Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council
Letter on Implementation of the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion

Summer 2021 update

Dear Janice Charette,

I am writing to you in response to the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion. This letter outlines the concrete actions that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has taken over the past year to advance anti-racism, equity and inclusion and the outcomes observed to date. It also describes our plans to build on that momentum in the coming year. SSHRC is the federal research funding agency that promotes and supports research and training in the humanities and social sciences.

I would like to emphasize SSHRC’s fundamental commitment to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), both in our own organization and in our engagement with the Canadian research enterprise. This commitment continues to guide our progress to meeting the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion with an overall approach of listening, learning and understanding to inform our actions, which firmly underpins our organizational culture.

In addition, our Employment Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee (EEDAC) continues to promote and raise awareness of employment equity, diversity and inclusion, ensuring their integration in programs, policies and daily management practices. EEDAC also keeps abreast of and shares new developments and best practices in multiculturalism, diversity, inclusion and employment equity.

This strong commitment is central to SSHRC’s Strategic Plan, Momentum 2020-22, where we commit to “renew and integrate human resources policies to provide our workforce with updated people management strategies and action plans firmly embedded in EDI principles. This includes promoting EDI in internal staffing processes, at all levels.” The Plan also states our intention to support equitable access to funding opportunities for all researchers; incorporate EDI in program design and research practices; make decisions based on EDI-related data; promote and implement equity targets for the Canada Research Chairs Program; incorporate gender-based analysis plus in developing, evaluating or modifying our policies and programs; and integrate EDI considerations into merit review processes through training of review committee members and SSHRC staff.

What we’ve achieved over the past year: Advancing anti-racism, equity, diversity & inclusion

Over the past year, SSHRC has taken a number of concrete steps to build equity, diversity and inclusion into the foundation of our organization. We have made progress in three main areas: engaging and consulting equity-deserving groups and creating employee networks; employee education, training and recruitment; and, updating and refreshing our corporate policies and processes. We have also put in place various external programs to advance equity, diversity and inclusion within the broader research ecosystem that we serve.

Engagement/consultation with equity-deserving groups and creation of employee networks

Over the past year, we continued to consult with already established equity-deserving committees and networks, including EEDAC, and created new internal networks and working groups. In particular, we employed a more focused approach to countering systemic anti-Black racism and discrimination. We began by setting out three objectives:

We then developed an action plan to meet these objectives. It sets out key deliverables over the short, medium and long term, and assigns responsibility for each to a specific member of the senior management team. The plan commits SSHRC to sustained and meaningful engagement with Black scholars and students, and to taking concrete action to address the specific issues and barriers they face within the research ecosystem.  This is an “evergreen” plan that we will adapt as needed to reflect shared learning and assessment of progress. We also established a Director-General level EDI committee to oversee the progress and support of this work plan, following further engagement of our Black staff members and community.

We established a working group on Anti-Black Racism (ABR), in November 2020, comprised of employee volunteers who identify as Black. This group is helping us eliminate racism and remove barriers in our workplace. Specifically, it is guiding an Employment Systems Review to explore issues of racism affecting our internal operations and a Culture Audit of SSHRC that we began planning for last year. The working group co-developed the scope of work for retaining a qualified supplier to conduct the audit and will be involved in interpreting the results and identifying actions to address these results.

In June 2021 we established a new Persons with Disabilities Network to help us improve accessibility in the workplace. We will consult with this group in developing an accessibility strategy and action plan, and in addressing other accessibility issues in our new People Strategy and Workplace Renewal initiative (discussed below).

Employee recruitment, education and training

Over the past year, we boosted our employment equity recruitment efforts through increased targeting staffing, including diversifying our senior management positions. We also recently created a new position for a Manager of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Human Resources division to focus specifically on internal EDI. For student job opportunities, we continued to promote internally the Federal Student Work Experience Program, specifically with the job inventories for Indigenous Student Employment Opportunity and Employment Opportunity for Students with Disabilities.

We continued our mandatory Diversity and Inclusion Training, and Civility and Respect for all staff and EDI Data and Privacy Protection training for staff who use or access raw employment equity self-identification data. We also continued to promote to staff the numerous EDI courses and events offered through the Canada School of Public Services and the Federal Youth Network. And we partnered with Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion to provide staff with access to diversity and inclusivity webinars and resources.

In June 2020, SSHRC hosted an all-staff virtual SSHRC Talks panel event featuring researchers and experts: Race and social justice: combatting anti-Black racism. The panel discussion helped employees to better understand issues surrounding systemic racism within our own academic community, and in Canada more broadly.

