May 29, 2002

Women awarded only 15% of federal research chairs Universities urged to change situation

Heather Sokoloff

National Post

Female academics should pressure universities to select more women for the prized Canada Research Chairs, the executive director of the federal government's most prestigious research program urged yesterday.

An independent audit will reveal today that only 15% of the chairs have been awarded to women since the program was created two years ago.

"It is much too low. We have been talking to the universities and telling the presidents they must improve the situation," said Reni Durocher of the Canada Research Chairs Program.

"The women must pressure their universities. We cannot do it from Ottawa, we cannot micromanage the universities.... There are still 1,500 chairs to be filled. There is time to correct the situation," he said.

Ottawa invested $900-million to create 2,000 chairs by 2005 as a cornerstone of the government's strategy to augment the country's knowledge-based economy.

The 500 chairs chosen so far have been credited with improving Canada's research capacity, helping to reverse the brain drain, as well as attracting international research stars to Canadian universities and hospitals.

The audit, conducted by Wendy Robbins, a University of New Brunswick professor, will beannounced in Toronto.

"We want things to change before more chairs are chosen," said Dr. Robbins, who authored the audit for the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada.

"This is a really important program, and women want our fair share.Women researchers ask different questions than men, and we need to make sure that way of looking at the world is protected."

Particularly disappointing, Dr. Robbins said, is that women won appointments to only 22% of the chairs reserved for junior researchers, which are chosen from the ranks of young academics where women enjoy high levels of representation.

Women make up 10% of the chairs for senior researchers and full professors. Women hold 14% of those positions at Canadian universities, the audit states.

In selecting candidates for the chairs, universities are not bound by the same equity policies that compel them to consider female candidates for jobs within their institutions.

"Many women felt this was a disaster waiting to happen when those policies were not put in place," said Dr. Robbins, who will be presenting her research today at the Congress of the Social Sciences and the Humanities, an annual gathering of North American academics at the University of Toronto.

To remedy the situation, she said, the federal government needs to set target numbers of female appointments that universities must follow in order to get funding for the chairs.

A few universities, including Simon Fraser, in Burnaby, B.C., Carleton in Ottawa and the University of Guelph, have not appointed any women, said Dr. Robbins. Each of those schools has nine chairs.

She singled out the University of Calgary for having one of the highest proportions of female chairs, with six out 25 chairs going to women.

The largest research institution, the University of Toronto, appointed 15 women to its 82 chairs.

The problem for universities, said Mr. Durocher, is there are significantly fewer female scientists working in institutions compared with men. With 80% of the chairs reserved for the science fields, women are disadvantaged from the start.

Women were awarded 61% of the humanities and social science and research grants awarded to doctoral fellows last year by a separate federal body.

Female appointments in the health sciences are lagging the farthest behind, said Mr. Durocher, despite the high percentage of women health care workers. He attributed the discrepancy to glut of senior medical researchers working in programs administered almost entirely by men.

Engineering faculties have done the best job of promoting qualified females, said Dr. Robbins, with the percentage of engineering chairs given to women actually surpassing percentage of senior female engineering researchers.

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