Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
Letter on Implementation of the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion

Summer 2021 update

Dear Interim Clerk Charette,

I am writing to you in response to the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion. In this letter, I highlight the concrete actions taken by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the outcomes observed to date.

NSERC is Canada’s largest supporter of discovery and innovation. We fund visionaries, explorers and innovators who are searching for the scientific and technical breakthroughs that will benefit our country. We work closely with the research community to make science and engineering more equitable, diverse and inclusive because we want all Canadians to see themselves as discoverers and innovators.

As of March 31, 2021, NSERC had a total of 510 employees.


Over the past year, NSERC’s approach to advancing anti-racism, equity and inclusion has prioritized engaging with equity-deserving groups who can guide an NSERC-wide transformation of policies and partnerships.

As a federal organization charged with supporting Canada’s current research talent and encouraging the next generation’s, NSERC can influence Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) practices throughout our research community and within our own organization by developing practices that have an impact both internally and externally. To that end, we have put into place action plans to advance Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Many of these actions involve a high level of collaboration with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), our sister agency, with whom we share the Human Resources function.

We are performing a culture audit using an external consulting firm to ensure we have the expertise and experience to conduct the audit both respectfully and effectively. The main focus will be to explore issues of systemic racism and discrimination affecting NSERC employees who identify as members of equity deserving groups with the objective of identifying any barriers that may adversely affect the recruitment, onboarding, retention, career development / promotion, performance management, accommodation, communication, engagement and full participation of employees.

The Tri-agency EDI Action Plan (2018-2025) details the work the three federal granting agencies – NSERC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)– are carrying out to achieve two key objectives:

  1. Equitable access to funding opportunities, and;
  2. Equitable and inclusive participation in the research system.

NSERC is currently developing an internal People Strategy that will align with the Tri-agency plan as well as the results of the culture audit to establish EDI goals, responsibilities, timelines, and resources for key initiatives to be achieved by the agency for each fiscal year. 

By using an Employment Equity (EE) targeted staffing approach, we have seen a major improvement in successfully reducing our EE gaps in staff and our executive positions as well as diversifying our senior management positions. 

To continue building a safe, equitable, diverse and inclusive workplace, the HR Division, in partnership with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED)-LGBTQ2+ Network’s new Safe Spaces working group, is hosting a bilingual panel discussion on creating safe and inclusive spaces.  Safe Spaces is a brand new working group under the LGBTQ2+ network. The vision of this working group is to begin holding safe space conversations where people can share their lived perspective and authentic selves with each other. 

On January 1, 2021, the new Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention Regulations came into force. As such, NSERC has revised its internal policy and approach to the prevention and resolution of harassment and violence in the workplace in an effort to promote a positive, safe, respectful and healthy work environment for all employees. 

NSERC has also created the Office of the Ombuds and Well-Being Services. The Office is a neutral and independent entity that reports directly to the President and offers a safe and impartial environment to employees and managers to have informal conversations on any issues, including major conflict, harassment, discrimination and mental health. The Office will also include internal Informal Conflict Management (ICM) services which, up until now, were only offered externally. The ICM services will offer a confidential and safe space to empower employees and managers. It will aid in preventing, managing, and resolving workplace conflict by identifying systemic issues, potential conflicts and complex situations. ICM services are an integral part of creating a high-performing, respectful, healthy, and inclusive workplace as they focus on building collaborative communication skills in order to address conflicts early and at the lowest possible level.

As well as the new Office, we recently created the Manager of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion position in the HR division. The role of the Manager will be to focus on improving internal EDI efforts. NSERC also has a Sex and Gender-Based Analysis Plus champion that actively participates in Government of Canada committees on EDI matters.

