New gender equity initiative at the University of Guelph

New gender equity initiative at the University of Guelph

Provost hosts dinner to mark a new, equitable era

The University of Guelph is taking gender equity into consideration with a new initiative aimed at recognizing and rectifying the major challenges women in the community face.

On March 20, U of G held a dinner for Gender Equity and Excellence through Leadership at Cutten Fields, where provost Charlotte Yates unveiled the new initiative’s framework. The dinner served as the inaugural celebration of women on campus and a platform for conversations about gender equity with a campus-based audience.

As this was the initial gathering to discuss this movement and because the event was capped at 200 guests, it was decided that the event would be exclusive to people who identify as women.

Leaders from student groups, as well as nominated leaders from staff and faculty, were invited to attend. Placed at tables of eight, each group of women was encouraged to discuss the strengthening strategies and the obstacles they had encountered in their experience on campus, as well as what needs to change in order to improve their conditions.

Guests were invited to write down the most poignant parts of their conversations on colour-coded sticky notes and to paste them onto a designated wall.

A table of markers and a white wall dedicated to graffiti were set up next to the sticky notes for people to leave further comments.

“Women are 50 per cent [of the population], but women are not that homogeneous group,” Yates told The Ontarion in an interview. “They are LGBTQ+, they are Indigenous. So we cut across ethnicity, race, gender identities, socioeconomic status. It’s a starting point for me—for us—to start thinking about this.” Yates’s draft document on the initiative detailed how the University is working towards “fostering a culture of inclusion” on campus.

Conversely, it referenced how women are misrepresented, underrepresented, and otherwise treated unfairly in professional spaces in Ontario and abroad. Equitable participation on campus and equitable representation are just two of the components being reviewed.

“The fields in which women dominate are often devalued, thus playing into stereotypes about women and their place in society and the economy,” reads the document.

At the dinner, Yates shared the podium with Dr. Kim Anderson, professor of family relations and applied nutrition. Anderson was hired as one of six tenure-track Aboriginal professors and offered an opening land acknowledgement as well as some remarks on equity and the power of women within Aboriginal cultures.

After dinner, Ontario’s first minister of the status of women, Indira Naidoo-Harris, made an appearance and gave passionate remarks on the economic empowerment of women, as well as the need to speak out against gender-based bullying on social media, especially targeting female politicians.

Claire Wilcox | The Ontarion

In order to advance the status of all women on campus, research must first take place to evaluate how women’s presence, work, and leadership currently function on campus. For example, are women proportionally represented as students, faculty, and/or staff? How many women are submitting research grants and scholarships, are being hired, or are research chairs?

Among the plans revealed is an advisory group comprised of students, faculty, and staff, which will offer strategic advice and feedback as well as liaison with the campus community. The advisory group’s formation will occur by the end of April.

Another strategy the document mentions is a series of “Campus Conversations” set to take place this fall. These conversations will facilitate dialogue within and among campus groups on the topic of gender equity and how to break down the systemic barriers  currently in place.

Yates’s document also proposes a review of current leadership and mentorship programs available on campus as part of this process.

Further, Yates has committed an unspecified portion of her research budget to hire a postdoctoral fellow (PDF) to investigate and clarify the current situation on campus.

The PDF hiring is expected to take place as soon as possible.

The research process will be ongoing until the spring of 2018. Once finished, the next step is to identify and prioritize the areas requiring the most improvement and ways to gauge their improvements. Short- and long-term strategies will be proposed accordingly and people of all genders will be invited to participate going forward.

Yates concludes her document by committing to an annual report on the status of women on the University of Guelph’s campus in terms of the innovations and initiatives that will (and are) taking place. The first of these reports will be completed this upcoming December.

Photos by Claire Wilcox/The Ontarion.