Women Make Gains in Canada Research Chairs Following Uproar Over Gender Disparity

January 2005

The number of women receiving appointments to Canada Research Chairs has taken a significant jump after months of criticism over the gender imbalance among the prestigious posts. More than a third of the latest appointees, announced last week, went to female academics.

"We're not surprised at the increase because we have been trying to sensitize the universities, but we are most assuredly pleased by the number of women in this round," said Julie Dompierre, a senior program manager at the Canada Research Chairs secretariat, which manages the program.

The government created the billion-dollar program in 2000 with the aim of establishing 2,000 new chairs by 2005. The number of women appointed to the chairs, however, has not been in proportion with their representation on faculties, and universities have increasingly come under fire for failing to nominate women proportionally.

Until the latest round, only 17 percent of the chairs had gone to women, even though more than a quarter of full-time faculty members are women. Last week, female professors were named to 67 out of 194 new chairs. But even with those appointments, the overall percentage of women in the program has climbed to only 20 percent. More than 1,300 chairs have been filled so far. Last year, eight prominent female professors filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, asking for an investigation (The Chronicle, January 9, 2004, or SAFS Newsletter, April 2004, p. 1).

"The human-rights action is moving very slowly," said Wendy Robbins, one of the complainants, noting that she was pleased with last week's announcement. "But even without a decision by the commission, the publicity has been a wake-up call for the universities."

The universities are apparently getting the message. For example, Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, was among the institutions with the fewest female chairholders.

In the latest round, four out of five chairs at Simon Fraser went to women. The program's managers say they are receiving record numbers of nominations for women, so more rounds of appointments like this one are likely.