Tag Archives: Indira Samarasekera

Happy International Women’s Day on March 8, 2019—with a shout-out to women in science

I did a very quick search for today’s (March 8, 2019) women in science stories and found three to highlight here. First, a somewhat downbeat Canadian story.

Can Canadians name a woman scientist or engineer?

According to Emily Chung’s March 8, 2019 article on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) online news site, the answer is: no,

You’ve probably heard of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein and Mark Zuckerberg.

But can you name a woman scientist or engineer? Half of Canadians can’t, suggests a new poll.

The online survey of 1,511 Canadians was commissioned by the non-profit group Girls Who Code and conducted by the market research firm Maru/Blue from March 1-3 and released for International Women’s Day today [March 8, 2019].

It was intended to collect data about how people felt about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers and education in Canada, said Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of the group, which aims to close the gender gap in technology by teaching girls coding skills.

The poll found:

When asked how many women scientists/engineers they could name, 52 per cent of respondents said “none.”

When asked to picture a computer scientist, 82 per cent of respondents immediately imagined a man rather than a woman.

77 per cent of respondents think increased media representation of women in STEM careers or leadership roles would help close the gender gap in STEM.

Sandra Corbeil, who’s involved a Women in STEM initiative at Ingenium, the organization that oversees Canada’s national museums of science and innovation, agrees that women scientists are under-recognized.

… Ingenium organized an event where volunteers from the public collaborated to add more women scientists to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science this past February [2019].

The 21 participants added four articles, including Dr. Anna Marion Hilliard, who developed a simple pap test for early detection of cervical cancer and Marla Sokolowski, who discovered an important gene that affects both metabolism and behaviour in fruit flies. The volunteer editors also updated and translated several other entries.

Similar events have been held around the world to boost the representation of women on Wikipedia, where as of March 4, 2019, only 17.7 per cent of biographies were of women — even 2018’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, Donna Strickland, didn’t have a Wikipedia entry until the prize was announced.

Corbeil acknowledged that in science, the individual contributions of scientists, whether they are men or women, tend to not be well known by the public.[emphasis mine]

“We don’t treat them like superstars … to me, it’s something that we probably should change because their contributions matter.”

Chung points to a criticism of the Girls Who Code poll, they didn’t ask Canadians whether they could name male scientists or engineers. While Reshma Saujani acknowledged the criticism, she also brushed it off (from Chung’s article),

Saujani acknowledges that the poll didn’t ask how many male scientists or engineers they could name, but thinks the answer would “probablybe different. [emphasis mine]

Chung seems to be hinting (with the double quotes around the word probably) but I’m going to be blunt, that isn’t good science but, then, Saujani is not a scientist (from the reshmasujani.com’s About page),

Reshma began her career as an attorney and activist. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. During the race, Reshma visited local schools and saw the gender gap in computing classes firsthand, which led her to start Girls Who Code. She has also served as Deputy Public Advocate for New York City and ran a spirited campaign for Public Advocate in 2013.

I’m inclined to believe that Saujani is right but I’d want to test the hypothesis. I have looked at what I believe to be the entire report here. I’m happy to see the questions but I do have a few questions about the methodology (happily, also included in the report),

… online survey was commissioned by Girls Who Code of 1,511 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Maru Voice panelists.

If it’s an online survey, how can the pollsters be sure the respondents are Canadian or sure about any other of the demographic details? What is a Maru Voice panelist? Is there some form of self-selection inherent in being a Maru Voice panelist? (If I remember my social science research guidelines properly, self-selected groups are not the same as the general population.)

All I’m saying, this report is interesting but seems problematic so treat it with a little caution.

Celebrating women in science in UK (United Kingdom)

This story comes from the UK’s N8 Research Partnership (I’m pretty sure that N8 is meant to be pronounced as ‘innate’). On March 7, 2019 they put up a webpage celebrating women in science,

All #N8women deliver our vision of making the N8 Research Partnership an exceptionally effective cluster of research innovation and training excellence; we celebrate all of your contributions and thank you for everything that you do. Read more about the women below or find out about them on our social channels by searching #N8Women.

