International Women’s Day: A time to reflect on women in science

Gender equity and diversity in science and technology promote excellence in research, says Waterloo philosophy prof.

By Wendy Philpott

Faculty of Arts

Share

Better research happens when more women work in disciplines like science and technology, says philosophy professor Carla Fehr.

Professor Carla Fehr, University of Waterloo“Research communities that are diverse and run on democratic principles simply do better science,” says Fehr, who holds the Wolfe Chair in Science and Technology Studies in the Department of Philosophy, a position mandated to build scientific and technological literacy across the disciplines.

Fehr’s scholarship and outreach activities are driven by a desire to improve gender equity and diversity in research communities. As a philosophy professor dedicated to advancing women in scientific fields, Fehr works at the critical intersection where humanities meet science and technology.

Drawing on her expertise in science, feminism and philosophical inquiry, Fehr examines the structures and social relationships of scientific communities.  In particular, she explores how gender equity within such communities can improve overall research quality.

“Diversity in scientific communities also helps ensure the work meets the broader needs of society and public welfare” says Fehr.

Last week, Fehr gave a public lecture on “What Evolution Can’t Tell us About Women’s Sex and Women’s Work.” For International Women’s Day on March 8, Fehr has co-organized an interdisciplinary conference at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo called, “Women in Physics:  Past, Present, and Future.”

“The steps we take to improve the representation of women and members of underrepresented groups in the academy also help the university recruit excellent researchers and improves job satisfaction for everyone, women and men,” says Fehr.

Of course “diversity” is not only about gender and social groups but also about multiple disciplines working for a common goal. “So many of our major problems, such as climate change, require people from a wide range of perspectives to come together to address the problem,” she says.

As for the role of her home discipline, she states that given science fields are becoming more and more specialized, there is even more need for rigorous critical thinking about the assumptions made in the name of scientific progress, “I think philosophy provides that.”