Equity and diversity targets in science: Your thoughts, please (guest post with poll)

Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post from Françoise Cardou and Mark Vellend.


We like to argue over the lunch hour. Not in the sense that anyone gets upset or angry, but in the more positive sense of “argue”: presenting and debating the evidence and merits behind different points of view. Since we both enjoy trying to see things from multiple perspectives, whatever position either of us first proposes about the topic of the day, they are almost certain to have a ready opponent. One recent topic of debate was especially thorny: equity and diversity targets in the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program.

The CRC diversity targets represent just one example of many efforts across the global scientific community to reduce and hopefully eliminate discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other feature of an individual that is irrelevant to their ability to contribute to the scientific enterprise. A recent column by a well-known rabble-rouser at the Globe and Mail took aim at this policy (provided here), and sci-Twitter and others took issue with the column (for instance here, here and here). And so the topic came up at lunchtime. Despite vigorous rebuttals of the premises of the original column, the motivating questions seem to have gone unaddressed: are quantitative targets a good way to tackle equity and diversity issues, and if so, what are appropriate targets? We were thus motivated to write this post to find out what people think.

Equity and diversity targets have a contentious history in higher education. Just last year, one American university had to deny using targets when they were sued for discrimination on the basis of race by Asian American applicants. In contrast, frustration in many quarters over the slowness of progress* has increased support for this type of measure: one article has argued that any proven systemic and self-reproducing biases in hiring procedures provides grounds for diversity targets, with some following through in a big way.

What brought the CRC equity and diversity targets into the news recently was the announcement that the nature of the targets was going to change. Before describing the nature of these changes, it’s important to note that the targets – however defined – are consequential. From the CRC website:

“Institutions must establish equity and diversity targets using the methodology below to ensure individuals from the four designated groups (women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minorities) participate in the program. The program monitors the institutions’ progress toward meeting their established targets. An institution’s failure to participate in the target-setting exercise will result in the suspension of payments.”

No words strike fear into university administrators more than “suspension of payments”, so the incentive to reach the targets is very, very strong. Indeed there have already been increases in the proportional representation of women, visible minorities, people with disabilities, and indigenous people in the few years since targets were introduced. But how to define the targets?

When initially introduced the idea was to use the “availability approach”, under which availability “is determined by estimating the representation of a designated group within the pool of potential nominees”…“Active university researchers represent the pool of potential nominees”.  In the specific case of the CRC program, active researchers have been defined as anyone participating in competitions for grants from one of the major Canadian funding agencies. The recently announced change redefined the targets by representation in the general population. So, if the target for women was formerly 21% (as it was for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council**), now it will be ~50%. This is a huge difference, and one that seems worth discussing (with civility).

To be clear, we are not questioning whether excellence and diversity are conflicting goals (they are not), and we fully agree that measures are needed to counter unequal challenges and barriers facing different groups of people in science. That is, we are not aiming to stimulate debate on whether there is a problem to begin with (there is). Rather, we are hoping to stimulate discussion that goes beyond the question of being for or against action in general, focusing on legitimate questions about whether particular actions will help achieve stated goals and how precisely to go about setting targets.

Any specific action or policy comes with pros and cons (relative to alternatives). We can imagine a number of different reasons to justify using a specific set of targets. The CRC program’s initial targets (described above) had both supporters and detractors, the latter arguing that the targets create discrimination against individuals from overrepresented groups. In contrast, expanding the “availability” pool to the “qualified” pool (e.g., all Ph.D. holders in the relevant discipline) could address one important step of the leaky pipeline by targeting groups who, having earned PhDs, tend not to pursue academic careers. Using a still broader population, a set of targets might seek to optimize mentorship benefits – e.g., all students enrolled in science would reflect the population likely to most benefit from CRC mentors. Finally, as newly announced, a set of targets based on the entire population reflects the diversity makeup of anyone who could potentially want to pursue both higher education and academic research.

So we’re inviting you to have lunch with us: we’d love to have your thoughts, or at least your standardized and anonymized opinion. Our questions were sparked by thinking about CRCs, but we have phrased them so as to apply to any type of prestigious research position. Once we have data we will make them available to all, and subsequently write some thoughts on the results.

* Although we should note that this blog at least has recorded some signs of progress – see here and here, for instance.

** CRCs are awarded through three funding agencies, NSERC, CIHR (Canadian Institutes of Health Research), and SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council)

37 thoughts on “Equity and diversity targets in science: Your thoughts, please (guest post with poll)

  1. Dear François and Mark,

    I guess many of us have lunch over the same table! Two short remarks.