Professor Dame Sue Black

Professor Dame Sue Black from Lancaster University pioneered research techniques to identify an individual by their hand alone, a technique that has been used successfully in Court to identify perpetrators in relation to child abuse cases. Images have been taken from more than 5000 participants to form an open-source dataset which has allowed a breakthrough in the study of anatomical variation.

Professor Diana Williams

Professor Diana Williams from The University of Liverpool has led research with Farming Online into a digital application that predict when and where disease is likely to occur. This is hoped to help combat the £300m per year UK agriculture loses per year through the liver fluke parasite which affects livestock across the globe.

Professor Louise Heathwaite

Professor Louise Heathwaite from Lancaster University has gained not only international recognition for her research into environmental pollution and water quality, but she also received the royal seal of approval after being awarded a CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2018.

Professor Sue Black

Professor Sue Black from Durham University has helped support 100 women retrain into tech roles thanks to the development of online programme, TechUP. Supported by the Institute of Coding, the programme lasts six months and concludes with a job interview, internship or apprenticeship.

Dr Anna Olsson-Brown

Dr Anna Olsson-Brown from the University of Liverpool has been instrumental in research into next-generation drugs that can treat patients with more advanced, malignant cancers and help them deal with the toxicity that can accompany novel therapies.

Professor Katherine Denby

Professor Katherine Denby, Director of N8 Agrifood, based at the University of York has been at the forefront of developing novel ways to enhance and enable breeding of crops resistance to environmental stress and disease.

Most recently, she was involved in the development of a genetic control system that enables plants to strengthen their defence response against deadly pathogens.

Doctor Louise Ellis

Dr Louise Ellis, Director of Sustainability at the University of Leeds has been leading their campaign – Single Out: 2023PlasticFree – crucially commits the University and Union to phase out single-use plastic across the board, not just in catering and office spaces.

Professor Philippa Browning

Professor Philippa Browning from the University of Manchester wanted to be an astronaut when she was a child but found that there was a lack of female role models in her field. She is leading work on the interactions between plasmas and magnetic fields and is a mentor for young solar physicists.

Doctor Anh Phan

Dr Anh Phan is a Lecturer of Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering at Newcastle University. She has been leading research into cold plasma pyrolysis, a process that could be used to turn plastic waste into green energy. This is a novel process that could revolutionise our problem with plastic and realise the true value of plastic waste.

So, Canadians take note of these women and the ones featured in the next item.

Canada Science and Technology Museum’s (an Ingenium museum) International Women’s Day video

It was posted on YouTube in 2017 but given the somewhat downbeat Canadian story I started with I thought this appropriate,

It’s never too late to learn about women in science and engineering. The women featured in the video are: Ursula Franklin, Maude Abbott, Janice Zinck, and Indira Samarasekera

Science, women and gender in Canada (part 2 of 2)

The material in the executive summary for Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research, which was released on Nov. 21, 2012 by the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) is developed throughout the report. (Part 1 of my commentary is here.)

The passage about the economic importance of diversity supported by a quote from University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera hearkens back to the executive summary,

From an economic perspective, the underrepresentation of female researchers in academia raises many potential problems, not least the effects of a labour pool that operates at considerably less than full capacity. University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera noted:

“I think our society isn’t balanced if we don’t have the contribution of both genders, in addition to people of different ethnic origins and different racial backgrounds. We all know that diversity is a strength. That’s what you see in nature. So why would we rob ourselves of ensuring that we have it?” (in Smith, 2011).

U.S. researchers Hong and Page (2004) found that diverse groups tend to outperform homogeneous groups, even when the homogeneous groups are composed of the most talented problem solvers. They attribute this to the notion that individuals in homogeneous groups often think in similar ways, whereas diverse groups approach problems from multiple perspectives (Hong & Page, 2004). Considering that varied groups are “invariably more creative, innovative and productive” than homogeneous groups, the argument for encouraging women to be active in decision-making groups is similar to that for minority populations in general (Calnan & Valiquette, 2010). Similarly, the European Commission’s Expert Group on Structural Change (2011) analyzed a number of studies indicating that group creativity is fed by gender balance,25 and collective intelligence is positively correlated with the proportion of women in a group.26 As the McKinsey (2008) Report Women Matter 2 pointed out, since half of the talent pool is made up of women, it makes economic and social sense to bring the best minds of both sexes together to address the challenges that face society. (p. 60/1 PDF; p. 30/1 print)

