Sept. 7, 2022

UCalgary investigators outline importance of equity, diversity and inclusion principles in research

Commentary published in Nature Human Behaviour
Diverse group of individuals

Scientific training includes instruction on critical skills like study design, ethics and statistics, but little or no instruction on how to identify and mitigate racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination in research. 

Drs. Shannon Ruzycki, MD, and Sofia Ahmed, MD, say failing to incorporate principles of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) into research can be extremely harmful.

Sofia Ahmed

Sofia Ahmed

“To put it simply, EDI literally saves lives,” says Ahmed, a Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) researcher. “In addition to being the right thing to do, we know that incorporating EDI into research leads to better solutions for the communities and individuals the research is designed to help.” 

The two recently penned a commentary published in Nature Human Behaviour that provides examples of how the lack of EDI integration has caused harm and provides practical recommendations on how EDI should be considered at each step of the research process, from study conception and design to recruiting, reporting and knowledge translation. 

Certain demographic groups have historically been under-represented in research for a variety of reasons, such as lack of a diverse research team and study participants. 

Women have often been excluded from health research studies, with disastrous results, according to Ahmed. She notes that eight of the 10 drugs taken off the market in the United States over a four-year period were removed because they disproportionately caused harm and even death in women compared to men.

This alarming finding reflects the lack of studies that include female animal models and women populations in health research. 

Ahmed says having diverse research teams, with numerous perspectives, can help. 

“It’s our own personal experiences that often shape our research, so collectively, we are better if we work with people who aren’t like us,” says Ahmed. 

Shannon Ruzycki

Shannon Ruzycki

For Ruzycki, it’s “unacceptable” for investigators to disregard EDI principles in their research. 

“This isn’t optional; it’s an obligation,” says Ruzycki. 

Ruzycki and Ahmed describe themselves as lifelong learners when it comes to this work. Much of their knowledge has come through hands-on experience and by working with —and learning from — communities who have been historically under-represented or even excluded from research. 

They wrote the commentary as a practical, hands-on guide for investigators. 

“We wanted to let people know that it is really pretty easy to incorporate EDI principles in their work, and that it’s ok if they don’t know how to do it,” says Ruzycki. “We are all learning this together.”

University of Calgary researchers can access EDI resources to help develop an EDI strategy for writing grants. A webinar recording on How to Incorporate EDI Principles into your Grant Proposal, presented by Dr. Sofia Ahmed is also available.

Sofia Ahmed is a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). She is the sex and gender lead for CAN-SOLVE CKD, an advisory board member for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Gender and Health and the president-elect of the Organization for the Study of Sex Differences. She leads the Women’s Health Initiative at the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and is a member of both the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and O’Brien Institute for Public Health. 

Shannon Ruzycki is a clinical assistant professor in the departments of Medicine and Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). She is the co-director of the CSM’s Department of Cardiac Sciences’ EDI Committee and a member of the Antiracism Task Force for the Department of Medicine. She is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and O’Brien Institute for Public Health.