Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Equity, inclusion and diversity: at the core of OBVIA’s Mission

The International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of AI and Digital Technology (OBVIA) has received $7.5 million in funding over five years from the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ). OBVIA brings together numerous academic establishments (Université Laval, Université de Montréal, McGill University, Université de Sherbrooke, HEC Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal, École de technologie supérieure, École nationale d’administration publique (ENAP), and Université du Québec en Outaouais) and colleges (namely, Ahuntsic, Bois-de-Boulogne, Brébeuf, Dawson, John Abbott, Limoilou, Rosemont, Sainte-Foy, and Saint-Hyacinthe colleges). It relies on the support of more than 88 research centres, organizations, non-governmental organizations, companies, government agencies, and other groups in Quebec, Canada and abroad.

OBVIA aims to distinguish itself through quality research on the societal and ethical impacts of AI and digital technology, bringing together experts from a range of fields that work in interdisciplinarity and intersectorality.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are central to the Montreal Declaration for a Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence which serves as OBVIA’s ethical charter. EDI is integral to OBVIA’s work, in everything from management to administration, partnership development, funding, ensuring diversity among staff, researchers and students, to maintaining diversity in its interdisciplinary research itself. We also support the Dimensions charter of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which aims to promote research excellence, innovation, and creativity in the post-secondary environment, within and across all disciplines, while promoting equity, diversity and inclusion. OBVIA also collaborates on work carried out by the Quebec Interuniversity Network for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (Réseau interuniversitaire québécois promouvant l’équité, la diversité et l’inclusion—RIQEDI).

Promoting and achieving the values of equity, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of our concerns and serve as our foundation for the production of knowledge on the societal impacts of AI and digital technology.

Lyse Langlois, General Director, OBVIA

EDI Issues in AI and digital technology

The use of artificial intelligence and digital technology is increasingly becoming part of everyday life and various sectors of activity. The development of these new technologies creates a need to examine the consequences they can have on society, particularly their impact on our most vulnerable populations. The field of artificial intelligence and digital technology is known to be a male-dominated environment with very low representation of women and under-represented groups. This situation most notably has an impact on the development of artificial intelligence algorithms that are greatly inspired by their creators. The conscious and unconscious biases built into these systems can reproduce societal stereotypes and lead to further discrimination.

This requires a real awareness of the effects that bias can have and ensuring that best practices in equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are deployed in this sector. With the goal of ensuring the responsible production and use of artificial intelligence and digital technology, OBVIA integrates the values of EDI in a transversal manner in all of its activities, from administration, to the awarding of grants and research projects, to the research produced. The Observatory promotes an inclusive culture and environment to ensure the participation of all, with a special focus on people from under-represented groups. OBVIA works to address the systemic barriers present in our societies and initiate a true process of social innovation in artificial and digital intelligence research.

What is a Bias?

A prejudice in favour of or against a thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Biases can be held by an individual, a group or an institution and can have negative or positive consequences.

OBVIA is currently developing a training on unconscious bias in partnership with the Université de Montréal, IVADO, and the Quebec Interuniversity Network for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (RIQEDI). We also recommend completing the training developed by the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program: Unconscious bias training module: https://www.chairs-chaires.gc.ca/program-programme/equity-equite/bias/module-fra.aspx?pedisable=false


The following definitions are drawn from the Guide for Applicants: Considering equity, diversity and inclusion in your application Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada NSERC is currently working with partners, including RIQEDI, on the development of a new glossary.


Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and people with diverse gender identities. It influences how people perceive themselves and each other, how they act and interact, and the distribution of power and resources in society. Gender is usually conceptualized as a binary (girl/woman and boy/man) yet there is considerable diversity in how individuals and groups understand, experience, and express it.


Sex refers to a set of biological attributes in humans and animals. It is primarily associated with physical and physiological features including chromosomes, gene expression, hormone levels and function, and reproductive/sexual anatomy. Sex is usually categorized as female or male but there is variation in the biological attributes that comprise sex and how those attributes are expressed.


Equity means fairness; people of all identities being treated fairly. It means ensuring that the processes for allocating resources and decision-making are fair to all and do not discriminate on the basis of identity. There is a need to put measures in place to eliminate discrimination and inequalities which have been well described and reported and ensure, to the best degree possible, equal opportunities. Equity is needed to achieve equality. For example, treating people as equals in an environment in which historical and systemic disadvantages prevent people from operating as equals can be inequitable—it lacks the fairness of a truly equitable situation.


Equality means experiencing the freedom to develop and make choices unhindered by stereotypes, roles and prejudices; that the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of people are considered, valued, and favoured equally. It does not mean that people have to become the same, but that their rights, responsibilities and opportunities do not depend on their identity.


