Research Group Manual

Addressing EDI Challenges in STEM

Systemic barriers and biases persistently impede historically underrepresented groups in STEM fields, including those within the Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. Women, Indigenous individuals, members of visible minorities, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ2+ communities confront distinctive and systemic obstacles to equal opportunities in STEM, representing a significant equity challenge.


Although the University of Toronto is situated in the diverse landscape of the Greater Toronto Area, which accounts for 73.2% of undergraduate and graduate enrollees, challenges related to racial diversity remain. International graduate students predominantly come from China (42.9%), the United States (10.1%), India (9.9%), Iran (5.5%), and South Korea (2.5%). Notably, 63.8% of international graduate students hail from the Asia and Pacific regions, while only 2.7% come from Africa. Difficulties persist in engaging and adequately evaluating the potential of students from underrepresented groups for success in STEM fields.


Although comprehensive data on gender and sexual orientation are unavailable, LGBTQ2+ communities also face barriers and biases. Similar to biases experienced by other underrepresented groups, LGBTQ2+ individuals encounter "fit" bias and stereotypical assumptions. The absence of gender data hinders STEM institutions from being accountable or tracking progress in addressing and eliminating LGBTQ2+ biases. Fortunately, the University of Toronto benefits from its location in the Greater Toronto Area, known for its larger populations and greater inclusion of these groups, offering better access to qualified local candidates.


Systemic barriers to EDI in STEM result in fewer applicants who meet traditional recruitment criteria. Reaching and evaluating individuals in need of opportunities can be challenging. However, diversity should be considered a merit, as it is a critical element in team building, providing varied perspectives and previously overlooked insights that enhance research and decision-making processes. Many individuals are fortunate not to experience the full extent of discrimination, exclusion, and lack of equity. Those in privileged positions have a unique opportunity to act against these injustices, supporting those who have faced or continue to face barriers to entry and success within STEM fields.


Practices of Li Lab in the team composition and recruitment process

To augment traditional methods of distributing job postings, Li Lab will utilize social media platforms that emphasize diversity, thereby increasing our visibility to all groups interested in our scientific research. This strategy will enhance our ability to connect with potential candidates, irrespective of their location, position, or affiliations. We have initiated an Instagram and Twitter account, managed by at least two trainees from diverse backgrounds, and will also utilize LinkedIn to share our stories and vision. During recruitment, we will inquire how candidates learned about the position, recording their responses to assess the effectiveness of our practices and identify areas for improvement.


To ensure all potential candidates have an opportunity to apply, job postings will remain available for extended periods and be regularly reposted. Whenever possible, postings will be open for 30 days before selecting a candidate. Since it is unethical to request information about gender or race, we will track the number of applications and the geographical regions of candidates each week since the posting's release. If longer postings result in a higher number of applicants, particularly from geographically diverse regions, we will consider extending postings further.


To mitigate unconscious biases, the initial candidate selection process will be conducted blindly by assigning a trainee to remove any culturally or geographically identifiable information from applications, such as names, contact information, and school names. Team members will be invited to rank candidates at various stages of the process, maintaining confidentiality regarding their opinions. Once a candidate has been selected, we will solicit feedback from team members on the process and its effectiveness in enhancing EDI.


Improving a lab's diversity offers benefits beyond merely addressing equity; diverse perspectives and viewpoints enrich both the laboratory environment and the research conducted. Consequently, we may prioritize onboarding individuals who can contribute to real problem-solving, understanding, and attitudes by increasing team diversity.


Practices of Li Lab in providing training and development opportunities

Each fall, Li Lab will assign a trainee to deliver a short presentation or facilitate a group viewing of a relevant professional talk or video on a new topic in the EDI space. Following this, all members will participate in a discussion to explore the societal and scientific benefits of EDI, share personal experiences, and suggest ways to implement EDI practices in our work and environment. The University of Toronto provides numerous resources, which will be shared with trainees and encouraged for use. These meetings will strengthen our commitment to self-learning about EDI in academia and fostering allyship for underrepresented groups in STEM.


We will encourage trainees to attend University-hosted EDI workshops when available and provide them with a list of online resources. By incorporating EDI as a regular aspect of the lab training environment, we aim to cultivate an EDI-aware and empowered team.


We will develop individualized training and mentorship plans for each trainee, ensuring that Dr. Li's and the trainees' roles, responsibilities, and expectations are well-defined. During onboarding, career goals and any required accommodations will be confidentially discussed to prepare trainees for their studies. Monthly meetings with Dr. Li will be held to monitor progress toward training goals and provide support and sponsorship to trainees. Although concerns can be addressed as needed, we will evaluate timelines and progress at the end of each term to identify and address any obstacles to trainee success.


Practices of Li Lab in inclusion

Emphasizing the use of inclusive language, maintaining open-mindedness and a judgment-free atmosphere, and being conscious of our privileges, we aim to provide a space where lab members feel heard and comfortable.


We will adopt inclusive and respectful language when interacting with peers and lab members, creating a safe environment where everyone can share their perspectives without fear of judgment. If necessary, EDI discussions will be incorporated into annual meetings or additional sessions to ensure an atmosphere where members feel respected, valued, and supported, thus promoting the open sharing of ideas and perspectives. As part of the onboarding process for new members, they will be asked to complete a short training module on inclusive language and communication.


To demonstrate our commitment to inclusivity, we will incorporate symbols signifying the Li Lab as an ally to underrepresented groups and land acknowledgment statements in oral presentations, written communication, and lab websites. This includes displaying entryway stickers and icons on websites and social media platforms.


Accountability is crucial in ensuring an inclusive environment within the Li Lab. We will address concerns seriously and respectfully, treating all considerations with dignity. If needed, we will consult resources available through the Tri-Campus offices, such as the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, to guarantee adherence to best practices.