Canadian Institutes of Health Research
Letter on Implementation of the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion

Summer 2021 update

Dear Ms. Charette:

The Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion issued on January 22, 2021 has served as an important reinforcement of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)’s commitment to examine its policies, programs, and processes to address systemic barriers experienced by diverse individuals. As Canada's federal health research funding agency, CIHR is strongly committed to supporting the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) across all aspects of our business. While we recognize that this is a long journey, we have introduced real change at CIHR to set us on a path towards anti-racism, diversity and inclusion. In fact, CIHR’s progress in this regard has been just been validated by an international assessment. CIHR recently participated in the Global Review of Sex, Gender, and/or Diversity Analysis (SG&DA) in Research Policies of Major Public Granting Agencies study. CIHR received the highest score of the study (83.5%) and was ranked with "Superior Performance". We firmly believe that SGBA+ and EDI foster research excellence -- research can only be excellent, innovative, and impactful when it benefits us all.

These actions that we have underway can be grouped into four main areas: CIHR’s funding system (i.e., who we fund), health research ecosystem (i.e., with whom we consult, engage, and work), the research CIHR funds (i.e., what we fund), and the CIHR workplace (i.e., who we are). Guided by CIHR’s Governing Council, which has made EDI a cross-cutting priority of CIHR’s Strategic Plan 2021-31, our past and upcoming actions for each of these four key aspects of our business are outlined below.

CIHR funding system

If Canada is to reach its full potential for research excellence, we need to ensure that there is support for a diverse community of researchers. The connection between increased diversity and increased potential for innovation, critical and creative thinking, and problem-solving is well-documented.

In light of this imperative, in 2016, CIHR released its Equity Strategy to help identify and address potential inequities in CIHR’s funding system. Since this time, CIHR has implemented a number of key actions under this strategy, including a specialized peer review process for Indigenous health research funding applications, equalization of success rates for early career researchers and female applicants, and online training modules to address issues like unconscious bias in the peer review process.

The unconscious bias training module is now being revised to include specific content on racism, accessibility and systemic ableism, intersectionality, and barriers faced by members of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

In addition, in May 2018, CIHR, along with the other federal funding agencies (i.e., the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council), launched a Tri-Agency self-identification questionnaire for applicants to all funding competitions. Applicants to all funding competitions are asked to provide their age, gender, and whether they identify as Indigenous, a visible minority, or as a person with a disability. The collection of this data allows CIHR to identify and understand potential inequities, underrepresentation, and systemic barriers within our funding system. In order to be open and transparent about this important work, CIHR has recently published self-identification data from the 2018 and 2019 spring and fall Project Grant competitions and the 2020 COVID-19 Competitions. CIHR has also published its 2019 self-identification data in the Canada Research Coordinating Committee (CRCC) 2019-20 Progress Report.

Health research ecosystem

In October 2020, CIHR reaffirmed its commitment to act on the calls to address systemic racism and to co-develop concrete actions with individuals with lived experiences, including communities marginalized by racism, and Indigenous Peoples. To enact this commitment, from February to April 2021, CIHR held an online discussion to hear from members of these communities about systemic racism within the health research funding system. In addition, in July 2021, in alignment with CIHR’s Strategic Plan 2021-31 and the underlying Action Plan for Year 1, CIHR established the External Advisory Committee on Anti-Racism, which will play a fundamental role in shaping community engagement activities and the co-development of a CIHR anti-racism action plan – planned for summer 2022. A second advisory stream is being developed to ensure that the unique rights, interests, and circumstances of Indigenous Peoples are acknowledged, affirmed, and implemented. This advisory body will guide listening sessions with Indigenous Peoples, to inform a CIHR anti-racism action plan as well as the removal of administrative barriers.

In the fall of 2021, CIHR is planning to host a number of small group, virtual listening sessions to identify issues and potential solutions relating to systemic racism in the health funding system. CIHR will also continue to actively participate in and support conversations about anti-racism with national and provincial stakeholder organizations. For example, CIHR has provided funding to the Canadian Black Scientists Network to support its Black Excellence Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine conference taking place in November 2021.

A similar trajectory will be put in place to receive feedback from members of the research community living with disabilities – with an advisory body expected to be convened in late 2021. This advisory body will inform CIHR’s approach to listening sessions and other forms of engagement with persons with disabilities and relevant stakeholder organizations. These lines of evidence will feed into the formation of an Accessibility and Anti-Ableism Action Plan that will align with CIHR’s Year 1 commitment under the CIHR Strategic Plan to fulfill the requirements of the Accessible Canada Act (2019) and respond to barriers identified by members of the community.