One  of the more interesting aspects of this report is how the panel broke down the categories,

For the Panel’s analyses, fields of study were organized into three large categories: humanities, social sciences, and education (HSE); life sciences (LS); and physical sciences, computer science, mathematics and engineering (PCEM).31 The HSE, PCEM and LS categories are somewhat different from the categories commonly used in other reports, such as the well-known science, technology, engineering and mathematics classification (STEM);32 however, the Panel decided that the former classification was best suited to the Canadian context. For example, HSE, LS, and PCEM reflect the priorities of the three major Canadian granting agencies (SSHRC, CIHR, and NSERC). Considering the Tri-Council’s high level of involvement in funding available to researchers, it is logical to use a uniquely Canadian framework to define disciplines at the aggregate level. (pp. 68/9 PDF; pp. 38/9 print)

This categorization is not one I’ve seen before and I find it quite intriguing and compelling. Already noted in part 1 of my commentary is that the arts have no place in this report even though they are mentioned as an area of excellence in the State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report released by the CCA in Sept. 2012.

The section following the description of the research categories is filled with data about salaries over time and across various fields of interest. Briefly, women have not done as well as men historically. While the gaps have narrowed in some ways, there is still a disparity today. There’s also a discussion about the difficulty of comparing numbers over time.

Given that women entered the academic sphere in serious numbers during the 1960s and each successive wave has dealt with different social imperatives, e.g. the drive to encourage women to study the science and mathematics in particular doesn’t gain momentum until decades after the 1960s. When a career timeframe (someone who entered an undergraduate programme in 2000 may have just finished their PhD in 2011 and, if lucky, would have started their career in the last 1.5 years) is added to this data, it becomes clear that we won’t understand the impact of higher enrollment and higher numbers of graduates for some years to come. From report,

The Panel recognizes that time is needed to see whether the higher numbers of women in the student population will translate into correspondingly higher numbers in tenure track or tenured positions. However, the Panel also questioned whether those changes would occur as quickly as one could expect considering the growth of female students among the general student population. Published by CAUT (2011), new appointment data on full-time university teachers38 from Statistics Canada and UCASS indicate that of the 2,361 new appointments in 2008–2009, 57.7 per cent were men, and 42.3 per cent were women. While this represents an increase from 2001–2002, when 62.7 per cent of the 2,634 new appointees were men and 37.3 per cent were women (CAUT, 2005), parity in new hires has not yet been achieved.39 (pp. 80/1 PDF; pp. 50/1 print)

Canada is not alone,

The higher one looks in university ranks, the fewer women are present in comparison to men. This trend is not unique to Canada. In general, the Canadian profile is similar to that found in other economically advanced nations including the U.S., and to the average profile seen in European Union (EU) countries. For example, in both Canada and the EU, women held slightly over 40 per cent of grade C45 research positions [approximately assistant professor level] and about 18 per cent of grade A46 positions [the highest research level] (Figure 3.8) in 2007 (Cacace, 2009).47 This global similarity reinforces the systemic nature of the under representation of women in academia. (p. 85 PDF; p. 55 print) Note:  The descriptions of grade C and grade A were taken from the footnotes.)

The difference is most striking when comparing C grade (assistant professor) to A grade (full professor) positions and their gendering,

The percentage of women at the Grade B level is generally lower than at the Grade C level, with the exception of Sweden (47 per cent) (please see also Figures A2.3 and A2.4 in Appendix 2). Finland also boasts a comparatively higher percentage of women at this rank, at 49 per cent. However, the greatest difference in women’s representation is noticeable between the ranks of associate professor and full professor. Again, there is some variation across countries (e.g., Finland at 23 per cent; Canada at 18 per cent; Germany at 12 per cent), which indicates that some nations have farther to go to achieve gender parity in research than others. In general though, the relatively low proportion of women at the full professor level suggests that the glass ceiling remains intact in Canada as well as in several comparator countries. (p. 87 PDF; p. 57 print) [emphasis mine]

In an earlier section of the report, there was discussion of  the impact that maternity, which forces an interruption, has on a career.  There was also discussion of the impact that stereotypes have,