Starting in late 2020, in partnership with the federal anti-Racism Secretariat at Canadian Heritage, we co-hosted a series of four virtual roundtable discussions for senior public servants and researchers to mobilize research knowledge to address racism and discrimination against targeted racialized and religious communities. We made available to staff the recordings from these events on combatting Anti-Black Racism, Anti-Semitism, Anti-Asian Racism and Anti-Indigenous Racism.

The People of NSERC-SSHRC initiative increased the internal visibility of the organization’s diversity, by publishing various employees’ personal EDI stories on the intranet main page throughout the year.  This initiative promotes employees’ diversity and encourages them to recognize and encourage diversity, inclusion and wellness.

Policies and processes

We recently created a new Office of the Ombuds and Well-Being Services with four new staff positions. A neutral and independent entity that reports directly to the President, the Office

provides a safe, impartial environment for employee-manager informal conversations on issues such as conflict, harassment, discrimination and mental health. The aim is to help employees explore and identify possible options for resolving conflicts, complex situations or systemic issues and bring them to the attention of the appropriate authority, when required.

A key action last year was to begin developing our next People Strategy. We recognize that building for a successful future requires a healthy, engaged, agile and diverse workforce. We also want to attract top talent and ensure our employees feel valued and respected. The People Strategy will guide us in our ongoing efforts to create an equitable, diverse and inclusive workplace free from racism. The results from our ABR culture audit will guide the development of the final People Strategy.

External Initiatives

Last year SSHRC launched significant new initiatives and continued implementing existing action plans to advance EDI within the broader research community. For example:

A key recent step in this regard has been SSHRC’s creation in May 2021 of an Advisory Committee to Address Anti-Black Racism.  This committee, composed of 11 members from the Canadian community of Black researchers, is mandated to advise SSHRC’s vice-president, Research, on ways to break down existing barriers, to ensure equitable access for Black scholars, and to amplify their voices and enhance their visibility in SSHRC research and research training programs.

Tri-agency EDI Action Plan: This Action Plan details the work carried out by SSHRC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to achieve two key objectives: (i) equitable access to funding opportunities, and (ii) equitable and inclusive participation in the research system. SSHRC is committed to implementing the Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan to increase equity in its programs and to enhance excellence in research and research training.

SSHRC EDI Implementation Plan: We continued to implement this plan (developed in 2015), which establishes key EDI initiatives for implementation by fiscal year and outlines responsibilities, timelines, resources, and alignment with the Tri-agency EDI Action Plan.

Setting New Directions to Support Indigenous Research and Research Training in Canada: Following two years of engagement with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, we co-developed this Indigenous research strategy 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. A key element is the creation of an Indigenous Leadership Circle in Research to advise the implementation of the strategy. Together with CIHR and NSERC, we launched a process to seek expressions of interest from First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples to participate in the Indigenous Leadership Circle in Research.

Advisory Committee on EDI Policy: This committee is mandated to advise the governance committees and the Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat (TIPS) on implementing measures to achieve EDI goals in all programs TIPS administers, and was instrumental in supporting the EDI Action Plan within the CRC program. The committee also contributed to the development of the Dimensions: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada pilot program, a Tri-agency initiative that fosters EDI in higher education and within the research ecosystem. 

Canada Research Chairs Program (CRCP):  The CRCP, administered by SSHRC on behalf the tri-agencies, has implemented an EDI Action plan (launched in May 2017) to improve the governance, transparency and monitoring of equity and diversity with the program.  The actions support institutions in making swift progress towards addressing the underrepresentation of the four designated groups within the program, including reviewing and revising methodologies to establish equity and diversity targets to meet Canada’s projected 2029 population.

COVID-19 monitoring plan for researchers: Our EDI-oriented COVID-19 monitoring plan compared the application and award rates of under-represented groups before and during the pandemic to assess whether or not the pandemic was having disproportionate effects on their research productivity.

Race, Gender and Diversity Initiative (RGDI):  With an investment of $12M in new funding outlined in Budget 2021, SSHRC launched the RGDI to enhance understanding of the causes and persistence of systemic racism and discrimination society and to help develop strategies to support greater justice and equity. The initiative will support community-based and community-led research, carried out in partnership with postsecondary institutions, that is based on the lived experience of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups, including but not limited to women, First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples, Black, Asian and other racialized peoples; people living with disabilities (both visible and invisible) ; LGBTQ2+ people; religious minorities; and other marginalized on the basis of their ethnicity and other identity factors, as well as individuals who identify as, or belong to more than one of these groups.

