Why We Should Never Stop Talking About Equity

This week I have the pleasure of speaking at the Gender Summit 11 conference in Montreal, Quebec along with Diana Parry, Associate Vice-President Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion. The Gender Summit was developed after countless studies were released in the past decade showing that scientific research was not gender-neutral, impacting outcomes and threatening equity in the sciences.

To combat this, the Gender Summit was established to bring scientists, gender scholars and policy makers together to discuss new research and form a consensus on how and where improvements in equity can be made and actions to be taken.

University of Waterloo’s Equity Gains

As part of a panel discussion on successful initiatives, I will be sharing how we’ve been able to achieve gains in our HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 commitments. These commitments are:

  1. Increase the number of girls and women in our STEM outreach experiences and activities.
  2. Enhance female Faculty representation.
  3. Attract and advance female leaders into senior academic and administrative university positions.

I am thrilled our efforts have resulted in us exceeding our first commitment – we are now at 35%. We are just shy of our second goal with 29 per cent female Faculty representation in 2017. And, we have made solid progress on our third goal with 27.5 per cent of senior academic and administrative positions, up from 24.5 per cent in 2015.

The University has made strides through key programs like our IMPACT scholarships, outreach programs, research grants, round table discussions and also how we talk about equity on campus. Change does take time, however, we’ve shown that it doesn’t take generations for meaningful progress to happen. All it takes is a set of commitments, goals, a dedicated team and the will to start.

Women looking at a laptop

We Need to Keep Talking

We have made real strides through our HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 commitments that has benefits that will be felt for years to come and shift the climate and culture at the University of Waterloo forever. But we cannot settle on the gains we’ve already made.

A new report was released by PwC, the MaRS Discovery district and non-profit MoveTheDial showing that only 5 per cent of tech companies in Canada have a female CEO. Further disheartening, the report revealed that women only make up 13 per cent of the average Canadian tech company’s executive team and 53 per cent don’t have a female executive at all.

This disparity is very discouraging. If girls and young women are looking at careers in the STEM field do not see anyone reflective of themselves in leadership positions within those companies it could push them away from the field altogether. If girls have the opportunity to see more women in the field or leadership level they wish to pursue, they can see that it is possible.

The issue of representation isn’t simply counter to our goal of true gender equity, but it is also bad business.

In February 2016, a significant study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the accounting firm EY looked at 22,000 publically traded companies in 91 countries. The study found a noticeable correlation between the number of women in executive positions and a company’s overall profitability. The main finding being that if a company moved from 0 per cent of women in senior leadership positions to 30 per cent, net profit increases 15 per cent.

Results like this cannot and should not be ignored.  

Moving Forward, Together

We are a stronger community when we are diverse and well represented in all research disciplines, Faculty and staff leadership positions. It’s important that we keep moving forward developing new opportunities to reach gender equity on campus and share our successes with the world. The key is doing it together. We need to keep talking, thinking and taking action together.

I am excited that the Gender Summit continues to be a wide-ranging resource for bringing researchers and policy makers together and I know we will continue to make progress in ensuring a more equitable society for all.

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