The effects of stereotypes are cumulative. The desire for peer acceptance plus the influence of stereotypes make it difficult for anyone to escape powerful “cultural messages” (Etzkowitz et al., 2000). This is one of the reasons why gendered trends emerge in girls’ and boys’ choices and, combined with the lack of policy change, a reason why it is still difficult for women to advance in some university departments. Later on in the life course, these messages can make it harder for women’s professional experience to be valued in academia, as evidenced by findings that demonstrate that curricula vitae are evaluated differently based on whether the applicant’s name is male or female (Steinpreis et al., 1999), or that blind auditions increase the chances that women musicians will be hired in orchestras … (p. 95 PDF; p. 65 print)

What I find fascinating about stereotypes is that since we are all exposed to them, we are all inclined to discriminate along those stereotypical lines.  For example, I wrote about some research into wages for graduate students in a Sept. 24, 2012 posting where I pointed out that a female graduate student was better off seeking employment with a male professor, despite the fact that she would still be offered less money than her male counterpart,

I tracked down the paper (which is open access), Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students by Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Bescroll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman and found some figures in a table which I can’t reproduce here but suggest the saying ‘we women eat their own’ isn’t far off the mark. In it, you’ll see that while women faculty members will offer less to both genders, they offer significantly less to female applicants.

For a male applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

30,520.82                    29, 333.33

For a female applicant, here’s the salary offer,

Male Faculty               Female Faculty

27,111.11                    25,000.00

To sum this up, the men offered approximately $3000 (9.25%) less to female applicants while the women offered approximately $4000 (14.6%) less. It’s uncomfortable to admit that women may be just as much or even more at fault as men where gender bias is concerned. However, it is necessary if the situation is ever going to change.

The researchers did not mention this aspect of the disparity in their news release nor (to my knowledge) was it mentioned in any of the subsequent coverage, other than on my blog.

Nowhere in this CCA report is there any hint that women discriminate against women. One is left with the impression, intentional or not, that discrimination against women will disappear once there are more women at higher levels in the worlds of academe and science. Given the one piece of research I’ve cited and much anecdotal evidence, I think that assumption should be tested.

Leaving aside which gender is ‘doing what to whom’, gender bias at home and at school has a great impact on who enters which field,

In sum, home and school environments, sociocultural attitudes, and beliefs regarding gender roles and the value of education affect gender differences in academic choice and performance. Self-confidence, test scores, and ultimately post-secondary and career choices are often by-products of these factors (UNESCO, 2007). The lack of women in science and engineering — and the lack of men in education studies and humanities — could be a result of gender bias during childhood and teen socialization (Vallès Peris & Caprile Elola-Olaso, 2009). (p. 97 PDF; p. 67 print) [emphasis mine]

I realize this report is focused on gender issues in the sciences, nonetheless, I find it striking there is no mention of social class (at home and at school) with regard to the impact that has on aspirations to a research career and, for that matter, any impact social class might have on gender roles.

Also, there is no substantive mention of age as a factor, which seems odd, since women are more likely to interrupt their careers for childbearing and childrearing purposes. This interruption means they are going to be older when they re-enter the workforce and an older woman is still perceived quite differently than an older man, irrespective of career accomplishments.

The Nov. 21, 2012 news release from the CCA summarizes the conclusions in this fashion,

“There is no single solution to remedy the underrepresentation of women in the highest ranks of academic research careers. The issue itself is a multifaceted one that is affected by social, cultural, economic, institutional, and political factors and contexts”, commented Panel Chair Dr. Lorna R. Marsden. “There has been significant progress in the representation of women in the academy since the 1970s, and there is much to be celebrated. However, as evidenced by the wide variation in women’s representation by discipline and rank, there are still challenges to overcome.”

The Expert Panel developed a baseline of information regarding the statistical profile of women researchers in Canada. The major findings from the statistical profile are:

  •       In general, the Canadian profile is similar to that of other economically advanced nations.
  •       Women’s progress in Canadian universities is uneven and dependent on discipline and rank.
  •        The higher the rank, the lower the percentage of women in comparison to men.

