Imogen Coe and the CSMB applaud the announcement of the Dimensions: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada charter

The CSMB applauds the announcement of the Dimensions: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada charter, which is an important step Canada is making towards fully realising its full research potential across all disciplines, by leveraging all its available talent. Its implementation by post-secondary institutions across the country will encourage the emergence of new ideas, perspectives and stories that will lead to new solutions and strengthen Canada’s research enterprise, including, but not limited to, science. The CSMB and its members look forward to continuing its collaboration and contribution to initiatives such as this one, which are in Canada’s best interest.

Dr. Imogen Coe, who is currently Vice-President of the CSMB, has been one of the strongest advocates for the charter and has been actively involved in supporting the development of the Dimensions Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada charter. She was present at the launch of the initiative, at the invitation of the Minister of Science and Sport, the honourable Kirsty Duncan. On the occasion of the launch, Dr. Coe wrote the following remarks to the CSMB Board of Directors.


Dear CSMB Board

Today, I was honoured to be present at the launch by the Minister of Science and Sport, the honourable Kirsty Duncan, of the Dimensions: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada charter.

This charter reflects a uniquely Canadian approach to embedding equity, diversity and inclusion into institutional cultures in universities and colleges in Canada and is modelled on internationally recognized best practices, established by the Athena SWAN program in the UK, which has subsequently been adopted and amended for post-secondary institutions in Ireland, Australia and the US.  I and others have long advocated for an Athena SWAN like program to be established in Canada because we are well aware that there exist institutional, cultural, attitudinal and structural organizational barriers to full access and inclusion in the research enterprise, across all disciplines.  Our advocacy was noted by the Minister as early as 2016 and Minister Duncan has been working toward today’s launch since that time.  The process has been highly consultative and iterative.  Today’s launch of Dimensions EDI brings Canada into alignment with some of our strongest collaborators and competitors in academic research, by recognizing the added value to the research enterprise that is gained by intentionally addressing barriers to full participation by all members of the community.  The Canadian model promises to be a global leader in terms of approach by using as fully intersectional lens as possible and by asking institutions to seek self-improvement repeatedly, rather than competition with others.  We are all poorer for the fact that Canadian research does not currently leverage all available talent and thus is not making the most of the most important and valuable resource the country possesses; its people.   We all have stories of researchers at every stage of their career but most often young people who have felt pushed out of pursuing a career they love, do not see themselves represented, have not been able to bring their full selves to the workplace or been able to contribute as fully as they might otherwise have done. All institutions will now have an opportunity on a volunteer basis to recognize those barriers, hear those stories and develop action plans to address them. Through Dimensions EDI, they will be assessed on those processes and plans in a well-defined peer review process that will reward institutions for demonstrated improvements.

It is important to note that the advocacy in support of bringing a made-in-Canada Athena SWAN to this country has been a very strong grass-roots initiative from coast to coast to coast.  I saw a tweet today from a major university suggesting that it had been a leader in establishing and advancing this program. This is nonsense.  For the record, there have been very many individuals, from many institutions across the country and diverse backgrounds, working in support of the federal initiative.  Importantly, advocates have been working without specific regard for the advancement of their own institution, or their own careers – but rather, from a collective sense of what is best for the entire research community and what is just for the next generation of researchers.  It has been impressive and humbling to be part of this process and to contribute to institutional, cultural change in academy and in academic research. These grass-root efforts fed into some of the consultations for the Fundamental Science Review and contributed to the EDI sections in the final document. The work to bring forward and finally launch Dimensions EDI has been on behalf of researchers who are marginalized and told, implicitly or explicitly that they do not belong.  Dr. Duncan described an event where she was told that “gays do not belong in hard sciences” and how these types of attitudes need to be addressed and changed.  This program will seek to address the reasons for under-representation of women in STEM fields, of people of colour, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities and members of First Nations communities.  This program seeks to ask institutions to assess who is not present and why that is, to recognize the barriers to inclusion and failures to ensure opportunities to contribute ideas, perspectives, experiences and solutions to our research culture.  There is no one institution that has led on this initiative.  Rather, some parts of the establishment have been somewhat reluctant to engage with change and some institutions, organizations, individuals have resisted the concept of integration of EDI into the academy and research culture, presumably due to fear of losing power and privilege, as is often the case with issues relating to social justice.

I am well known for having been a vocal advocate in support of an Athena SWAN like program in Canada for many years. One of the reasons for this is that I’ve always been acutely aware of who doesn’t have a voice and who is missing from research activities.  It’s obvious and we lose out on solutions accordingly.  Even now I continue to receive messages, stories, pleas for help, requests for advice, reports of incidents of gender-based harassment, racism and homophobia in research in Canada regularly by email, phone, direct message, and in person.  Some of the stories I’ve heard recently from graduate students in one of the laboratory sciences is particularly shocking and yet they are fearful of raising issues.  Rather, this highly qualified trainee tells me they will leave science and find another career, despite their much-needed skill set that matches future innovation needs in our economy.  We all know of other cases where researchers have felt compelled to leave, from across disciplines, at all career levels and we all know of those who are just barely hanging on – unable to contribute with their full selves and their myriad skills because of their work environments. We can do much better and so many deserve so much better.  I’m proud to have been able to work with the tri-councils and the Minister of Science on this particular initiative.  I look forward to seeing how institutions will use their commitment to the Dimensions EDI Charter as a tool for change towards research excellence and inclusive environments.  It’s time.

Imogen R. Coe, Ph.D.

Preferred pronouns: she/her/hers

Professor, Chemistry & Biology
Faculty of Science
Ryerson University

Affiliate Scientist
Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute
Keenan Research Centre
St. Michael’s Hospital

Vice-President, Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences 2018-2020

Find me at LinkedIn

On Twitter @imogenrcoephd

On Instagram @drimogencoe