CIHR’s commitment to enhancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the research funding system
Message from the Vice-President, Research Programs

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the harsh impacts of systemic racism and other structural inequities on health – most notably, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities and on those marginalized by race, gender, age, and socio-economic status. Recent evidence also demonstrates that the pandemic is worsening inequalities for under-represented and disadvantaged groups in the research system, including women and individuals with caregiving responsibilities.

CIHR is strongly committed to fostering a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive research funding system, including integrating these principles in all of our interactions and across all aspects of our business. Moreover, we recognize our responsibility – as Canada’s national health research funding agency – to push beyond expressions of commitment and take actions that will result in tangible changes. We acknowledge the recent report by the Clerk of the Privy Council Office and the Speech from the Throne, both of which call upon the Government to address systemic racism and to do so in a way informed by the lived experiences of racialized communities and Indigenous Peoples. We commit to act on these calls by engaging the community to inform our actions to mitigate systemic racism and other structural inequities within the health research funding enterprise. This will involve listening to those communities most affected to better understand the ways in which our policies and programs may reinforce systemic barriers or biases and inequities, whether explicit or unconscious. These engagements will allow us to take informed, concrete steps to enable the full participation of under-represented or disadvantaged groups within the research system.

In addition to enhancing commitments to equity, diversity, and inclusion, CIHR would like to reaffirm our commitment to building respectful relationships with all First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. This commitment is demonstrated through ongoing efforts outlined in CIHR’s Action Plan: Building a healthier future for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples, and in the Canada Research Coordinating Committee’s Setting new directions to support Indigenous research and research training in Canada 2019–2022.

A commitment to listen

In recent years, CIHR has implemented a range of interventions to enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion in response to recommendations from those within the research community most impacted by disparities. However, we acknowledge that our predominant focus to date has been on sex and gender. While these efforts will continue, we must push further and take a hard look at our programs, policies, and processes through an intersectional lens. We also recognize the importance of ensuring that our next steps are informed by those with lived experience facing the issues that we need to address.

Partners and community engagement

We know that much work has already been done in Canada and internationally to compile and consider information on inequalities in research and the research system. We will build on what we have already heard and situate our learning by establishing and enhancing partnerships with associations and community groups that share a commitment to removing barriers and improving diversity within the Canadian health research ecosystem. These partnerships will involve looking at ways we can enhance research and knowledge translation activities to address systemic racism in Canada.

We are grateful to groups such as the Black Health Alliance, Acfas, l’Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne (ACUFC), and a network of deaf and disabled scholars who have already shared important insights and are open to informing future actions. Recognizing the distinct contexts of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Peoples (including Indigenous Peoples living in urban communities), we will continue to collaborate with Indigenous organizations and communities to identify and remove barriers. We would also like to hear from other associations or organizations that want to engage CIHR in discussions on equity, diversity, and inclusion within CIHR-funded research and/or the research system.

Open dialogue

We recognize that some marginalized groups have provided CIHR with feedback and are waiting for action. At the same time, we believe it is our responsibility to provide an open space for public dialogue on challenging issues and to ensure that all voices have the opportunity to shape our programs, policies, and processes. As part of this approach, we welcome hearing from those who have already participated in or led other public dialogues, so that we can expedite the collection of insights and further build upon momentum. However, we are also aware that sessions of this type take time and can exact an emotional toll, and this concern will be top of mind throughout the process.

In autumn 2020, we will host an online discussion about systemic discrimination and inequities in the research system. We will also hold a series of virtual listening sessions, to offer a safe space for sharing lived experiences and solutions for consideration. We invite you to monitor our website and social media channels for upcoming dates and registration information, or to contact

Key takeaways from these sessions will be made public. CIHR will use the insight gained, along with other learnings from previous feedback, partner and community engagement, literature, and international best practices, to inform our next steps towards positive change. In particular, we commit to following these listening sessions with the prioritized development, implementation, and monitoring of an action plan to address systemic racism.

A commitment to action

Acknowledging that many systemic barriers, inequities, and exclusions cut across different research communities, we continue to harmonize actions for change across federal funding agencies through the Tri-Agency Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Action Plan.

As updated through our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Action webpage, we also continue to implement strategies and solutions to mitigate a broad range of identified issues. For example, we have a shared commitment with our Tri-Agency colleagues to ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion on panels and events supported by and/or participated in by the three agencies.

Most recently, we have taken several immediate actions to help address inequities in the research funding system resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

Looking forward, we continue to make progress on a number of key activities:

  • CIHR, in alignment with our Tri-Agency colleagues, will be phasing in revisions to the collection of self-identification information. The current version of our self-identification questionnaire only requests information about some identities. The revised questions and response options will provide CIHR with more complete information on those seeking and receiving funding, allowing issues to be examined through an intersectional lens.
  • CIHR is also putting systems in place to collect self-identification data from members of peer review and governance committees. We expect that these data will assist with recruitment efforts and will allow us to monitor progress toward increasing diversity.
  • CIHR has released an overview of self-identification data for the 2018 and 2019 Spring and Fall Project Grant competitions. Moving forward, we will develop a systematic reporting system to enable the timely sharing of disaggregated data.
  • We are working to update the Bias in Peer Review training module with current content, including considerations for racial bias.

Making equity, diversity, and inclusion an integral component of planning and programs

We understand that to create and sustain change, we must integrate the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion across all areas that drive our business.

  • As we develop CIHR’s new Strategic Plan 2021-2031, we will apply an equity, diversity, and inclusion lens to all of our strategic planning processes, including the development of Institute Strategic Plans. By doing so, we aim to ensure that we do not further perpetuate inequalities, biases, or exclusions in the research system and that the research we fund succeeds in improving the lives of all Canadians.
  • We will draw from our experiences working with Indigenous scholars and lessons learned from targeted programming delivered by CIHR Institutes, such as the Network Environments for Indigenous Health Research Program, to strengthen capacity-building and research programs tailored to the needs of under-represented or disadvantaged scholars.
  • Our Institute model will allow us to be responsive through targeted funding in areas such as understanding the impact of systemic anti-Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour (BIPOC) racism on health inequities and health outcomes.
  • CIHR will also explore how research practices (such as data collection, methodologies, engagement, peer review processes, and funding allocation) can exacerbate inequalities in health and health research.

Looking internally, CIHR is working to increase diversity at all levels of the organization, with a particular focus on leadership positions. This includes continued efforts to promote self-identification so that our workforce reflects the Canadian population; to adopt recruitment and promotion strategies designed to attract and develop individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences; and to review our HR policies to ensure that they do not create barriers or disadvantages. CIHR also commits to employing inclusive practices anchored to cultural safety, working in partnership with the most affected communities to actively oppose discrimination, including systemic racism, in all its forms.

We know that dismantling systemic barriers and addressing the resulting inequities will take sustained discussion and persistent actions. In collaboration with you, the health research community, we are committed to facing these challenges head-on to support the diverse and inclusive culture needed to produce research excellence. We look forward to sharing further updates with you in the coming months.


Tammy Clifford
Vice-President, Research Programs

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