The Panel also identified key factors that affect the multiple career paths of women. These factors start early in life with stereotypes that define roles and expectations, followed by a lack of knowledge about requisites for potential career paths, and a lack of role models and mentors. These issues, combined with a rigid tenure track structure, challenges associated with the paid work-family life balance, and the importance of increased support and coordination amongst governments and institutions need to be examined if Canada is going to achieve a greater gender balance within academia.

There’s a lot of admire in this report. As noted in part 1 of this commentary, I particularly appreciate the inclusion of personal narrative (life-writing) with the usual literature surveys and data analyses; the discussion around the importance of innovation regarding the economy and the reference to research showing that innovation is enhanced by the inclusion of marginalized groups; and the way in which values fundamental to Canadian society were emphasized.

The photograph on the front cover was a misstep. The most serious criticism I have of this assessment is the failure to recognize that simply having more women in leadership positions will not necessarily address gender equity issues. Stereotypes about women and gender run deep in both men and women and that needs to be recognized and dealt with. I am also disappointed that they failed to mention in the conclusion the impact that leadership has on gender equity and the necessity of giving leaders a reason (carrot and/or stick) to care about it.

I cannot comment on the makeup of the expert panel as I’m largely unfamiliar with the individuals, other than to say that as expected, this panel was largely composed of women.

I recommend reading the report as I learned a lot from it not least that there are many science organizations in this country that I’d not heard of or encountered previously. One final appreciation, I thought deconstructing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to create HSE (humanities, social sciences, and education), LS (life sciences), and PCEM (physical sciences, computer science, engineering, and mathematics) so the designations more clearly reflected Canadian science funding realities was brilliant.

Science, women and gender in Canada (part 1 of 2)

Titled Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension; The Expert Panel on Women in University Research, the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) released their assessment on Nov. 21, 2012, approximately 20 months after the incident which tangentially occasioned it (from the Strengthening … webpage) Note: I have added a reference and link to a report on CERC (Canada Excellence Research Chairs) gender issues in the following excerpt,

After the notable absence of female candidates in the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) program, the Minister of Industry, in March 2010, struck an ad-hoc panel to examine the program’s selection process. The ad-hoc panel found that the lack of female representation was not due to active choices made during the CERC selection process. [Dowdeswell, E., Fortier, S., & Samarasekera, I. (2010). Report to the Minister of Industry of the Ad Hoc Panel on CERC Gender Issues. Ottawa (ON):Industry Canada.] As a result, the Council of Canadian Academies received a request to undertake an assessment of the factors that influence university research careers of women, both in Canada and internationally.

To conduct the assessment, the Council convened an expert panel of 15 Canadian and international experts from diverse fields, which was chaired by Dr. Lorna Marsden, President emeritus and Professor, York University.

For anyone unfamiliar with the CERC programme,

The Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) Program awards world-class researchers up to $10 million over seven years to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities.

My commentary is primarily focused on the assessment and not the preceding report from the ad hoc panel, as well, I am not commenting on every single aspect of the report. I focus on those elements of the report that caught my attention.

There is much to appreciate in this assessment/report unfortunately the cover image cannot be included. By choosing a photograph, the designer immediately entered shark-infested waters, metaphorically speaking. From a semiotic perspective, photographs are a rich and much studied means of criticism. Having a photograph of an attractive, middle-aged white woman with blonde hair (a MILF, depending on your tastes)  who’s surrounded by ‘adoring’ students (standing in for her children?) on the cover of this assessment suggests an obliviousness to nuance that is somewhat unexpected. Happily, the image is not reflective of the content.

