Only 30% of Canada Research Chairs are women and universities will see funding pulled if things don’t improve

The Canadian government has announced that the country’s research universities could lose funding if they don’t recruit more women and other underrepresented groups into the prestigious Canada Research Chairs programme, which establishes research professorships at institutions across the country.

A national equity, diversity and inclusion action plan was announced earlier this month, including new measures that universities with five or more chair holders will have to start complying with immediately. The aim is to ensure that women, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and members of visible minority groups ‘have access to new opportunities that will allow them to succeed in the sciences’, Canada’s government explained.

These universities will be required to, for example, develop their own strategies to address the underrepresentation of the four designated groups among their chair holders. They will also have to report annually to the Canada Research Chairs programme about progress towards meeting their equity and diversity objectives, and post this information on their websites.

The Canada Research Chairs programme was created in 2000, and invests approximately C$265 million (£150 million) per year to attract and retain preeminent research professors. Under the programme, there are currently more than 1600 chair holders working at over 70 universities across the country in a wide range of fields, including engineering and the natural sciences. However, only about 30% of the current chair holders are female, and the programme says that the primary reason for this is the low number of women being nominated by universities.

Starting May 2017, if a university fails to achieve these requirements by the set deadlines the Canada Research Chairs programme will withhold peer review and payments for those nominations until autumn 2017, and to future cycles as necessary, until the requirements are fulfilled.

‘Our government is committed to promoting equity and diversity within the sciences,’ said Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s science minister. ’The announcement of the action plan is an important step towards a more inclusive, open and diverse research environment in Canada.’

In an open letter to Canadian university presidents earlier this month, the heads of Canada’s research councils called for ‘a serious and meaningful review’ of their institutions’ recruitment practices and work environment to identify the ‘systemic barriers’ that may be impeding equity, diversity and inclusion objectives within the Canada Research Chairs programme.

Programme management will now be monitoring the nominations submitted in accordance with each university’s equity and diversity targets to ensure that progress is being made and sustained. If there are no progressive improvements in meeting equity targets between December 2017 and December 2019, the Canadian government says ‘additional measures may be taken’.