Blog examines gender disparity at Canadian universities

Local News

On Jan. 29, Canadian data-visualization blog The 10 and 3 published an informal study on female Canadian university professors in three departments, comparing the top 20 largest research universities. The University of Victoria ranks within the top five for the departments of Computer Sciences and Mathematics, and ninth in Electrical Engineering.

The blog is authored by three Canadian data and analytic enthusiasts. Among them is Arik Motskin, a Harvard University undergraduate alumni, who received his PhD in Applied Mathematics from Stanford University. Inspired by diversity reports released by Google, Twitter, Apple, they looked towards the root of gender imbalances in these fields.

“It allowed a really wonderful conversation to begin about the reasons for these imbalances, now framed with concrete figures rather than imaginative speculation,” Motskin said via email.

The data was collected by online faculty member lists in their respective departmental websites, and they include professors, assistant professors, and associate professors (excluding sessional instructors). Gender was determined by name, available photos, and outside research.

UVic is ranked second best for female professors in Computer Sciences, with 34.6 per cent female professors, while Carleton ranked the lowest at 3.4 per cent. UVic’s lowest rank is Electrical Engineering, at 10 per cent.

According to one Reddit commenter and UVic student, “As long as we’re hiring competent profs, I don’t care what they’ve got in their pants.” Motskin said the natural reaction seems to be dismissiveness and anger, which is “unfortunate.”

“We’d love to hear UVic’s thoughts on their hiring practices, and whether these results are due to any conscious choices or simply due to random chance,” he said.

Director of Academic Leadership and Initiatives Grace Wong Sneddon oversees 880 UVic faculty members to ensure equity in hiring practices. She is also the Advisor to the Provost on Equity and Diversity. “What’s unique to UVic is that I have equity and diversity in my portfolio, and I sit in the [Vice-President Academic and Provost]’s office,” she said.

According to her, most universities have only one equity and diversity representative to oversee faculty, staff, and students. “There’s only so many hours in a day,” she said.

Equity in hiring at UVic begins from the very early stages of the recruitment process. Sneddon is responsible for verifying position postings to ensure inclusive language, and to reach a broad pool of candidates. She also attends search committees to help with the process.

During the search process, whether for a faculty or departmental position, anyone involved must attend a required recruitment workshop, “which has a good, strong focus on best practices in equity hiring.” Many universities offer these workshops on a non-required basis, she said.

The workshops teach recognition of conscious and unconscious biases during the recruitment process, preferential and limited hiring, and are reinforced by case studies and research. “We’re building capacity so that everyone knows the language,” she said.

In UVic’s Electrical Engineering, with 10 per cent female professors, “It’s not for a lack of trying—I know how hard the Faculty of Engineering works on that,” she said. The faculty also supports Women in Engineering and Computer Sciences (WECS), which offers mentoring programs and lecture series for women learning in the field.

In 2012, UVic was awarded the Canada Research Secretariat award for “Exemplary Equity Practices,” the first award of its kind. “We can work really hard, but everyone has a responsibility to equity. If the senior leadership is supporting it, then things happen,” she said.