The report lays out the basis for this assessment,

There are many reasons for concern at the lack of proportional representation of women in senior positions in all facets of our society, including politics, law, medicine, the arts, business, and academia. The underrepresentation of women in any of these areas is a concern considering the fundamental Canadian values of equality, fairness, and justice, as outlined in the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Employment Equity Act. This report focuses on women in academia: the 11,064 women with PhDs who are employed full-time in degree-granting institutions. In comparison, there are 22,875 men in this category (see Table 3.1).1 Besides educating millions of students, these researchers and innovators are working to address the major issues Canada faces in the 21st century, including climate change, demographic shifts, healthcare, social inequality, sustainable natural resources management, cultural survival, as well as the role Canada plays as an international actor. These contributions are in addition to the basic, or knowledge discovery, research that is one of the main duties of academic researchers. In the knowledge economy, a talent pool of Canada’s top thinkers, researchers and innovators is needed to help secure and build Canada’s economic edge. The wider the pool is from which to draw, the more perspectives, experiences, and ideas will be brought to the creative process. [emphasis mine] Arguments for fully including women in research careers range from addressing skills shortages and increasing innovation potential by accessing wider talent pools, to greater market development, stronger financial performance, better returns on human resource investments, and developing a better point from which to compete in the intensifying global talent race. (p. 15 PDF; p. xiii print)

I appreciate the reference to fundamental values in Canadian society as it is important but I suspect the portion I’ve highlighted contains the seeds of an argument that is far more persuasive for power brokers. It was a very smart move.

It is possible to skim this report by simply reading the executive summary and reading the Key Messages page included after each chapter heading, save the final chapter. They’ve done a good job of making this report easy to read if you don’t have too much time but prefer to view the complete assessment rather than an abridged version.

The Chapter 1 Key Messages are,

Chapter Key Messages

• While many reports have focused specifically on women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers, this assessment employs comparative analyses to examine the career trajectories of women researchers across a variety of disciplines. The Panel was able to respond to the charge using a combination of research methods, but their analyses were sometimes hindered by a paucity of key data sets.

• In an attempt not to simply repeat numerous studies of the past on women in research careers, the Panel used a life course model to examine the data from a new perspective. This conceptual framework enabled the Panel to consider the multidimensional nature of human lives as well as the effects of external influences on the career trajectories of women researchers.

• Women are now present in all areas of research, including those areas from which they have previously been absent. Over time, institutions have become more inclusive, and Canadian governments have created policies and legislation to encourage more gender equity. Collective bargaining has contributed to this process. Clearly, the advancement of women in research positions relies on the contributions of individuals, institutions and government.

• Since the 1970s, there has been major progress such that women have been obtaining PhDs and entering the academy as students and faculty at increasing rates. However, women remain underrepresented at the highest levels of academia, as demonstrated by their low numbers in the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program, and their absence from the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) program. There is considerable room for improvement in women’s representation as faculty.

• Higher education research and development funding has nearly doubled in the past decade. However, the amount of funding allocated to core grants and scholarship programs varies among the tri-council agencies [SSHRC, Social Science and Humantities Research Council; NSERC, Natural Science and Engineering Research Council; and CIHR, Canadian Institutes of Health Research], with the majority of funds available to researchers sponsored by NSERC and CIHR. This pattern is generally replicated in the Canada Research Chairs and the Canada Excellence Research Chairs programs. As noted in the 2003 Human Rights Complaint regarding the Canada Research Chairs program, women are least represented in the areas of research that are the best funded.  (p. 33 PDF; p. 3 print) [emphasis mine]

This panel in response to the issue of women being least represented in the best funded areas of research elected to do this,

The Panel noted that many reports have focused on women in science, technology, and engineering research careers (due in part to the fact that women have been significantly underrepresented in these fields) yet relatively little attention has been paid to women researchers in the humanities, social sciences, and education. This is despite the fact that 58.6 per cent of doctoral students in these disciplines are women (see Chapter 3), and that their research contributions have profoundly affected the study of poverty, violence, the welfare state, popular culture, and literature, to note only a few examples. Considering this, the Panel’s assessment incorporates a comparative, interdisciplinary analysis, with a focus on the broader category of women in university research. In order to identify the areas where women are the most and least represented, Panellists compiled data and research that describe where Canadian female researchers are — and are not — in terms of both discipline and rank. Where possible, this study also analyzes the situation of women researchers outside of academia so as to paint a clearer picture of female researchers’ career trajectories. (pp. 37/8 PDF; pp. 7/8 print) [emphases mine]

Bringing together all kinds of research where women are both over and under represented and including research undertaken outside the academic environment was thoughtful. I also particularly liked this passage,

American research suggests that holding organizational leaders accountable for implementing equity practices is a particularly effective way of enhancing the diversity of employees (Kalev et al., 2006), indicating that reporting and monitoring mechanisms are key to success. [emphasis mine] The Panel observed that meeting these commitments requires the proper implementation of accountability mechanisms, such as reporting and monitoring schemes. (p. 44 PDF; p. 14 print)

Juxtaposing the comment about leaders being held accountable for equity practices and the  comment I emphasized earlier ” … a talent pool of Canada’s top thinkers, researchers and innovators is needed to help secure and build Canada’s economic edge …” could suggest an emergent theme about leadership and the current discourse about innovation.

