Implementing Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) Best Practices in Research

Portrait of Nicole Kaniki

Published on Apr 27, 2022


Tags: Resources

The ISI office supports initiatives in all aspects of strategy from planning to implementation to reporting. As part of this work, we leverage the expertise of Dr. Nicole Kaniki, Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Research and Innovation, to help ISIs incorporate EDI into their operations and strategic planning. Here Dr. Kaniki provides practical guidance on how to navigate the early stages of implementing EDI best practices.

Before rolling up your sleeves to engage in EDI work, it is important to be reminded of the “why.” Staying connected to long-term benefits and impacts will provide motivation to overcome the challenges inherent in this work.

Dr. Kaniki explains a key motivator, “the world is moving forward and is becoming more and more diverse and globally connected. Individuals and organizations that fail to support EDI will be left behind.”

The Why Behind EDI

Another important shift towards the perception that equity and inclusion are human rights is bringing the importance of EDI to the forefront.  Failures in equity and inclusion do not amount to overt oppression. Instead, Dr. Kaniki describes a lack of equity and inclusion as “small subtleties and chilly climates.” Based on this, in the past we have not made the connection between EDI and human rights, but that is changing.

Finally, for researchers the importance of EDI in putting together a successful grant application can no longer be ignored. Dr. Kaniki’s advice is that “by the time it gets to the grant, it’s too late [to start thinking about EDI].” Researchers should instead be thinking about how they will demonstrate to funders a track record in this area. Dr. Kaniki explains that when it comes to EDI in grant applications “doing and done is better than will do.” Further, reviewers are becoming more knowledgeable about EDI and better able to differentiate between applicants who are meaningfully engaged in this area and those who are not.

Where to Start: The Moral Must Haves

Dr. Kaniki encourages anyone developing an EDI strategy to use the moral must haves outlined below as a groundwork for their efforts.

Step 1: Be humble

Acknowledge that there are challenges and barriers for certain groups and not for others. Identify the lack of diversity in our research environments. Reflect on how our own biases might make us complicit in perpetuating inequities.

As part of the acknowledgement step, Dr. Kaniki encourages researchers to be aware of the assumption that just because research is focused on an equity-related topic (e.g. marginalized communities) that the research environment and process are automatically equitable.  To avoid this “thinking trap” researchers should reflect on the level of diversity in their research teams and lab culture, and the degree to which hiring practices and the process for mentorship/sponsorship are equitable. Also, the research team should include as part of its team of experts, individuals who self-identify as from these communities whether as research experts or as organization partners who hold decision-making positions to inform the work. “Nothing about us without us.”

Step 2: Identify context-specific issues

Every field of research has unique EDI challenges. For example, women tend to be underrepresented in Engineering, and Black and Indigenous scholars are underrepresented in Psychology. This results in intersectional experiences of racism, sexism, ableism within the research culture. Approaching EDI with a context-specific mindset is key. When designing an EDI strategy, you should spend time identifying the EDI challenges that are specific to your field and work.

Step 3: Assess the willingness to act

Now that you have acknowledged and identified issues in the first two steps, an honest appraisal of the willingness to act is needed. Without commitment and genuine willingness from key stakeholders, any EDI strategy runs the risk of falling flat. For example, ensuring that recruitment strategies for trainees are expansive and thorough to attract a diverse pool of applicants takes a lot of time and intentional effort. Stating you will share opportunities for trainees through social media and expansive networks and instead only tapping students from your immediate, close networks will not lead to a diverse applicant pool and will perpetuate the exclusionary practices toward underrepresented groups in your field. Similarly in research design, if you only recruit participants for research studies from the same population pools who are from the same geographic areas or organizational affiliations that are dominantly white, your research generalizability will be threatened.

Dr. Kaniki advises that answering these big questions will require a significant amount of reflection, because for the most part, this will be the first time scholars are examining long held assumptions that research is objective and by nature equitable and inclusive. She reminds us, “if we aren’t intentional about embedding EDI, we may unintentionally be exclusive and inequitable.”

To learn more about Dr. Kaniki’s work, watch her series “In Conversation With…Visiting Topics in EDI in Research & Innovation” hosted by CRIS.