    Someone wise once told me that discussing indictors of “excellence” makes sense only once we have reached any diversity and equity target that administrations or funding agencies deem appropriate. I fully agree. So, better get there quick!

    I was withhold the possibility to renew my CRC in large part because of the new equity and diversity policy. As a result, my administration decided that ALL CRCs would be ONE round of funding (5 years for tier II CRC and 7 years for tier I). I think it is a fair decision, irrespective of the CRC targets. I know researchers that have been sitting on their CRC for 20+ years and the return on investment is not there.

    I beleive if you want results, you need both targets and strong incentives. Take climate change; targets are there, strong incentives are not.


    • Dear Raphaël –

      Indeed, “excellence” is too often used a shield to avoid addressing tough questions, and ends up being used a free pass for well documented implicit biases. It’s alarming that results like these:


      … feel like old news

      Like Jeremy points out though, there are a range of actions that could be taken, and diversity targets are only one of them.

      I think a valuable question that could be asked is whether the most stringent measures should be implemented at the bottom or at the top, where a whole series of biases have already created severe imbalances?



    • One source of motivation for more aggressive targets has been that progress – of which there has been some – has been too slow. The question of ‘how fast is fast enough?’ is clearly open to discussion and interpretation, but if it’s true that progress is happening, and at a rate limited by how long positions are held, the idea of shorter durations should itself accelerate the pace of change. Interesting idea.

      • Somebody has surely done a comparative study of rates of change in say, gender and racial/ethnic balance in different occupations, right? I mean, not just comparative descriptive data on rates of change, but also looking into underlying drivers of rates of change?

        For instance, all TT faculty careers are long, and they’ve always been long. But the rate of increase in women’s representation in TT faculty has varied substantially among fields, and over time within fields. (With the net result that the overall rate of increase in women’s representation among all TT faculty, summing over all fields, has been remarkably steady for decades in the US). What drives that massive variation among fields, and over time within fields? I know some of that among-field variation is correlated with the mathiness of the field; math-heavy fields have progressed at the slowest rate in terms of women’s representation. But I’m sure there must be a big comparative literature on this and I just don’t know much about it.

        In an old post (https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2018/10/11/newly-hired-n-american-tenure-track-asst-professors-of-ecology-are-59-women-thats-good-news-but-most-ecologists-still-dont-know-it-or-cant-quite-believe-it-now-please-read-the-whole-post/), I went through the exercise of calculating how long ecology profs would take to achieve a 50:50 gender balance, assuming they started from 40% women right now, continued to hire 57% women, had no gender bias in tenure rate, career length, etc., everyone’s career lasts 35 years, and the total number of profs doesn’t change. The answer is that you’d get to gender balance among ecology faculty in 20 years (and then in another 15 years after that it’d stabilize at 57% women). I don’t think that’s a realistic model, for all sorts of reasons (e.g., retirements in the near future are going to be mostly men, because full profs are much more male-skewed than profs as a whole, so 20 years will be a slight overestimate for that reason.). But it illustrates how long it takes to change representation when careers are long. And if you wanted to accelerate it appreciably in the case of ecology you have to set *very* aggressive targets or quotas. To get ecology faculty to gender parity in 10 years under my assumptions, starting from 40% women initially, you’d have to hire 75% women every year.

      • We’ve done some homework, but not enough to know what topics have been studied more or less or what all the results are. I can definitely remember seeing studies showing trends of increased representation as you say, but it must be awfully tricky to figure out the relative importance of different causes. From first principles, it’s not too hard to see advantages and disadvantages of trying to speed things up a lot over the short term.

      • I agree, there must be more thorough numbers on this somwhere. For instance, there must be reams of litterature to explain the relatively rapid increases in women for medical fields (where careers are also long), and within *some* medical fields more than others. I would venture to say that it probably has to do with the expected workload early in the career for certain specialisations, rather than the actual position turnover time.Will do some investigating and report back on this in Part II.

      • “For instance, there must be reams of litterature to explain the relatively rapid increases in women for medical fields (where careers are also long), and within *some* medical fields more than others.”

        Good point!

  2. There’s an additional option on the gradient from no policy, to guidelines, to targets: reserving some chairs for members of designated groups. Various institutions and jurisdictions have done this over the years. And it was suggested in our comment threads as a solution to the US Waterman Award’s long streak of going only to men. Curious to hear discussion of this.

