The unbalanced scale

As a second-year student in Wilfrid Laurier University’s bachelor of business administration program, I have yet to be at a loss for female faculty members. The professors for my largest first-year business classes were both women and the coordinators of their respective courses. My third freshman business class was taught by a man and my business professors have continued to be relatively evenly split between both male and female as my degree has progressed.

I never gave this much thought until a conversation with my roommate revealed that she, a chemistry major, had only had a single course from within her major taught by a female professor.

The chemistry and biochemistry department at Laurier is currently staffed by 11 faculty members: three females and eight males.

These numbers are a step up for the chemistry department, which for a period of time made due with inviting female faculty from other departments to sit on their committees.

But again all this time you have to wait for people to retire, you wait until you have the budget and then you see turnover, and then you see diversity.

“[All] I can tell you is that we’re doing much better; I mean we do have three female faculty members, two are tenured and one is tenure track,” said Ian Hamilton, chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry. “That’s still not even close to being half the department. It’s something that we’re still working on.”

This gender inequality isn’t limited to chemistry, but appears to be a widespread issue within the faculty of science with women representing a minority in every department. However, it’s unclear whether the problem lies within the hiring and promotion processes, or exist much more fundamentally, at a supply level.

“[The collective agreement’s] definition of a gender imbalance is not targeting 50:50, it’s what is the norm in the pool of PhD graduates,” said Paul Jessop, dean of science at Laurier. “Psychology, which is reasonably close to a gender balance, but not there, is the one science department which is singled out as being problematic if you like, because the pool of applicants is closer to 50:50.”

There are however departments elsewhere within the university which fall on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The North American studies program is relatively new at Laurier and has a comparatively small faculty. What differentiates it from most areas within the institution is that it holds a majority female faculty, with three of its four members being women.

“[Political science] is an old discipline that’s been around for a while; North American studies is new, it’s interdisciplinary, it’s more open,” said Debora VanNijnatten, chair of the department of political science and the North American studies program. “If it’s new and interdisciplinary, it seems to attract a more diverse pool of candidates to be hired.”

Political science, though not an example of gender balance, does illustrate the gradual shift Laurier has been undergoing in terms of hiring. Though their current faculty falls at approximately 11 men and six women, a glance at new hires which have taken place since 2000, shows the ratio then adjusts itself to seven men and five women.

“I find it becomes more meaningful if you look at it over time, because what you want to see is change, and I would be surprised if you didn’t see change over time in almost all departments here,” said VanNijnatten. “But again all this time you have to wait for people to retire, you wait until you have the budget and then you see turnover, and then you see diversity.”

This observable shift in growing gender balance between men and women is in line with the data observed by Laura Mae Lindo, the director of the Diversity and Equity Office.

“When I arrived, I have to say that I just made an assumption that Laurier, like many other universities, is struggling to increase diversity among faculty and staff and the employment equity reports show that that’s the case, but I have to say it’s quite interesting. We’ve done really well with women.”

The two main groups that are consistently underrepresented, I would say, are Aboriginal People and people of visible minorities, so two areas we need to work on.

– Adria Joel, interim AODA and employment equity officer

The Diversity and Equity Office employs, as part of their team, an Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities and Employment Equity Officer, who has the responsibility of creating a yearly employment equity report. This is a document which the university has been completing for over a decade. While the data does show improvement in terms of female faculty, it also reflects a severe underperformance with regard to the representation of racial minorities and aboriginals.

“The two main groups that are consistently underrepresented, I would say, are Aboriginal Peoples and people of visible minorities, so two areas we need to work on,” said Adria Joel, interim AODA and Employment Equity Officer. “It’s also important to note that the baseline is from 2006 census data and so even though in some areas it might look like we’re doing okay, we have to consider that it might not be as good as it’s indicating. So our baseline is probably not accurate, and so there’s probably more diversity in the market than we think there is.”

This diversity mostly likely won’t develop without a conscious push, which happened with regard to hiring women.

“There has to be intentionality within faculty in terms of long-term planning, because if within your long-term planning you’re imagining a diverse curriculum because you want to ensure that diverse knowledge and ways of being etc. are integrated in the core values of what you do, that makes it more inviting for faculty to decide to come,” explained Lindo.

In response to this, the Diversity and Equity Office has purchased the DEAP tool, or Diversity and Equity Assessment Planning tool, developed at the Queen’s University Equity Office to help individual departments or offices better understand their personal diversity climates. The tool involves 12 sections or questions, which range from staff recruitment, promotion, career development and retention to consultation with the aboriginal community.

A representative would be able to walk a faculty through the tool and assess the areas in which they performed the weakest, followed by establishing a long-term plan for the faculty to improve upon in those areas.

Despite the work which remains to be done, the importance of establishing and maintaining diversified faculties was undisputed.

“Studies show that [diversity] is what works, and I think even diversity of ideas, diversity of backgrounds and opinions, it’s proven to bring richness and innovation,” said Joel. “It leads to better work, it leads to understanding different perspectives, and it creates an overall more inclusive culture.”

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