Gender Inequities and Opportunities to Repair them at Acadia

At the undergraduate level, a glance around most Acadia classes will tell you that our university has few problems with recruiting women. Indeed, it probably comes as no surprise that Canadian universities have more women than men graduating with undergraduate degrees. According to a Statistics Canada report released last year, 56.3 % of post secondary enrollments were held by women in the prior academic year. In fact, women have held a growing majority as undergraduates in Canada since 1991. While women have held a majority at the undergraduate level for over 25 years now, they remain a minority at the higher levels of Canadian post-secondary institutions. Acadia is no exception to this and actually does worse compared to the national average and other Atlantic universities for having women in tenured positions. According to the Canadian Association for University Teachers (CAUT) Almanac, the average percentage of women in tenured positions across the country is 34.2%. The average percentage of women in tenured positions of regional comparators to Acadia are 36.5% for Dalhousie, 45.5% for Mount Allison, 33.3% for Saint Mary’s, 42.9% for St. Thomas, 36.4% for UNB and 32.5% for UPEI. Compared to our neighbouring universities and the national average, Acadia is the lowest at 31.6%.

If you look at the numbers of appointment by gender at Acadia, there is clear cause for concern. In terms of job stability, in the contractually-limited-term (CLT) positions, there are significantly more women at 64.3% compared to men at 35.7% whereas for the tenured positions, the numbers are a near reversal at only 31.6% women to 68.4% men. At Acadia, women predominate in ranks outside of the professoriate as 63.3% of instructors and 60.0% of lecturers. It is somewhat encouraging to see that women outnumber men in tenure-track positions with 53.0% women to 47.0% men, although this is such a small number of women that it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the balance of men to women as they progress up through the ranks. There are significantly more men at the higher professorial ranks with 70.2% of the Full Professors and 71.4% of Associate Professors being male. This skewed balance by gender is significantly contributed to by the science departments where there are no tenured or tenure-track women in the Computer Science, Chemistry or Physics Departments. Even in the Biology Department, where over 80% of new students were female in 2016-2017, there are only two tenured female faculty members.

There are many possible reasons for why women continue to be underrepresented at the highest levels of our university, including personal choice. And while women may make the choice to take time away from their careers to prioritize their families or other commitments, it remains unlikely that it is by personal preference that they end up in lower-paid and temporary positions. Due to the physical toll that pregnancy, childbirth and the aftermath can have on women, they may find themselves forced to take time off from their careers if they want to have children. In the “Publish or Perish” mentality that most academia is infused with, women can find themselves forced to have to choose between a career and a family which is a choice that men aren’t often forced to make.

Many other factors besides family commitments play a role in the lack of women in high ranking faculty positions and STEM careers. These include discrimination, lack of mentorship, lack of support and an unfriendly environment for women among others. It is hard to pinpoint one cause as many play a role and all avenues must be explored to determine the causes.

So, what can Acadia do to even the playing field when clearly there are gender inequities at our university? Well, Acadia could join the ranks of most other Canadian universities in having a childcare centre, particularly for very young children, as this would allow new parents to better juggle working in academia with parenting. It could also consider that women may have gaps in their careers, such as in the publishing of papers, due to family or other commitments that men do not have to contend with. They could also conduct an internal review to investigate if discrimination is playing a role.

Already at play on our campus, is a group consisting of female students, faculty and staff, who have come together to form WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) Acadia that aims to address some of the barriers that women face in continuing to pursue a career in the sciences (where women tend to be the most underrepresented). This group was started in 2010 at an Atlantic Women in Science conference organized by Dr. Svetlana Barkanova who was at the time a physics professor at Acadia. Some of the actions that they have identified as key priorities include addressing implicit bias when writing reference letters for female students and faculty, facilitating science camps and retreats for girls and mentoring female students and faculty. They also aimed to introduce a Women in Science course which is being taught in the winter semester this year by Dr. Randy Newman.

Due to the lack of women as professors and other professionals in the sciences, mentorship has been identified as a key factor in helping women and girls to be able to see themselves pursuing a particular career path. To provide students at Acadia with the opportunity for mentorship, WISE hosted their WISE Works event this year on Monday October 30th from 4:30-6:30 pm in Fountain Commons. Acadia students were given the opportunity to converse with female Acadia alumni in STEAM careers. STEAM refers to careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. It was recently referred to as STEM but has been broadened to include arts due to the increasing realization that skills and knowledge in the arts and sciences overlap in most careers. WISE is a multi-disciplinary initiative with ties to the Women and Gender Studies Department as well as to those in the sciences.

Clearly there is a problem at Acadia in which there is a disconnect between the female to male ratio at the undergraduate level compared to our high ranking and high paying faculty positions. Women are interested in academia and, yet they are not making it in near equal numbers to men in the highest levels of employment at our university. By having women underrepresented in the high earning positions, Acadia students may feel discouraged to pursue these same careers due to seeing that there are barriers associated with their gender. Groups like WISE Acadia are helping by looking at where discrimination exists in the system and are actively providing mentorship opportunities which have been shown to be successful in helping women to pursue careers in which they are underrepresented. Additionally, however, changes within the university system must be implemented to ensure that Acadia is an equitable environment for both students and faculty. Acadia can do better.



Statistics on faculty appointments by gender in 2016 at Acadia obtained from Acadia University Faculty Association’s Women’s Committee (AUFA-W) which has been tracking the status of women faculty members at Acadia University since 2007.  Access to this information is supplied to AUFA by Human Resources in compliance with Article 28.10 of the Fourteenth Collective Agreement. The data presented above are as of October 2016.