Brock team publishes UNESCO paper on inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility

While Canadian universities are committed to the concept of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA), “a lot of work needs to be done” to create enabling environments for IDEA policies and practices to thrive, says a UNESCO reflection paper written by Brock University researchers.

“Despite the importance of IDEA, and desire to do the right thing, there is a lot of uncertainty for faculty members of how to turn IDEA policies into practice in different aspects of their work, such as grant applications, recruitment of highly qualified personnel, research work environment, collaborations and publications,” says co-author Jocelyn Baker, researcher with the UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: from Local to Global.

“A diverse research body has been shown to increase creativity, innovation, objectivity and innovation when fostering deep respect and appreciation for a range of perspectives and skills,” says co-author Liette Vasseur, Brock Professor of Biology who holds the UNESCO Chair on Community Sustainability: from Local to Global.

The paper, “Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility (IDEA): Good Practices for Researchers,” opens by stating how the “historically excluded” — women, racialized persons, LGBTQ2S+ persons, Indigenous Peoples and people living with disabilities — have faced an array of barriers during their research career, starting from the time they were students.

These barriers include discrimination, racism, stereotyping, and conscious and unconscious biases.

The number of equity policies has increased since the 1980s, says the paper, with a major boost occurring in 2017 from the Canada Research Chairs (CRCP) program. Universities wishing to have Chairs must develop a strategic plan to implement equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies.

At a 2019 panel on EDI at the Canadian Science Policy Conference, it was suggested to add ‘accessibility’ to EDI to include people living with disabilities who face impediments in their movement or work, creating the acronym IDEA.

Despite these advances, “Canadian institutional EDI practices continue to be ineffective and in fact perpetuate the denial of racism, discrimination and the lack of equity,” says the paper.

The research notes that most of the focus is on institutional policies such as hiring practices, labour issues, harassment and violence with little guidance on how IDEA is implemented in laboratories.

The reflection paper, and accompanying ‘toolkit’ paper, recommends that research teams in labs “undertake a comprehensive environmental scan in order to fully understand, acknowledge and address IDEA barriers.”

This environmental scan would include regular IDEA training and identifying barriers that the historically excluded are facing in labs.

The reflection and toolkit papers provide 10 practices to create lab environments that allow IDEA policies and practices to thrive:

  • Improve team awareness about the roles that biases, discrimination, stereotypes and racism play in day-to-day conduct and decision-making.
  • Advocate for better academic outreach processes to ensure that people from historically excluded groups feel included.
  • Create fair and equitable processes by removing gendered language from position (highly qualified personnel or faculty) announcements, applications, nominations, letters of recommendation and evaluation processes.
  • Diversity mentorship programs to better match the growing diversity of university community populations.
  • Acknowledge tokenism, service work and workload as placing additional burdens on already historically excluded students and faculty.
  • Extend IDEA adherence through training and discussions beyond the laboratory during field work, outreach and engagement forums.
  • Improve awareness of biases, discrimination, stereotypes and racism in spaces of research knowledge translation, mobilization and dissemination.
  • Increase awareness of how curriculum is dominated by, and caters to, the Western colonialist way of knowing.
  • Include a diversity of collaborators in grant applications to ensure all team members are able to fully participate equitably in research undertakings.
  • Improve decision-making processes by increasing diversity and representation on committees, incorporating specific and measurable evaluation criteria.

“By making changes even in the small spaces such as individual research laboratories, this bottom-up approach can eventually transform departments and institutions as a whole,” says the report.

“I hope this paper will bring introspection; it certainly did for me,” says Baker.

“Unconscious bias is an area of significant issue,” she says. “We need to be constantly working on our own biases and perceptions. We all have a role to play in ensuring a fair, equitable and inclusive environment, whether it is in the classroom, laboratory, workplace or at home.”

The toolkit and reflection paper are available here.

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