    • That *is* and interesting proposal, and seems in line with what was decided in the Australian example linked above


      I’m curious where people would place this type of measure on the gradient of policy stringency. Is it somewhere in the middle, or is it in some way a “harder” target than even population-based representation?

      • “I’m curious where people would place this type of measure on the gradient of policy stringency. ”

        I think it depends on how many chairs are reserved for members of historically-underrepresented groups, as a fraction of all chairs. If X% of chairs are reserved for members of historically-underrepresented groups, I think that’s a bit more stringent than an X% target. But not as stringent as an (X+Y)% target.

    • Having “reserved” positions would deal with one source of frustration one hears about: Positions advertised in a way that gives the appearance of candidates being considered regardless of identity, but where the reality is that people of some identities in fact have very little chance. The honesty and transparency score high, although no doubt there are counter-arguments.

      • In our old discussion about the Waterman Award’s long streak of going to men, one idea was separate Waterman awards for men and women. The counter-argument to that idea was that a separate award for women would be seen as less prestigious. To which my colleague Jana Vamosi’s counter-counter-argument was, basically, “yes, please, give me a million dollar non-prestigious award!” 🙂 Which is an amusing way to illustrate that concerns about prestige here, while totally legit, maybe shouldn’t be too big a worry in the grand scheme of things. Valuable, prestigious things, such as faculty positions and million dollar awards, still tend to look pretty darn valuable and prestigious even if they’re restricted to women or members of some other underrepresented group.

        As another example, my colleague Jessica Theodor was originally hired in a faculty search that was open only to women. Jessica is great, she was a fabulous hire, and nobody in the dept thinks any less of her because she was hired into a faculty position reserved for women. Heck, I bet some people in the dept. don’t even realize she was hired into a faculty position that was only open to women.

        (EDIT; I should note that one shouldn’t necessarily generalize from these examples. As commenter Jade notes, there absolutely are cases in which people hired as “diversity hires” are looked down on or otherwise treated badly by members of the hiring institutions. So I dunno. Clearly a lot more could be said here.)

  3. Here is a discussion of the CRC diversity targets in the context of a heavily male-biased field, economics: https://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2016/10/equity-and-diversity-plans-wont-solve-the-canada-research-chair-programs-gender-problem.html

    Argues that the whole policy of CRC diversity targets is misdirected because in economics the reason so many chairs go to men is because members of underrepresented groups aren’t advancing up the career ladder. Argues that money spent on CRCs would be better spent on small grants and other sources of support for early and mid-career researchers. And that’s before we even ask whether CRCs give as much “bang for the buck” in terms of research outputs as grants to early and mid-career researchers.

    One can of course say “let’s have CRCs with diversity targets, *and* direct more money to support early and mid-career researchers”. But that’s sounds a bit like wishing for a pony unless you also say where the money should come from instead (see here for discussion in a different context: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/what-should-ecologists-learn-less-of/)

    • Jeremy; The economic blog post you are pointing at is crowded with (un)conscious bias and go-with-the-flow easy arguments. What are the indicators of advancing up the career ladder, anyways? Who are defining those criteria? Not impressed.

      • I went back and re-read it. Can you be more specific about which bits you found problematic?

        Yes, a lot of the argument in that linked post does basically come down to “trust me, I’ve looked in detail at institutions’ CRC hiring processes in economics, and they’re doing everything they can, it’s just that economics is such a male-biased field that there are hardly any women candidates who meet the criteria”. I don’t know Frances Woolley at all, but having read some posts of hers over the years she strikes me as competent, informed, well-meaning, and sincere about wanting to improve diversity in economics. So I defaulted to trusting her, lacking any independent means of evaluating her claims. But I can imagine others might have good reasons to default to *not* trusting the linked post.

        One bit of the linked post I absolutely don’t buy is the bit about partner relocation being a problem. That’s just excuse-making. If you’re hiring an economist on the level of Janet Yellen for a CRC, you give her perfectly-competent academic partner a job that makes it worth the couple’s while to move. Canadian universities do plenty of partner hires, including for positions less prestigious than CRCs.

        I should also clarify, in case clarification was needed, that I *don’t* think that Frances Woolley’s arguments about economics CRCs apply to most other fields, even if they do apply in economics. I think different fields have different mixes of problems when it comes to diversity and equity, and so I think policy interventions should be field-specific when possible.

