Systemic barriers and biases continue to challenge historically underrepresented groups in STEM. We also face these challenges in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto. Women, Indigenous individuals, members of visible minorities, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ2+ communities currently face varying, unique, and systemic barriers and biases which affect their access to equal opportunities in STEM. This represents an equity challenge. The University of Toronto is situated within the relatively diverse landscape of the Greater Toronto Area, from where 73.2% of undergraduate and graduate enrollees originate. Among international graduate students, the top five countries represented are China (42.9%), the United States (10.1%), India (9.9%), Iran (5.5%), and South Korea (2.5%). There are significant racial diversity challenges, with 63.8% of international graduate students from the Asia and Pacific geographical regions and only 2.7% of students from Africa. Challenges exist in reaching students in these underrepresented groups and adequately evaluating their potential for success in STEM fields of study. While comprehensive gender and sexual orientation data are not available, LGBTQ2+ communities face barriers and biases like the historical biases imposed on other underrepresented groups. This includes, but is not limited to, culture fit bias and harmful or damaging stereotypes. Notably, the lack of gender data prevents STEM institutions from being held accountable for or tracking progress in addressing and eliminating LGBTQ2+ biases. The Greater Toronto Area, known for its large populations and greater inclusion of the aforementioned groups, provides the University of Toronto with improved access to a diverse population of qualified local individuals. Due to systemic barriers to EDI in STEM, there are a reduced number of applicants that meet traditional criteria for recruiting. It can be challenging to reach and evaluate individuals in need of opportunities; however, diversity is a merit that recruiters must consider as a critical element for team building for the viewpoints and otherwise overlooked considerations that a diverse team brings to research and decision-making processes. Many of us are fortunate enough not to feel the full effects and extent of discrimination, exclusion, and lack of equity, therefore, those in positions of power and privilege have a duty to combat these situations by helping those who have been or are currently experiencing barriers to entry and success within STEM fields of study.
EDI practices of Li Lab in the team composition and recruitment process
In addition to traditional methods of distributing postings, we will leverage social media platforms that promote diversity to increase our visibility to all groups interested in the science we conduct. This approach can improve the ability to reach potential candidates, regardless of their location, position, or affiliations. Our lab has started this process by launching an Instagram page and Twitter account that will be jointly run by a minimum of two trainees coming from diverse backgrounds. Additionally, LinkedIn will be used to share our stories and vision. We will also seek opportunities to participate in outreach initiatives to share our lab’s research and interact with a more diverse group of potential candidates. During recruitment, candidates will be asked how they discovered the position, and their responses will be recorded to identify which of the platforms has garnered the most engagement so that we may improve upon them.
Job postings will be made available for extended periods of time and regularly reposted to ensure that all potential candidates have an opportunity to apply. When feasible, postings will be made available for 30 days in advance of selecting a candidate. As it is not ethical to request information regarding gender, race, or background, the geographical regions of each applicant and the number of total applications received each week as of the date posted will be recorded. If making postings available for longer results in a greater number of applicants, specifically from geographically diverse regions, we will be encouraged to prolong postings further.
The initial candidate selection process will be made blind by appointing a trainee to remove any information that may be used as the basis of any discriminatory or inequitable practices. in an application (such as names, contact information, and school names). This will aid in preventing unconscious biases. Additionally, team members will be invited to rank individuals at several steps in the process and asked to keep their opinions confidential from one another. Following candidate ranking, team members will meet to discuss the results, justify the ranking scores, and voice their opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. These discussions will conclude with a collaborative decision on which applicants will be recruited to the lab, thus minimizing any individual implicit biases. Once a candidate has been selected, team members will be asked for feedback on the process and its ability to improve EDI. Improving the diversity of a lab has benefits beyond satisfying equity, as diverse perspectives and views bring value to the lab and the research performed. As such, individuals who demonstrate the potential to improve problem-solving, understanding, and team morale will be onboarded while building a diversified team.
EDI practices of Li Lab in providing training and development opportunities
Every Fall, we will appoint a trainee to give a short talk or communally watch a fitting professional talk/video on a new topic in the EDI space. Afterward, all members will be present to discuss EDI's societal and scientific benefits with an opportunity to share experiences and provide suggestions on further implementing EDI practices in our work and environment. The University of Toronto offers many resources, which will be distributed to trainees and encouraged for use. These meetings will reinforce commitments to self-learning regarding EDI in academia and how to be an ally to underrepresented groups in STEM. Trainees will be encouraged to attend University-hosted EDI workshops as available and will be provided with a list of online resources. We will build an EDI-aware and empowered team by including EDI as a regular part of the lab training environment.
Training and mentorship plans for each trainee will be considered to ensure that the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of Dr. Li and the trainees are clear. Career goals and any potential accommodations required will be confidentially discussed during onboarding to prepare trainees for their studies. Team members will meet monthly with Dr. Li to ensure that training goals are met and that trainees are supported and sponsored. While concerns can be addressed as needed, timelines and progress will be discussed at the end of each term to address any barriers to their success.
EDI practices of Li Lab in inclusion
The Li Lab promotes the use of inclusive language, remaining open-minded, and seeks to provide a judgment-free, encouraging, and welcoming environment to ensure that lab members feel comfortable and supported by staying educated on our respective privileges.
We use inclusive, respectful language when speaking with peers and lab members. Lab members are able to share their perspectives in a safe space without judgment. If needed, EDI will be discussed through annual meetings or additional meetings to ensure an environment where members will be respected, valued, and supported to ensure members are comfortable sharing their perspectives and ideas. New members will be asked to comment on the interviewing process and for their input on new ways to improve the integration of EDI into the workspace and laboratory group. They will also have the option to comment on any exclusion they have experienced in the past for the purpose of building a more inclusive environment for the new trainee. Only Dr. Li will be provided the answers and private discussions will take place between the new trainee and Dr. Li to develop a strategy for inclusivity.
We will include symbols identifying the Li Lab as an ally to underrepresented groups and land acknowledgment statements in oral presentations, written communication, and lab websites. These will consist of entryway stickers and icons on websites/social media. Additionally, will add a webpage on our website that details and outlines our duty and responsibility to prove equitable and inclusive opportunities to underrepresented groups and how the Li laboratory fulfills these duties.
Accountability will be essential in ensuring inclusivity in the Li Lab. All concerns will be taken seriously and respectfully. Considerations will be met with respect and dignity. If required, resources available through the Tri-Campus offices, such as, but not limited to, the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO), or Office of Indigenous Initiatives (OII), will be contacted to ensure the best practices are followed.