We are currently preparing to move our headquarters to the new Zibi development. This state-of-the-art space presents interesting opportunities to reconceive how our employees work. NSERC’s Workplace Renewal initiative is modernizing its policies and processes for employees and making investments in technologies that enable flexible work arrangements and a healthier work-life balance. The Employment Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee (EEDAC) as well as the newly established Persons with Disabilities Network (PWDN) serve as consultation groups on accessibility in the workplace. They are key members in the Workplace Renewal initiative and we are taking full advantage of their recommendations to build EDI considerations into the design and workflow of our new space.

Following two years of engagement with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, we co-developed an Indigenous research strategy, titled Setting New Directions to Support Indigenous Research and Research Training in Canada | Strategic Plan 2019-2022, on behalf of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee, and launched it in January 2020. Its objectives include establishing greater Indigenous representation at the federal granting agencies to include Indigenous voices in decision-making, notably at management levels, and strengthening understanding and respect for Indigenous perspectives, histories and worldviews in the Tri-agencies through Indigenous cultural safety training.

NSERC also signed a memorandum of understanding with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) in December 2020, beginning a partnership on the implementation of the National Inuit Strategy on Research with objectives that include utilizing a distinctions-based and co-development approach with Indigenous rights holders, and for NSERC and ITK to co-develop research calls and/or activities in Inuit Nunangat. 

Measurement and Results

NSERC relies on the annual Employment Equity and Public Service Employment Survey results to measure the progress our organization makes in terms of representation and workplace experience.

The 2020-21 Employment Equity results and our positive progress in three of the four designated groups are very encouraging. NSERC maintained strong representation for Women and reduced our gaps significantly for Members of Visible Minorities and Persons with Disabilities. Our organization continues to have a gap with Indigenous Peoples but now has strategies and partnerships in place that aim to increase representation within this designated group and we will be monitoring their success closely.  Overall, we are very motivated with the progress in closing the gaps in under-represented groups and will continue our EE targeted staffing processes to further close the gaps.

The results of the 2020 Public Service Employment Survey revealed that 92% of employees are proud of the work they do at NSERC. Deeper analysis indicated engagement gaps with underrepresented groups. In response, senior management are carrying out an anti-racism and discrimination cultural audit on underrepresented groups and employment systems review to explore issues of racism and discrimination affecting NSERC’s internal operations. 

The PSES also revealed that 91% of employees feel that the agency treats them with respect and 90% of employees feel that individuals behave in a respectful manner. While these results are encouraging there is still work to be done to ensure that all employees feel respected and safe at work.

External Programs

To monitor the diversity within its research community, NSERC asks every applicant for its funding competitions to self-identify with information on age, gender, Indigenous identity, visible minority and population group or disability through the Self-Identification Data questionnaire, first launched in 2018. The data collection process allows NSERC to monitor the diversity of participants across most of its programs and design new measures that achieve greater EDI in the research enterprise.

Challenges and Barriers

My GCHR Employment Equity questionnaire and data

Voluntary self-identification continues to present a challenge for NSERC’s ability to assess employment equity progress. It is not possible to know definitively whether the workforce is representative of the labour market availability without full participation from members of a designated group. NSERC’s HR team participated in the review and recommendations to Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s Office of the Chief Human Resource Officer on the Self-ID Modernization Project to enhance our data collection efforts in this area. 

Size of organization

NSERC is faced with the challenge of being a small organization with relatively low turnover and having a number of positions requiring bilingualism and specific education and/or experience skill sets. The combination of specialized functions and high requirements for bilingualism may hinder diversity hiring to some degree.

Employee Response

NSERC is currently carrying out a culture audit and systems review on equity-deserving groups.  We are consulting with new and established equity-deserving committees and networks to better understand and to address specific matters and barriers affecting NSERC’s programs and operations.

We continue to consult with already established equity-deserving committees and networks, and have created new internal networks and working groups.

The Employment Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee (EEDAC) serves as a consultation forum that reviews, discusses and makes recommendations on employment equity and diversity and inclusion matters, challenges, initiatives, policies and practices. This year the committee launched a multicultural calendar of significant dates to be recognized including Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, Multiculturalism Day and several religious and ethnic holidays. 