        For readers who’d prefer a more data-based overview of the state of play regarding gender and equity in economics, Claudia Sahm is one good source. See here for instance: http://macromomblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/women_econ_csahm_2019-1.pdf

      • Well, the main point of the Frances’ blog post is that there are women in science, but few can pretend to the title of “world-renowned researchers” because (in the author’s own words): “It is hard to have a family and still devote the amount of time to research – and to self-promotion- required to achieve global fame.” […] “Professional women often have professional spouses who are unable to relocate easily.”

        I’m speechless. Then, it goes on with:

        “The problem isn’t that women and visible minorities can’t get on a science and engineering career ladder, the problem is that they can’t move up it.”

        Isn’t it the purpose of setting targets to CRCs, so that women are allowed to move up the ladder?

      • Ok, I’m with you now.

        I agree that her summary of the reasons why there few “world-renowned” women economists is bad. In my reading of the post, I’d focused narrowly on the claim that “world-renowned” women economists (meaning “women economists who would fit the CRC’s published standards”) are rare, indeed so rare that many CRC searches in economics could make strong efforts to hire women and still fail to do so. But having looked again at the bits you quoted, I think I’d want to see more evidence (or testimony from other people with first-hand knowledge) before I totally buy even that narrow claim.

        Thank you for nudging me to read the linked post with fresh eyes.

        “Isn’t it the purpose of setting targets to CRCs, so that women are allowed to move up the ladder?”

        Frances Woolley’s broad argument, as I understand it, is that the ladder has several rungs, and that removing barriers to climbing from the penultimate rung to the top rung won’t do much unless barriers to climbing from lower rung to the penultimate rung are first removed. In response, one could rightly say that barriers to climbing the top rungs are bad even if barriers exist on lower rungs too.

        Setting aside barrier removal and focusing instead on allocation of limited money, one could ask whether both excellence and diversity are best promoted by throwing massive resources at a few superstars (however those stars are chosen, and however diverse they are), or by spreading resources more widely among early and mid-career researchers. Of course, those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s a question of optimal allocation. And I don’t know what the optimal allocation is. Though I suspect it probably involves either throwing less money at superstars than Canada currently does, or at least turning over star chair holders faster. Another commenter brought up the idea of making CRCs non-renewable, which sounds like a good idea to me.

  4. @Jeremy
    Thanks for the lunch invite. Thought-provoking.

    The approach to equity and diversity sounds very much like a machine learning approach to problem-solving, where things are heuristic. Given where we’ve been as a society, I’m unable to judge its lack of effectiveness. The lady from the Globe and Mail argued that setting targets defeats the notion of academic excellence. Well, if discrimination is rampant, then it is never about excellence in the first place. “Excellence” is a disingenuous word that is often used to diminish the accomplishments of those people that fall under the target group. When people are discriminated against for whatever reason, the lost opportunities undeservedly accrued to the favoured group. Thus, the notion of excellence is inherently flawed. Discrimination means hiring less qualified members of a group over the better-qualified members from the other group. Thus, one could argue that society has been underperforming because of irrational preferences. Perhaps the policy-makers are catching up to that line of thinking too.

    “…are quantitative targets a good way to tackle equity and diversity issues…”
    Given the above points, can society do any worse under the current measure?

    “and if so, what are appropriate targets?”

    This is not an easy question to answer. My understanding is that an institution can fail to meet its target but they would have to provide convincing evidence that they acted fairly given the crop of people they have. I think this is being deliberately built into the system for transparency.

    • Thanks for the input. Informally, it seems many agree that the question of what an appropriate target would be is not an easy one. Which is why we asked it! It will be interesting to see the distribution of opinions…

  5. Out of curiosity, are there any policies that dictate what comes next after setting these quantitative targets, however they might be determined? I haven’t really seen any, but I haven’t looked very hard either. For example: if an institution sets quantitative targets and meets them, then what for those that are hired? I’ve personally heard the term “diversity hire” tossed around quite a bit, and even in my own direction (and by people I respected). It’s not pleasant. Have institutions thought about how best to support people who will be hired under these policies? At some of the institutions that I’ve been at, it’s not safe to assume that other faculty/administration would be supportive. It’s not pleasant to think about, but it is an unfortunate reality. I mean…this is a problem for a reason, right?

    Just another thought to throw out there as well, not all women (for example) support other women. So if an institution hires a female faculty member, she may or may not take on more female undergraduate researchers or Ph.D students. Women can have biases against women too, even if only implicitly. For this reason, I like the suggestion in one of the comments that resources may be better distributed at multiple “levels,” rather than at just changing the composition of tenure-track faculty.