Diversity consists of the conditions, expressions, and experiences of different groups identified by age, education, sexual orientation, parental status/responsibility, immigration status, Indigenous status, religion, disability, language, race, place of origin, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, and other attributes. Recognizing and valuing diversity must be accompanied by concerted efforts to ensure the inclusion of diverse populations, meaning that individuals are and feel valued, respected and equally supported.


Inclusion requires creating an environment in which all people are respected equitably and have access to the same opportunities. Organizationally, inclusion requires the identification and removal of barriers (e.g., physical, procedural, visible, invisible, intentional, unintentional) that inhibit an individual’s participation and contribution. Inclusion also requires OBVIA members and applicants who are awarded funding to demonstrate values and principles of fairness, justice, equity, and respect by being open to different voices and perspectives, developing an understanding of different cultures, experiences and communities, and making a conscious effort to be welcoming, helpful, and respectful of everyone.

Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is an implicit attitude, stereotype, motivation, or assumption that can occur without one’s knowledge, control, or intention. Unconscious bias is a result of one’s life experiences and affects all types of people. Everyone carries implicit or unconscious biases. Examples of unconscious bias include gender bias, cultural bias, race/ethnicity bias, age bias, language and institutional bias. Decisions made based on unconscious bias can compound over time to significantly impact the lives and opportunities of others who are affected by the decisions one makes.


Intersectionality recognizes that inequities are never the result of single, distinct factors. Rather, they are the outcome of intersections of different social locations, power relations and experiences.

Sel-identification and survey of our community

OBVIA promotes and integrates the values of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in all of its activities. We invite all members, as well as current and future students, to complete this self-identification form in order to get an accurate picture of our community. Completing this form is voluntary and the information you provide will remain confidential.

OBVIA particularly encourages applicants for grants and calls for projects to fill out the self-identification form. We will also be completing a survey of our community in early 2020.

The federal government adopted the Employment Equity Act to ensure that individuals are not denied employment benefits or opportunities for reasons unrelated to their qualifications and skills and to this end, to correct discrimination experienced with regard to employment. The Act Respecting Equal Access to Employment in Public Bodies, adopted by the Quebec National Assembly on December 1, 2000, and which entered into force on April 1, 2001, aims to promote equal representation of groups that are frequently victim to employment discrimination.

Under these two Acts (the Employment Equity Acts), we recognize the following designated groups:


According to employment equity legislation, women constitute a designated group.

Indigenous Peoples

According to employment equity legislation, Indigenous peoples means Canadian persons who are Indians, Inuit or Metis.

Visible Minorities

According to employment equity legislation, members of a visible minority means persons, other than Indigenous peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour. For example, primarily the following groups: South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, and Japanese.

Ethnic Minorities

Within the meaning of the Act respecting equal access to employment in public bodies, members of ethnic minorities are persons, other than Indigenous persons and members of a visible minority, whose mother tongue is neither French nor English. For the purposes of our census, mother tongue is the language you first learned as a child and still understand.

Handicapped Persons

Under the Act to secure handicapped persons in the exercise of their rights with a view to achieving social, school and workplace integration, “handicapped person” means “a person with a deficiency causing a significant and persistent disability who is liable to encounter barriers in performing everyday activities.”

For example, a handicapped person can be defined as a person who suffers from a psychiatric disorder and/or mental health disorder (bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, etc.), a physical, functional and/or motor impairment (arthritis, paraplegia, brain disorders, paralysis, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury, spina bifida, etc.), vision problems (blind and/or partial vision), hearing problems (deaf and/or hard of hearing), speech problems (stuttering, etc.), disability related to a chronic medical condition (diabetes, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, kidney disease, convulsive disorders, etc.), an intellectual disability (Asperger’s syndrome, autism, fetal alcohol effect, etc.), learning disabilities (dyslexia, etc.), head/cognitive trauma, etc.

OBVIA recognizes that additional groups, other than those provided for in legislation, continually face obstacles that limit their participation in the workplace.

Gender Identity

Trans means a person who identifies as a sex other than the sex assigned to them at birth or a person whose identity and sexual expression differ from the stereotypical masculine and feminine norms. It is also a general term for those who identify as transgender, transsexual, gender variant, gender non-conformist, bispiritual or a similar term.

Other grounds of Discrimination

There are other grounds of discrimination that may cause a person to be disadvantaged in the workplace, including religion, sexual orientation, age, ancestry, place of origin, family or marital and family status.


questions, comments and complaints

If you have any questions, comments or complaints related to equity, diversity and inclusion, we invite you to write to:edi@observatoire-ia.ulaval.ca

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The International Observatory on the Societal Impacts of AI and Digital Technology is made possible by the support of the Fonds de recherche du Québec.