Perspectives on COVID-19: Since the onset of the pandemic, SSHRC has been curating and publicly sharing news articles, videos and opinion pieces featuring voices from the social sciences and humanities research community discussing the impacts of COVID-19 on disadvantaged communities, including insights and solutions to challenges facing many underrepresented groups among the Canadian population.

Measuring our progress

We are proud to see that the actions we took last year are driving a positive cultural change in our workplace environment. We recognize the importance of continuous learning and respectful engagement with our staff and with those we serve externally to our organization in our commitment to build a more equitable, diverse and inclusive workplace.

We measured our progress, quantitatively, through analysis of the results of SSHRC’s Employment Equity 2020-21 and the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) 2020. Our Employment Equity results indicated we made considerable progress for three of the four designated groups: we maintained a strong representation of Women in our organization and narrowed the gaps for Visible Minorities and Persons with Disabilities (see Data Annex). However, we recognize that gaps remain in recruitment, career development and retention of Indigenous Peoples, Persons with Disabilities and Visible Minorities.

Overall, the PSES 2020 survey results showed that 88% of our employees are proud of the work we do and 87% stated that the people they work with value their ideas and opinions. 80% believed that their department or organization implements initiatives that promote anti-racism in the workplace while 78% would feel free to speak about racism in the workplace without fear of reprisal. Further analysis of the data, however, revealed engagement gaps with under-represented employee groups: Indigenous Peoples, Persons with Disabilities, Black, and racialized groups. Some 74% of employees, for example, would feel comfortable sharing concerns about issues related to racism in the workplace with a person of authority.

Challenges and barriers

Our two main challenges in implementing the Call to Action relate to the size of our organization relative to the growth of programs and services delivered in support of our mandate, and employee voluntary self-identification issues.

SSHRC is faced with the challenge of being a small organization (304 employees as of August 1, 2021). Despite our strong commitment and ambitions to meet the goals of our EDI action plans, we have few dedicated resources to accelerate our efforts.

Voluntary self-identification continues to present a challenge in assessing our employment equity progress. Without full participation of employees in identifying as a member of a designated group, it is impossible to know, definitively, whether our workforce is representative of labour market availability. Thus representation be higher than what is reported. We are aware that some employees from the equity deserving groups have joined our consultation groups and networks but do not self-identify in the MyGCHR Employment Equity questionnaire. One reason for this is the out-of-date language used in the current form. Employees often do not trust who will see and use their data and do not believe there is a good reason to self-identify. To help overcome this challenge, we 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.

We are already addressing these challenges through the various initiatives launched last year (discussed above) and through what we have planned for the coming year, particularly our next People Strategy.

Our plans going forward: Building on the momentum

Over the next year and beyond, we will continue implementing and expanding on the policies, strategies, collaborations and actions described in the previous section, both within the agency and in the broader research community. We will build on the momentum we created over the past year in engagement and consultation with equity deserving groups and creation of employee networks; employee education, training and recruitment; and updating and refreshing of our organization’s policies and processes. And we will apply lessons learned from their early outcomes.

Finalizing and implementing our new People Strategy will be at the heart of our future efforts. Building on all our efforts to date, it will help us better understand existing systemic barriers, guide us on the concrete and bold measures required to eliminate these barriers completely, and improve our measurement of progress made. The upcoming results of the Culture Audit will inform the People Strategy, with the ABR working group involved in analyzing results analysis and integrating them into the Strategy.

The People Strategy will be complemented by our Workplace Renewal initiative as we plan and prepare for an office move to the state-of-the-art Zibi development in the National Capital Region, located on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe People. Modernizing our policies and processes for employees and investing in technologies that enable flexible work arrangements and a healthier work-life balance gives us the opportunity to build EDI considerations into our new workplace environment and further respond to the Call to Action. We are engaging with staff to prepare them for the upcoming move and consulting with them on how they envision their work at Zibi. The new Network of Persons with Disabilities is helping ensure our plans address accessibility issues.

In addition, we are exploring the Mentorship Plus Program, a program that pairs employees from diverse backgrounds with executive mentors and sponsors to provide better visibility in informal networks and access development opportunities to acquire necessary skills for the executive cadre. 

I trust this letter demonstrates SSHRC’s commitment to incorporate equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism into everything we do. We have made great strides in the past year on implementing the Call to Action—driving a significant change in SSHRC’s workplace culture and the research enterprise—and we are quickening our pace going forward. I look forward to informing you of further progress and successes in the future.


Ted Hewitt, PhD

Data Annex

Employment Equity Representation and Gaps Progress Report from 2019-20 to 2020-21

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 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 Departed in 2019-20 and 2020-21






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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