    • Thanks for these very thoughtful comments. I think “what next” is a great question. On one hand, even under the most aggressive diversity targets, one can rarely point to a particular person and say with any certainty that their identity played an important role in the hiring process. On the other hand, I don’t doubt there are people who would interpret things this way, and subsequently contribute to the underlying problem. Positions “reserved” for people of a given identity represent a particular difficult situation; I mentioned above the plus side of honesty and transparency, but you have identified what seems like a possible negative consequence needing attention.

      I would add that addressing the “what next” question probably will require some careful thinking also about how to implement diversity targets. What happens before and during the process of hiring seems likely to influence what comes next. Individual people can be supported at all stages, but institutions themselves perhaps require guidance and support so that implementation can happen in a way that reduces the chance of new hires being denigrated in the way you describe.

    • That’s interesting. I *have* heard the argument that some people from under-represented groups being hired under top-down diversity targets might suffer from a lack of prestige, but I honestly haven’t heard of any institution putting forward measures to make up for that (potential) lack of prestige. Like Jeremy in the comments above, I find that (in conversation) people from under-represented groups would rather have the job or the million-dollar grant without the prestige than not at all. At the same time I could imagine there being a range of perspectives on this.

      The ” one superstar” v. “several good” (or in this case “several early-career”) is clearly a common resource distribution dilemma, In the specific context of encouraging equity, diversity and inclusion though, I have yet to see any data-driven appraisal of the merits of either (if anyone has interesting links on this, please post!). I suppose many of these policies are still relatively new, compared the the turnover time of CRC grants, and so we may have to wait a while longer for any conclusive evidence.

      I agree that we tend to disregard the extent to which some of these biases are actually society-wide biases, rather than biased men discriminating against women. Seen this way, the “several early-career” would seem the safest choice, since it addresses career choices at the stage where the biases are occuring without relying on indirect priming effects via well-funded superstar(who may or may not actually want to mentor).

      On the other hand, although the “superstar” model is often sold on the promise of this “priming effect”, I think the real reason people get onboard has more to do with the fact that it allows us to see tangible progress in a short period of time.

  6. Starting a new thread to continue talking about the among-field comparative topic raised earlier. What, if anything, can fields in which progress towards increased diversity has been slow learn from the fields in which progress has been fastest? (not necessarily “as fast as possible”, or “as fast as anyone could ever want in an ideal world”, of course, but “faster than in any other field”)

    In the US, if we’re focusing on gender and not other dimensions of diversity, psychology’s the field that’s made the most rapid progress, to the point where some in the field are now worrying if they need to encourage more men to enter the field. Here’s a good historical overview of where things stood in psychology as of 2007: https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun07/changing. My understanding is that not much has changed since (e.g., psychology graduate degree recipients in the US are still ~75% women every year, and the proportion of women among faculty continues to increase from a base that’s already an appreciable majority of women, though there isn’t yet parity at senior faculty ranks and there are still issues with things like pay equity).

    My big question is, what if anything can other fields do to emulate this? I have no idea what the answer is. The answer might be “not much”, for instance if psychology’s success at attracting women to the field mostly reflects the same systemic forces that have long nudged women into teaching, nursing, and other “caring” professions in the US and most other rich countries. Obviously, people in any given field ought to do whatever they can to improve diversity, both within their field and at a broader societal level, because that’s the right thing to do. But even as we do as much as we can, it’s probably useful to be clear-eyed about exactly how much we can expect field-specific efforts to achieve. And perhaps it’s useful to remember that even field-specific efforts also contribute in some small way to society-wide systemic change. Systemic change at the level of entire professions or societies often is the aggregate cumulative outcome of lots of little changes by individuals and small groups.

    I don’t know which scholarly fields or professions have made the fastest progress at diversifying in terms of race/ethnicity. That’s something I’d like to read up on.

  7. It’s worth noting that the assertion that there’s a leaky pipeline is often made in Astronomy (my field), and most of the evidence indicate’s it’s not true. The big systematic studies have found that men and women leave the field at about the same rate ( https://arxiv.org/abs/1610.08984 ) and that men and women get hired and stay in astronomy at about the same rate ( https://arxiv.org/abs/1903.08195 ) – there is one example of a study that came to the opposite conclusion ( https://arxiv.org/abs/1810.01511 ) but it used a small, self-reported sample whose demographics otherwise didn’t match the field as whole, so I tend to think there’s some bias there that isn’t understood. The fraction of women is increasing at all levels with time ( http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-2013-cswa-demographics-survey.html ), as you’d expect with rising input and slow propagation up the career ladder.