Persons with Disabilities Network (PWDN), establish in June 2021, is the consultation group on accessibility in the workplace. Members participate in the development of the accessibility strategy and action plan, and make recommendations on the Zibi Project, NSERC’s Recruitment Strategy, and our People Management Strategy.

Advisory Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Policy is mandated to advise the governance committees and the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS) on implementing measures to achieve increased equity, diversity and inclusion in all programs TIPS administers.

Indigenous Leadership Circle in Research, Canada’s three federal research funding agencies and the Canada Foundation for Innovation are seeking expressions of interest from First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples to participate in an Indigenous Leadership Circle in Research. The Leadership Circle will advise the four organizations in implementing the Canada Research Coordinating Committee’s strategic plan, Setting New Directions to Support Indigenous Research and Research Training in Canada 2019-2022.

The NSERC Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (CEDI) provides guidance on policies and initiatives to help ensure equitable, diverse and inclusive access and consideration for applicants to NSERC’s funding opportunities and to influence a more equitable, diverse and inclusive natural sciences and engineering (NSE) research system and culture. In 2020, it became one of the regular, standing committees of the Council.

NSERC 2030 is a new strategic plan in development which will reflect Canada's priorities for the funding of natural sciences and engineering over the next decade. We are currently developing discussion papers which focus on topics such as Supporting Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Research Community and Supporting Indigenous Researchers and Research which will help guide conversations on relevant strategic issues for NSE research funding in Canada. Staff members have been invited to volunteer their time and expertise on any of the discussion paper topics. Staff will continue to be engaged in all aspects of the new strategic planning exercise.


The EDI advancements NSERC has made over the last year will see that our organization continue to build on its efforts, policies and strategies already put in place to advance anti-racism, equity, diversity and inclusion, both at the agency and in Canada’s broader research community:

NSERC will continue to promote EDI topics to staff through NSERC’s quarterly HR Bulletin, our “People of NSERC-SSHRC” initiative that highlights the organization’s diversity through employees’ personal EDI stories, and through my own weekly communiqué to staff.

We will form more partnerships similar to our collaboration with Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion to provide NSERC staff with access to diversity and inclusivity webinars, and our joint venture with Ingenium, which showcased stories of historical and contemporary women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math as part of the Iron Willed: Women in STEM travelling exhibition and poster series.

We will promote the latest educational and training opportunities for staff on all matters related to EDI, such as those offered through the Canada School of Public Services and the Federal Youth Network. We are developing more resources for staff like our publications on anti-racism and personal pronouns, and delivering mandatory Diversity and Inclusion Training, and Civility and Respect. NSERC also provides mandatory EDI Data and Privacy Protection training for employees and program staff who use or access raw EDI data.

NSERC is committed making equity, diversity, and inclusion foundational aspects of how we support our employees and our research community. We have made strides already, and we are quickening our pace with the steps we have taken over the last year. I look forward to informing you of further progress and successes in the future.


Prof. Alejandro Adem

Annex Data

Employment Equity Representation and Gaps Progress Report from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021

The table below presents the progress made in the overall representation rates of the four designated groups, as well as the “gaps” that have decreased over the past year. A gap indicates the degree of under-representation; which signifies the number of employees who have self-identified as belonging to a particular Employment Equity (EE) group minus the number of employees the organization should employ to fully reflect the group’s availability in the Canadian labour market (LMA).

Employment equity designated group

Internal Representation and Gaps
of Designated Groups






Indigenous Peoples



Persons with Disabilities



Visible Minorities



Employment Equity Representation for Employees Hired, Promoted, and Terminated in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 






New Hires










Indigenous Peoples




New Hires










Persons with disabilities




New Hires










Visible minorities




New Hires









Note: The number of EE group members is based on a voluntary self-identification by employees at the Agency and captured in MyGCHR. Consequently, the numbers of designated groups hired, promoted and terminated may be higher than the ones provided in this report.

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