OTTAWA -- Universities have less than two years to find ways to recruit more women and minorities for Canada Research Chairs, or they won't get any more positions funded by the federal government.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which reviews and approves applications from universities for Canada Research Chair positions, issued that edict this week.
Council president Ted Hewitt said the policy comes after a review process showed a lack of progress from existing efforts to get more women, minorities, people with disabilities and indigenous people appointed to research chairs.
"We said 'OK, that's it' we have to think about what we can do here to speed up progress," said Hewitt. "That was a very serious catalyst for us."
Last week Science Minister Kirsty Duncan told The Canadian Press she was dismayed about data she had just received showing universities had not improved the rate at which they recruited women for the lucrative research jobs and was prepared to force their hand.
"The action plan was in the works for some time but it was expedited after I received the news of the latest Canada Research Chair competition results," she said.
The plan means universities with at least five of the research positions will be required to submit an equity plan by Dec. 15 showing how they intend to meet the equity targets laid out by the granting council. They have until December 2019 to recruit and appoint enough researchers to meet their targets.
If their appointment applications do not match their equity targets by then, the council will withhold funding for new positions until they do.
Hewitt said universities submit twice as many male applicants as female applicants, so the council wants to find a way to force them to seek out more diverse applicants.
"At this pace, they're never going to meet their targets," he said.
Canada Research Chairs run for five or seven years and bring $100,000 or $200,000 in annual funding, depending on whether it's a more experienced tier one position, or an emerging researcher, tier two position.
Universities cannot terminate positions early to open up spaces for more diverse applicants, which is why the council is giving them a deadline more than 18 months away.
Pari Johnston, vice-president for policy and public affairs at Universities Canada, said the new policy does not come as a surprise for universities.
"We very much share the minister's commitment to diversity outcomes in the program," she said "We have in fact been developing and working on this file for a long time. This wasn't a surprise to us. We are ready to respond."
Johnston said the time frame is reasonable and there are meetings planned between institutions next week to begin sharing information on diverse recruitment.
The program provides $265 million a year to pay for up to 2,000 research positions in engineering, natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences.
As of this month, there are 1,615 positions filled, of which 30 per cent are held by women. Women account for just 17 per cent of the more lucrative tier one jobs and 37 per cent of the tier two jobs.
The program also wants to increase the presence of people with disabilities, visible minorities and indigenous people. In the 2015 to 2017 period, 15 per cent of researchers were from visible minorities, which met the target set by the council. However only one per cent of positions were filled by a researcher who had a disability, below the four per cent target. The universities had granted positions to about 16 indigenous researchers, which met the one per cent target.