    Why things have been changing is less clear. People will no doubt credit whatever they like, but I haven’t seen anything that convinced me it’s any particular effort – outreach efforts or blinding efforts or reminding people about biases before decision making or inclusions programmes I’ve seen get credited, but … I don’t know.

    Of course, there could be weird in-bin effects. Exoplanet astronomers are far more likely to be women than cosmologists – so maybe we’re not changing at all, except there’s a lot more opportunities to do exoplanets!

    As far as targets – targets of all eligible, all who apply, even all undergrads aren’t that different (and while biases exist, what I’ve seen suggests they’re quite small now – so the change from current practice is also small). But if women had to have 2-3X the success rate of men … of course there’s some self-interested part of me that still wants a roof over my head and food on the table; who thinks I’m probably too old to start over as a psychologist or optometrist or nurse. It does particularly worry me as an astronomer – if you’re a physics department looking to improve your gender balance, your best ‘gender blind’ bet is to advertise for an astronomer.

    • Thanks, Brian. It’s really interesting to get perspectives from different disciplines. I can’t comment on most of the specifics in your comment, but one general theme in many comments (and writings elsewhere) seems to be that linking particular patterns in data (e.g., different proportions of people in different groups at different stages) is very difficult to link to underlying causes – just as it is for linking pattern to process in ecology! If other cases are any guide, there are likely to be multiple interacting causes.

      • “linking particular patterns in data (e.g., different proportions of people in different groups at different stages) is very difficult to link to underlying causes”

        I would add that the sort of data you describe can certainly narrow down our search for causes, and so narrow down our search for solutions. That narrowing down is useful even if we can’t narrow all the way down to “the” cause(s).

        For instance, it’s incorrect to think there’s systemic bias against women at the faculty hiring stage in ecology in N. America. If you think there is–as many ecologists may do, judging by our poll results–you might be tempted to argue for a 50:50 quota of men:women in ecology faculty hiring (as Tim Coulson did a few years ago in a British context). That quota would actually *slow* progress towards equal gender representation in N. American academic ecology.

        As another example, I am uncomfortable with the notion that blinding the initial stage of faculty job searches would be a good idea at a systemic level in N. American ecology. If the goal of blinding is to increase the frequency with which women are hired into N. American ecology faculty positions, well, it’s a well-meaning attempt to solve a systemic problem that has already been solved in other ways, and that runs a non-trivial risk of actually making matters worse at a systemic level. (Note that there might of course be other reasons for wanting blinded searches. Either for reasons specific to a particular department or university, or for systemic reasons other than improving the gender balance of faculty hires.)

        I think Shaw & Stanton (2012) is another good example of using data to narrow down the underlying causes of underrepresentation of different groups at different stages in different STEM fields.

      • Good points, Jeremy. Clearly I need to read Shaw & Stanton more carefully. I agree that one can narrow down causes very usefully, although much potential for contention remains when one “cause” combines “ongoing biological or cultural gender differences” (from their abstract). Susan Pinker’s book “The Sexual Paradox” is quite interesting in regard to how policies might have unintended consequences if one assumes that the biological influence on preferences and inclinations is unimportant, the same way that assuming that it’s all biological can lead to considerable harm.

      • “That quota would actually *slow* progress towards equal gender representation in N. American academic ecology.”

        That’s a really good point!

        There might be another way of looking at it. Faced with enforced science-wide targets, institutions planning out new hires over a 2-3 year horizon might be more inclined to open up new positions in disciplines or subdisciplines where under-represented groups overall happen to be, knowing that meeting targets may not be easily achievable in all disciplines. As one scientific discipline where women (though perhaps not other groups) are well-represented, ecology as a whole might benefit.

      • “Faced with enforced science-wide targets, institutions planning out new hires over a 2-3 year horizon might be more inclined to open up new positions in disciplines or subdisciplines where under-represented groups overall happen to be, knowing that meeting targets may not be easily achievable in all disciplines. ”

        Yes, this would definitely happen if quotas (or even targets) with a short time horizon were instituted at an institution-wide level, or even (say) at the level of faculties (faculty of science, faculty of social science, etc.). Which presumably is one reason why institution-wide 50:50 quotas (or even targets) with a short time horizon aren’t likely to happen.