To get a sense of which disciplines and what research areas are rewarded within the Canada Research Chair programme read this from the assessment,

Similarly, while 80 per cent of Canada Research Chairs are distributed among researchers in NSERC and CIHR disciplines, SSHRC Chairs represent only 20 per cent of the total — despite the fact that the majority (60 per cent) of the Canadian professoriate come from SSHRC disciplines (Grant & Drakich, 2010). Box 1.1 describes the gendered implications of this distribution, as well as the history of the program. (p. 45 PDF; p. 15 print)

What I find intriguing here isn’t just the disparity. 60% of the researchers are chasing after 20% of the funds (yes, physical sciences are more expensive but those percentages still seem out of line), but that social sciences and the humanities are not really included in the innovation rubric except here in this assessment. Still, despite the inclusion of the visual and performing arts in the State of Science and Technology in Canada, 2012 report issued by the CCA in Sept. 2013 (part 1 of my commentary on that assessment is in this Dec. 28, 2012 posting; part 2 of my commentary is in this Dec. 28, 2012 posting) there is no mention of them in this assessment/report of gender and science.

I did particularly like how the panel approached data collection and analysis,

Coming from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, Panellists brought with them a range of methodological expertise and preferences. Through a combination of quantitative and qualitative data, the Panel was able to identify and analyze factors that affect the career trajectories of women researchers in Canada (see Appendix 1 for full details). In addition to an extensive literature review of the national and international research and evidence related to the topic, the Panel collected information in the form of data sets and statistics, heard from expert witnesses, conducted interviews with certain stakeholders from academia and industry, and analyzed interview and survey results from their secondary analysis of Canada Research Chairs data (see Appendix 5 for a full description of methodology and results). Together, these methods contributed to the balanced approach that the Panel used to understand the status of women in Canadian university research careers.

In addition, the Panel took an innovative approach to painting a more vibrant picture of the experience of women professors by incorporating examples from academic “life-writing.” Life-writing is the generic name given to a variety of forms of personal narrative — autobiography, biography, personal essays, letters, diaries, and memoirs. Publishing personal testimony is a vital strategy for marginalized groups to claim their voices and tell their own stories, and academic women’s life-writing adds vital evidence to a study of women in university careers (Robbins et al., 2011). The first study of academic life-writing appeared in the U.S. in 2008 (Goodall, 2008); as yet, none exists for Canada.16 Recognizing the benefits of this approach, which focuses on the importance of women’s voices and stories, the Panel chose to weave personal narrative from women academics throughout the body of the report to illuminate the subject matter. As with the data gleaned from the Panel’s secondary analysis of Canada Research Chairs data, these cases highlight the experience of an articulate and determined minority of women who are prepared and positioned to speak out about structural and personal inequities. More comprehensive surveys are required to establish the precise extent of the problems they so effectively illustrate. (pp. 49/50 PDF; pp. 19/20 print)

Nice to note that they include a very broad range of information as evidence. After all, evidence can take many forms and not all evidence can be contained in a table of data nor is all data necessarily evidence. That said there were some other issues with data and evidence,

Despite the extensive literature on the subject, the Panel identified some data limitations. While these limitations made some analyses difficult, the Panel was able to effectively respond to the charge by using the combination of research methods described above. Data limitations identified by the Panel include:

• relatively little research specific to the Canadian context;

• lack of longitudinal data;

• relatively few studies (both quantitative and qualitative) dealing with fields such as the humanities and social sciences;

• lack of data on diversity in Canadian academia, including intersectional data;

• lack of comprehensive data and evidence from the private and government sectors; and

• difficulty in comparing some international data due to differences in disciplinary classifications. (p. 50 PDF; p. 20 print)

I think this does it for part 1 of my commentary.