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Funding aimed at increasing inclusion

Manitoba universities seek to be more equitable

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OTTAWA — Manitoba universities will soon figure out whether their ranks resemble the province’s demographics, thanks to a federal push to make post-secondary intuitions more equitable.

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This article was published 10/08/2020 (902 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba universities will soon figure out whether their ranks resemble the province’s demographics, thanks to a federal push to make post-secondary intuitions more equitable.

The funding comes amid a concern from Industry Canada that provincial belt-tightening will squander those initiatives.

“The hope of the program is to make sure all people are given a fair assessment,” said Digvir Jayas, the vice-president of research at the University of Manitoba.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The U of W, U of M, and BU have all endorsed a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

It’s one of three Manitoba institutions that endorsed a charter on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), pledging to hire, promote and do research in a way that reflects the population.

EDI is based on a program the United Kingdom launched in 2005 called Athena SWAN, in which universities pledged to submit data to a non-profit, which compared the diversity of their communities with those who applied and got jobs, grants and promotions.

Canada’s EDI initiative asks universities to log data and “address any potential systemic barriers in their policies and processes which have contributed to the underrepresentation” of women, visible minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTTQ+ and Indigenous people.

In a February briefing note for Industry Minister Navdeep Bains ahead of a meeting with U of M officials, bureaucrats noted that “university presidents in provinces where provincial budgets are being constrained may signal particular concern about the cost of meeting new federal program requirements (e.g., EDI) without additional operating support.”

Ottawa has since boosted its funding for EDI.

With that cash, U of M is implementing a plan that involves rethinking how academics qualify for opportunities. For example, the number of papers a professor has published can vary based on the complexity of the work.

Studying a remote, Indigenous community involves years of building trust, and can produce results that have a huge impact for that community’s future, Jayas said.

“Is that of any less significance than somebody publishing X-number of papers in a journal, which may be read by a few people who work in that area but has had no impact? I think we have to look at those things.”

In the same way, a climate-change monitoring project in the north could employ local Indigenous youth, giving them part-time income and a voice in shaping the data, and the community can use the findings to help improve their lives.

“(It’s) making sure that we are not just doing research on them, but with them, and by them, as an equal partner,” said Jayas.

The university is working on an initiative to try making sure the pool of job applicants reflects the local population. For example, if no one from a group with a sizable presence applies for a job, it would trigger a discussion, where staff would review processes like whether the places the job was advertised reached a fair mix of people.

U of M was able to tap into existing grants that are normally used for maintaining facilities or digitizing records. So far, that’s started with a $50,000 budget for someone to develop tools and training materials for staff.

Last fall, the University of Winnipeg joined a national EDI pilot project to collect and analyze “the institution’s systems, practices and culture,” while Brandon University is awaiting federal funding to implement EDI initiatives.

“It’s going to be amazing to attract the researchers, the faculty, the staff that are able to show the diversity of our province and country,” said Cheryl Fleming, BU’s diversity and human-rights advisor.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES U of M's Digvir Jayas says the program aims to ensure all people are given fair assessment.

The university has proposed to invest in software to analyze self-identification surveys from staff, to provide anonymized data on whether faculties and departments follow the demographics of the Westman region.

It will also be able to provide resumes to hiring committees that shield the name of those involved, to avoid discrimination based on ethnic origin.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development (known widely as Industry Canada) spent $5.3 million on EDI initiatives last year, and has this year earmarked $7.35 million.

“The Government of Canada recognizes that in times such as a pandemic, it is even more important to address systemic barriers as these disruptive situations further exacerbate existing inequities faced by individuals from equity-seeking and underrepresented groups,” wrote department spokeswoman Geneviève Sicard.

She added that federal agencies “are also sharing tools with institutions on how to consider and embed EDI in virtual settings.”

At Brandon University, Fleming says she would like to eventually train hiring committees, so they can factor in maternity leave and childcare needs when comparing academics’ track records and publication history.

“Over the long term, we’ll be able to do statistical analyses, to ensure that we’re (…) equalling the playing field,” Fleming said.

“We want to be very reflective of our community, our province and our country.”

Jayas argues that having a range of perspective leads to stronger outcomes

“If we can change the culture and start recognizing people for their work, I think we can have a huge impact on the society and everybody will feel properly assessed, and that they’ve been given their fair chance. And they’ll be proud and want to make those contributions, for the betterment of society.”

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Briefing note for federal industry minister, on diversity initiative and U of M topics

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Updated on Monday, August 10, 2020 7:26 AM CDT: Adds missing words

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