CIHR-funded research

In addition to supporting a diverse cadre of excellent researchers and trainees, CIHR has implemented a number of actions to strengthen research outputs and the translation of new knowledge into improved health practices, outcomes, and access to health care. As underscored by the inequitable health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is fundamentally important that CIHR-funded research take into consideration diverse identity factors (including, but not limited to, sex, gender, ethnicity, age, disability and sexual orientation). This impetus is reflected in the measures CIHR has already implemented to shape effective policies and programs to improve the quality of federally-funded health research.

Since 2017, CIHR has implemented actions under its Sex and Gender Based Analysis (SGBA) in Research Action Plan to ensure that sex as a biological variable, gender, and other sociocultural considerations are an integral part of CIHR-funded research, and, consequently, that health research is relevant and impactful for Canada's diverse population. This includes training for peer reviewers and a requirement to include SGBA+ in applications for funding. Moreover, researchers applying for CIHR funding have been recently required to proactively and explicitly consider EDI in their applications. CIHR is also developing tools to ensure a more systematic and consistent approach to implementing this requirement. Feedback from the listening sessions described above will help to further inform and shape this priority.

Recognizing the inequities in health outcomes between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians, CIHR has made the health and wellness of Indigenous populations one of the agency’s four priority areas of research and created the Action Plan: Building a healthier future for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples. Through its Institute of Indigenous Peoples' Health, CIHR has worked very closely with Indigenous communities to co-develop major initiatives, such as the Network Environments for Indigenous Health Research, which focus on building capacity for research and knowledge translation in Indigenous communities. Such initiatives support the creation of research environments for Indigenous health research driven by, and grounded in, Indigenous communities to address the health challenges and inequities they face, including on racism experienced by Indigenous Peoples within Canada’s health care systems.

CIHR workplace

CIHR aims to mobilize a workforce that is reflective of the diversity in Canadian society. We are measuring our progress towards this goal through a number of mechanisms including: the Self-Identification Survey for new employees, the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) workforce satisfaction survey, the Employee Exit Survey, Official Languages Consultations and Analyses, the Workplace Equity Information Management System analysis, and CIHR Demographic analyses. These results assist us to make evidence-based decisions on human resources organizational priorities.

In 2019-20, our workforce demographic analysis indicated that CIHR’s workforce was well represented by women, with a representation of 68.3%, well above the 2016 census of workforce availability of 62.8%. However, the analysis also showed an underrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples, members from visible minority groups, and persons with disabilities, with significant gaps at the professional and semi-professional levels. The representation of Indigenous Peoples was 1.5%, below the workforce availability of 3.2%, the representation of members of visible minority groups was 17.7%, below the workforce availability of 23.4%, and the representation of persons with disabilities was 2.8%, below the workforce availability of 8.5%.

We acknowledge that there is significant work ahead of us to increase diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization, including the leadership team. As outlined in Year 1 of CIHR’s annual action plan under the Strategic Plan and our commitment to organizational excellence, we aim to modernize internal operations through the development of an evidence-informed human resources strategy to recruit and retain employees to increase EDI, as well as recruit and retain First Nations, Inuit and Métis employees and support inclusivity practices. Moving forward, EDI considerations will feature prominently in our recruitment efforts. These efforts will include promoting employment opportunities to a diverse group of stakeholders, ensuring a diverse selection panel, and considering EDI at all stages of the selection process. We will also endeavour to identify and redress EDI-related barriers to participation in CIHR advisory and governance bodies.

In addition to our strategic planning, CIHR has taken meaningful steps to address barriers or disadvantages faced by employees and to ensure greater diversity and inclusion since the Call to Action. Internal and external EDI Champions have been appointed to focus on both internal measures to address EDI within CIHR’s workforce and external measures to bolster EDI in research and on research teams. The internal EDI Champion will be supported by the Employee EDI Committee.

Through engagement, the Employee EDI Committee will help to define, develop, and implement CIHR's EDI strategy within the workplace, which will include:

We are also developing anti-racism principles, resources, and additional mandatory training for CIHR staff and leadership. For instance, Anima Leadership Anti-Racism training has been mandated for all executive staff. The mandatory training courses are documented in each employee’s performance agreement and completion is tracked at year-end. Additional EDI-related training and resources have been made available to all CIHR employees through the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. Moreover, CIHR human resources staff will continue to regularly attend interdepartmental meetings to share best practices on implementing and promoting employment equity, diversity, and multiculturalism programs.

EDI is about much more than closing gaps in representation. As CIHR works to increase diversity at all levels of the organization and in all aspects of our mandate, we are continuing to examine our policies, processes, and programs for systemic racism and barriers to equity. As we move forward, we are committed to regularly reporting on our progress on this important issue.


Catherine MacLeod

Michael Strong, MD.

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