  8. I don’t know much about the Canadian system, but I think if we define

    p = proportion representation of the disenfranchised group among graduates with a PhD in the field
    a = proportion of the disenfranchised group among the pool of potential nominees
    t = proportion of the disenfranchised group among the total population

    Then perhaps a good diversity target is “min( max( a, p ), t )”. I think basing the target on the proportion of the total general population may not be great, especially in the most skewed fields, where there may not be enough diverse applicants to fill these positions. But I also think using target “a”, above, is not enough. Using “a” potentially eliminates some bias, but doesn’t help correct the diversity problem (unless we are happy with a 40-year time lag). P splits the difference, but, if in some cases a happens to be higher than p, for whatever reason, then we should use a, [max(a,p)]. In the case that we have done a good job, and things are swinging back so much so in the other direction, that the disenfranchised group becomes overrepresented in potential nominees and/or proportion of those with PhD, then we cap the target at the proportion of the population, t. Hence I think the ideal target is

    min( max( a, p ), t )

  9. This didn’t send the first time around but either way – years back I sent a letter to Minister Duncan and my local MP discussing the CRC equity targeting approach and what I felt were problems associated with it. The new changes are an improvement on some levels but do not address all the concerns that were brought up in this letter. It would seem to me that my feeling is that there should perhaps be a prioritization of groups that have never had any representation rather than having those groups typically fall to the bottom of the priority list. Either way – just my experience as an Indigenous scholar in the Natural Sciences.

    “To the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Ms. Yvonne Jones, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

    My name is Robert Way. I am an Indigenous Scholar (Inuit descent – Nunatsiavut) from Labrador [amended slightly for privacy reasons]. As an early-career researcher who works on climate change impacts in the north, I am very concerned about how northerners will be affected by climate change. However, I also believe that northerners and northern researchers should play a more active role in participating in the research process and that one of the best mechanisms for doing so is to have more northerners and people from the north who are in faculty positions and have a presence in the north. The Canada Research Chair program would seem to me to be a great means of being able to have that presence because it involves sustained research funding and additional time availability (via course releases etc…) that enhance the potential for researchers to be more involved with northern communities compared to those in typical academic roles.

    However, recently I have been looking into the topic, and combined with a recent experience of mine, has left me convinced that major changes are needed immediately to the CRC equity targets, and that in the absence of these changes there will be a further reduction in the ability for indigenous researchers and/or northerners to get CRCs. At the outset, I would like to note that I am not aware of any northerners that are indigenous who are CRCs. I am also not aware of any Inuit who are CRCs [Note: I am now aware of a couple in SSHRC/CIHR] although I am basing this off of discussions with only a limited number of others in the field so it is possible I have missed a couple individuals.

    In my individual case, last year I discussed my interest in a CRC position with a Canadian University [Amended slightly for privacy reasons] because I believed it would enable me to conduct additional community-based research in the north and that my publication record and northern indigenous background would be an asset to the university in question. What was expressed to me was that ordinarily my CV would warrant consideration for a CRC but that the pressure coming down from CRC and the Minister’s office was that universities were being pushed to prioritize their CRC equity targets above other things. To expand further, it was indicated that the institution was currently giving serious consideration to individuals who would meet the gender-based equity targets because they had already met their indigenous target.

    I thought this was a bit of an odd discussion point as I wasn’t aware of any other Inuit academics seeking CRCs so I decided to look a little further into the targets. As it turns out, this medium sized institution’s equity target for CRCs for indigenous people (First Nations + Inuit + Métis) was 1 CRC. So in the case of the situation described above, the institution already had an indigenous CRC they were hiring and therefore they felt they were going to prioritize meeting their gender-based targets (>15 needed) before hiring a male indigenous scholar. My concern is that by asking universities to meet their equity targets without improving the target calculation method, it will be pushing away some potential indigenous CRCs because the targets are so low for every University in Canada. In my case, I [removed for privacy reasons] will continue to advocate on behalf of a change to the system so that the same discussion above does not happen to other indigenous researchers.

    This experience prompted me to look a little further into how these equity targets are calculated. I used the target setting calculator downloadable here from the CRC website:

    According to the equity target tool, a prospective university that hires 300 new CRCs (100 NSERC; 100 SSHRC; 100 CIHR) would only need to hire 3 indigenous scholars to meet their equity target. By contrast, they would need to hire 101 women, 45 visible minorities and 12 persons with disabilities. This tool also does not specify whether any have to be Inuit, First Nations or Métis, and does not specify whether they actually have to be from a community with a significant indigenous population. The calculation method, which uses the current percentage of faculty that are indigenous (1%) for later calculations, does not consider the existing significant under-representation of indigenous people in faculty positions – particularly in the natural sciences. To exacerbate issues, I have confirmed via email with the CRC equity contact that in order to have a target for indigenous people there must be 50 chairs allotted to that University therefore many smaller universities would not have such targets. I cannot speak for other indigenous academics but in my personal view many Inuit and northern indigenous scholars may prefer smaller (more northern) locations as compared to the large southern universities that get the “highest” equity allotments like U of T ( approx. 3-4). In this manner, I believe that the above policy is particularly problematic for northern and/or rural indigenous scholars because it means that in order to take up a CRC via an equity allotment you need to aim for larger universities in larger centers.

