The city of London, Ontario is home to a vibrant health research community. On Wednesday, May 9, researchers from across the city gathered to discuss the importance of equity, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) in the careers of health researchers. Through participation at Exchange: A London Health Research Day Forum on Diversity & Inclusivity, guests discussed the challenges associated with EDI and potential solutions for the future.
Exchange was held the evening before London Health Research Day, the region’s premier research showcase event which features nearly 400 trainee presentations. Trainees are the future of Canadian science and EDI is crucial to that future. This is a topic of national importance that has garnered attention and action from the federal government, funding agencies and scientists across the country.
Recognizing the importance of this topic, Canada’s Minister of Science, The Honorable Kirsty Duncan, and local Member of Parliament for London North, MP Peter Fragiskatos, shared video greetings with Exchange guests.
“The Exchange event highlights a vital area of discussion. It is important to not only recognize but embrace the differences between scientists and the diverse perspectives they bring to research,” said Rebecca Sullivan, a third year PhD candidate at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, training in Savita Dhanvantari’s lab at Lawson Health Research Institute, and one of the organizers of the event. “Becoming aware of our own unconscious biases and trying to change these culturally ingrained implicit associations is the only way to make active change in science!”
Above: Rebecca Sullivan, a third year PhD candidate, leading a scenario-based group activity at Exchange
The evening’s first presenter was Dr. Janet Smylie, Director of the Well Living House Applied Research Centre for Indigenous Infant, Child and Family Health at St. Michael’s Hospital and CIHR Applied Public Health Research Chair in Indigenous Health Knowledge and Information. Dr. Smylie, who also delivered the keynote presentation at London Health Research Day, spoke about the role of anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination within health care professions, including its impact on research. This included a discussion of Dr. Smylie’s own research in the field of Indigenous health.
Above: Dr. Janet Smylie presenting on “Addressing anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination within health care professions”
Greta Bauer, PhD, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, spoke about the role of epidemiology as a toolkit for building equity in health research. This included a discussion on incorporating intersectionality and multidimensionality into population health research methodology.
“The purpose of this work is to give researchers the measurement and statistical tools they need to shift the focus from studying broad population average effects to more heterogeneity within populations,” said Greta. “The whole point is to better study not only diversity in health outcomes, but in the processes that generate those outcomes.”
Above: Greta Bauer, PhD, presenting on “Epidemiology as a toolkit for building equity”
This talk was followed by a presentation on Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+). GBA+ is an analytical tool used to assess how diverse groups of women, men and gender-diverse people may experience policies, programs and initiatives. The “plus” in GBA+ acknowledges that GBA goes beyond biological (sex) and socio-cultural (gender) differences. We all have multiple identity factors that intersect to make us who we are; GBA+ also considers many other identity factors, like race, ethnicity, religion, age, and mental or physical disability. GBA+ is a method for collecting and reviewing data in an unbiased manner, one that leaves aside many of the assumptions that can mask the GBA+ impacts of a given initiative. Alysha Croker, PhD, Manager, Tri-Agency Institutional Program Secretariat, discussed how GBA+ is being used in research and grant funding, including at the federal funding agencies.
“Diverse research teams can lead to more innovation, greater collective intelligence and an increased capacity to tackle complex issues,” said Alysha, when discussing the importance of EDI in the careers of health researchers.
Above: Alysha Croker, PhD, presenting on “Incorporating Gender-Based Analysis Plus (GBA+) in research and beyond”
The evening also included a presentation from Shantal Feltham, founder and CEO of Stiris Research, a North American clinical trials management company based in London. Shantal discussed the importance of ensuring that clinical trials are designed to recruit diverse research participants that represent real patient populations. She also discussed her own experiences and perspectives as a female entrepreneur.
Above: Shantal Feltham delivering a presentation titled ”That’s a great idea – It’ll never work”
A group of health research trainees concluded the night with a scenario-based presentation and activity. Audience members were divided into small groups and given a diversity scenario to discuss. Topics ranged from the experiences of LGBTQ+ researchers, racial diversity, physical ability barriers in research labs and more. Notes and ideas from these conversations were recorded and displayed the next day at London Health Research Day.
“Exchange highlighted EDI in health research in action. It featured talks by leading female researchers on issues in Indigenous health and LGBTQ health, implementation of equity in the Canada Research Chairs program, and female entrepreneurship in the field of health research,” said Savita Dhavantari, PhD, assistant director and scientist at Lawson and assistant professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. Savita was also one of the Exchange organizers and the facilitator for the event. “Above all, I hope attendees were encouraged to be fearless in advocating for equity, diversity and inclusivity in health research.”
Above: Guests at Exchange discussing a diversity scenario
Above: Savita Dhanvantari, PhD, facilitating the Exchange event