February 11 was the UN International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It is meant to highlight the importance of ensuring that women and girls have equal opportunities of pursuing a career in science. And it’s a day that highlights the fact that we have a ways to go before we can say that.

We are reminded that we are not taking full advantage of all of the brains on the planet to harness the power of science to advance our understanding of the world in which we live and to address the grand challenges facing humanity.

I’m proud of the many outstanding CIFAR fellows and advisors who are women. There are many more than I can mention here, but I’ll name a few:

  • Vicky Kaspi (McGill University) is the R. Howard Webster Foundation Fellow and Director of CIFAR’s Program in Gravity & the Extreme Universe. She is an expert in neutron stars, and some of her recent work has shed light on mysterious cosmic signals called “fast radio bursts.”
  • Marla Sokolowski (University of Toronto), the Weston Fellow and Co-Director of CIFAR’s Program in Child & Brain Development, has done pioneering work on the ways in which genes interact with the environment.
  • Joelle Pineau (McGill University), a senior fellow in CIFAR’s Program in Learning, Machines & Brains, is one of the leading artificial intelligence researchers in the world.
  • Anne Wilson (Wilfrid Laurier University), a fellow in CIFAR’s Program in Successful Societies, examines how people’s personal and social identities affect their beliefs and their relationships with other members of their society.
  • Irene Bloemraad (University of California, Berkeley), a senior fellow in CIFAR’s Program in Successful Societies, does important work on immigration, politics and successful societies. Irene will be this year’s CIFAR David Dodge Lecturer in May.
  • Lisa Saksida (Western University), a senior fellow in CIFAR’s Azrieli Program in Brain, Mind & Consciousness, studies memory and perception using a number of different converging methods.
  • Matilde Bombardini (University of British Columbia), a fellow in CIFAR’s Program in Institutions, Organizations & Growth, works in international trade and political economy and is helping understand issues such as the link between skill distribution and comparative advantage.

There are many more women who have made important contributions to science and to CIFAR. Nevertheless, there still aren’t enough of them. Of more than 350 CIFAR fellows and advisors, only 21 per cent are women. We can do better.

But things are changing. CIFAR is committed to increasing the number of women in our community. Among the early career researchers who make up our Global Scholars, almost half are women. And of the applicants to our current Global Call for Ideas – some of whom will be chosen to create new CIFAR programs – more than 40 per cent are women.

We will also be asking each of our programs for their strategies to increase the number of women in the program.

We are committed not only to gender equity, but to diversity in all of its forms. As an institution we recently completed a thoughtful process aimed at clarifying and articulating our core values. Along with collaboration, creativity, risk-taking, respect and excellence, we chose diversity as one of the fundamental values we hold.

Diversity is a matter of fairness, and would be worth pursuing for that reason alone. But it is also a matter of excellence. No institution can arbitrarily choose from a small subset of the population without also excluding many of the best minds. A diverse population brings diverse viewpoints and ways of thinking. At CIFAR we believe in the power of bringing together great minds with different backgrounds, knowledge and experience. Simply put, the greater the diversity, the better the results.

As part because of our new strategic plan, CIFAR is developing a policy around equity, diversity and inclusion. I am committed that every year when the International Day of Women and Girls in Science comes around, CIFAR will have improved on its diversity.

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