    I have decided to speak up on this issue because I have seen the recent announcement of more CRC dollars in the Budget [removed] and I am worried that the push for meeting equity targets (although meaningful and worthwhile to do) should have been only after the target calculation approach was amended to better represent indigenous people. The current system, coupled with the push for meeting antiquated equity targets, will further reinforce the challenges faced by indigenous faculty, particularly those from the north, and will make it particularly hard for indigenous men to get CRCs because they meet only one of the two equity targets. As such, I strongly advise that a more holistic approach to the equity targeting is taken before the next round of CRCs to ensure a better representation of indigenous people in the academy and to ensure that CRCs are able to be more effective at delivering research that is important to northern communities.

    I would love to discuss these issues further in the future if there is interest.

    Thanks again for your time and work on this tremendously challenging topic. “

    • Wow, thank you for these comments Robert. I had not been aware at all of the issues you raise. I agree that you raise very serious issues with the current implementation of the CRC targets.

    • Thanks, Robert. Gender dominates the discussion, but your comments make it clear that the issues and solutions are not necessarily the same for different underrepresented groups. Unintended consequences of well-meaning policies are always a worry, and I think you present a really interesting and compelling case.

      Yesterday at lunch Françoise and I were talking about the related topic of the level/scale at which implementation could happen. Presumably universities are the level of implementation because that’s the level to which funds flow from government (and so enforcement via finances is possible). And one can see why it might be hard to enforce targets in a university with a small number of CRCs. But instead of exempting the smallest universities from the system (which makes it seem like the targets are some kind of “penalty”), perhaps implementation could happen at a higher level. At present universities undertake the process of narrowing down potential candidates for a CRC to one person, and that one nomination goes forward. So it’s one at a time and beyond the university it’s just yes/no (and almost always yes as best I can tell). But if for each position universities put forward 2-3 qualified candidates, in any given year the evaluators in the CRC office would be filling a larger number of positions, and therefore in a stronger position to implement any diversity targets. I’m not sure that solves the problem you identified, and there might be serious flaws I haven’t considered, but it’s a thought anyway…

      • Robert, thank you for this valuable comment. There are many reasons why conversations around equity and diversity in science often end up focusing primarily on gender ratios. Experiences like the one you describe highlight the fact that this is much more than a “leaky pipeline” problem, and that various specific policies come with non-trivial tradeoffs. Therefore, the perspective you bring of an indigenous scientist is especially needed.

        You point out that equity and diversity targets determined at the whole-country level by the CRC but enforced and implemented at the individual institution level and over a small number of CRC positions (except in the case of a few larger institutions) can become counter-productive. This is particularly worrying when the groups that should (in theory) benefit from these policies are especially likely to work in smaller (northern or less urban) institutions. We’ve mentioned in the comments above how equity and diversity challenges might differ among fields and subfields, and I think the pattern you point out also shows that optimal solutions to these problems would also be different depending on institution size and region.

        We have been chatting over the fact that one challenge seems to be about closing the gap between the level at which targets are set, and the one at which they are implemented, and so in this respect I like Mark’s idea to

        “put forward 2-3 qualified candidates, in any given year the evaluators in the CRC office would be filling a larger number of positions, and therefore in a stronger position to implement any diversity targets.”

        I could imagine this addressing regional imbalances for instance, to reach indigenous scientists in the institutions where they are perhaps more likely to be. On the other hand, I wonder if it would take pressure off of individual search committees in disciplines where there are specific diversity and equity challenges?
        Furthermore, if one of the arguments for targets is to maximize mentorship benefits for the student body, than it follows that they should take effect at the level where those mentorship benefits happen: within institutions.

        Admittedly, now I’m mostly just kicking the tires of this new idea, to see if it holds up. There is much food for thought, and ample material for future disagreements.

  10. Pingback: Equity and diversity targets in science, part II: views depend on identity (guest post) | Dynamic Ecology

  11. Pingback: Friday links: Remembering Michael Soulé, and more | Dynamic Ecology

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.