity, diversity and inclusion, which aims to ensure Canadian universities meet their targets when it comes to representation of four designated groups – “women, people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples and members of visible minorities.”
Lorraine Ferris, U of T’s associate vice-president of research oversight and compliance, chaired the U of T working group, which included representatives from across the university. The working group identified high-level issues surrounding equity, diversity and inclusion and then considered concrete and practical recommendations to address them.
To take one example, the working group calls for the creation of education resources and efforts to raise awareness of equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives. Through these efforts, everyone in the university’s research and innovation enterprise – including applicants, administrators, staff and internal adjudicators – will be informed about principles and practices that promote equity and will be able to integrate them into their work.
Other recommendations focus on bolstering the university’s ability to collect the data necessary to determine whether its equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives are having the desired effect. That strategy includes encouraging researchers to complete U of T’s diversity survey.

Another key change will be a focus on promoting community partnerships. Ferris said such partnerships are crucial when studying underrepresented communities, including Indigenous groups, but may not always receive the necessary support now.

“What we’ve learned is there’s all sorts of research that may use different methodologies – it might be more community-based, community participatory, or community-partnered,” said Ferris, who is a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

She stressed that the working group’s changes don’t favour one type of research over another.

“We’re trying to broaden our understanding of what constitutes excellent scholarship,” she said.

To get there, U of T’s research and innovation office has appointed a new research equity and diversity strategist to help lead the implementation of the working group’s recommendations more broadly. The division will also establish a new standing committee to advise leadership on matters related to equity, diversity and inclusion, and to regularly report on ongoing initiatives.

Once fully implemented, Ferris said, the working group’s recommendations promise to make U of T’s research and innovation enterprise better reflect the community it serves.

“At the end of this, we will continue to have excellent scholarship – without a doubt,” she said. “But it will be different from what we see now because it will be much more expansive.”


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