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Feds hope for more scientific diversity

Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan greets her friend and colleague Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef as they announce the draft Made-in-Canada Athena SWAN at UOIT. (Photo by Chris Jones)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the federal government announced $10 million in funding to EDI institutional capacity building grants.

Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan was at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) to unveil the draft Made-in-Canada Athena Swan Charter, as well as to announce the creation of a new fund that is meant to foster equity, diversion and inclusion (EDI) research.

According to Duncan, the charter itself is inspired by the United Kingdom Athena SWAN, which was established in 2005 to encourage young women to explore science based fields.

Duncan was joined by Whitby MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Peterborough-Kawarthas MP and Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef, and UOIT professor Shilpa Dogra.

“When I was younger I was truly led to believe that equity and equality were here,” said Dogra. “I just don’t think that’s the case, so what excites me most about today’s announcement is that we finally are moving from having conversations about EDI to taking concrete action. This is exciting.”

According to Duncan the government is “returning science and research to their rightful place while embracing equity, diversity and inclusion in the lab, the classroom and the field.”

Duncan said while she spoke mostly of gender in her examples, as it was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, “when we talk about improving equity, diversity and inclusion, we are talking about five underrepresented groups: women, Indigenous peoples, racialized groups, persons with disabilities, the LGBTQ2 community, and let me be clear, it is important that we include intersectionality.”

The draft charter was developed after consultation with Canada’s research community, and is designed to reflect Canada’s diverse population.

Another round of consultation will begin next week that will allow underrepresented groups to provide their own feedback on the draft charter.

The $10 million in funding for EDI Duncan announced will span over a five-year period, and post-secondary institutions will be able to request up to $200,000 per year for up to two years for projects that will develop and implement EDI policies, plans and training.

Duncan also used the opportunity to launch the next phase in the #ChooseScience movement, a national social media campaign that is meant to encourage girls and young women to enter fields pertaining to science, technology, engineering and math.

The campaign engages interested young women through home-based projects, citizen science projects, and testimonials from Canadian women who are currently in these fields.

“Together, these new capacity-building grants and the new made-in-Canada program will help us ensure Canada’s research community is as diverse as our country,” said Duncan.

Duncan said despite all of the gains women have made in science such as Donna Strickland, a Canadian woman, winning the Nobel Prize for physics, there is still much work to do.

“Implementing the charter will tell prospective students, faculty and researchers that the school is committed to best practices,” said Duncan. “That it is a champion of equity, diversity and inclusion.”

“This charter matters because we are all better off when our research community is truly representative of the Canada we see, the Canada we are,” said Duncan.