By Mike Foster
Why are women still under-represented among faculty at many universities, including uOttawa?
This is one of the questions that Martine Lagacé, the University’s new director of gender equity and diversity, will explore over the next three years. The position was created on the recommendation of the Steering Committee on Faculty Gender Equity, formed by President Allan Rock in response to concerns raised by female faculty members about the barriers and challenges they faced in their academic careers.
Lagacé, a former Radio-Canada journalist who is currently vice-dean governance and secretary in the Faculty of Arts, will begin a comprehensive review of the status of female professors. The ultimate goal: to help faculties implement equity initiatives to close the gender gap. The Gazette sat down with her to find out how she intends to approach this task.
Q: What does it mean to you to be given this responsibility?
A: I am very, very happy. It really follows on from the research I have been doing for 20 years. My PhD from the University’s School of Psychology (’04) addressed questions of inclusion, exclusion and stereotypes. One of the studies I conducted demonstrated the negative psychological effects of exclusion in the workplace, which leads to workers’ disengagement and lower self-esteem. This role as director seems a logical continuation of my past work.
Q. What is the situation of female professors at uOttawa and how does it compare with other North American universities?
A. We have some issues, but there has been a lot of progress. The number of female professors in tenure-track positions is getting better, though there is room for improvement. It also takes on average nearly six months longer for women to be promoted to full professor, and the mandate of this role is to understand why. Are there structural barriers? Many other universities are facing the same challenge in terms of full professorships. I wouldn’t say we are lagging behind — we are about average.
Q: How will you begin to tackle this important issue?
A: The first thing I’ll do is create a committee, ideally with representatives from each faculty. Another priority is to assess where things stand at the moment. The data we have dates back to 2008, when only around 36% of our professors were women, and things have probably changed. I would also like to do focus groups with male and female professors in each faculty, hopefully by early next year, to hear their concerns. And I want to find allies within each of the faculties to work with me.
The immediate focus of my mandate is on gender equity. However, celebrating differences and seeing them as adding value to the workplace is very important as well. Research we have done shows that diverse work teams — in terms of age, culture and gender — are the most productive, and I believe a conversation about diversity will emerge during our discussions with professors.
Q: How has the university community reacted so far?
A: When Allan Rock announced this, I received about 50 emails from colleagues, some of whom I don’t even know, saying how happy they were that this is happening. So there is enthusiasm and a will to work in the direction of better gender equity and diversity. If we want to stay competitive in terms of research and teaching, to provide equal opportunities for the best women and men, the work of this committee will be extremely important.