Equity on campus and beyond our borders

Be fearless and improve women’s lives

We all have our labels and I have the privilege to have many. I am a woman. I am a woman of colour. I also have Indigenous roots from Trinidad. During my life, I’ve learned that we are more than the labels that society gives and that labels sometimes hinder people.

When I was young, it was not unusual to see girls in school. My mother had a very different experience. When she was 11-years-old, she left school … although my mother did not go to school, she made sure her girls received an education … My mother was a trailblazer.

My mother often told me a story about when she was a girl … The boys would stand below a coconut tree and argue over who might try to climb it … Coconut tree climbing is not for the weak-hearted. It is treacherous and even experienced climbers fall. None of the boys would dare make the assent up the 10-metre tall trees but she did.

The fearlessness she displayed, even as a child, was instrumental in shaping how I view challenges

I took this message and I followed my passion which happened to be mathematics. There were few women in mathematics at that time …

I am personally committed to the exploration of equity issues for research leaders on campus.

Female faculty representation is about 30 per cent, which is an improvement from our 2013 benchmarks, but there is room for lots more improvement.

While we have work to do in our own backyard, we must be cognizant of the fact that universities like the University of Waterloo can and need to be change agents beyond their own boundaries. Too many girls and women do not have the same opportunities. Whether it be due to war, racism, sexism, or bigotry, millions of girls around the world are unable to obtain education and the chances they deserve to better their lives and society as a whole.

Like the times my mother would climb the coconut tree when no one else dared, we must be brave. We must be fearless and we cannot be deterred by the size of the task ahead. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day as one that can truly be the beginning of real change for equity, diversity and inclusion around the world … I hope you will join me.


Charmaine Dean, vice-president, university research, was the keynote speaker at the International Women’s Day Dinner held on Friday, March 2 at Federation Hall. The above is an excerpt from her talk.