GenEQ International Women’s Day Speakers Panel

[Indira Naidoo-Harris, speaking to the camera]

“Afternoon everyone and welcome, welcome to a very special conversation with five remarkable women in our community to celebrate International Women’s Day at the University of Guelph.

I’m Indira Naidoo-Harris, the associate vice president for diversity and human rights at the U of G and the moderator for today’s panel. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be here with you all today for an important discussion about “International Women’s Day: Gender, Equality and Post-Secondary Education”.

And I want to start by saying thank you, thank you to the amazing GenEQ team for coordinating this conversation today with these extraordinary women-identifying individuals.

These women are truly remarkable because they have worked tirelessly under some incredibly challenging times to guide our community through the hardships of a worldwide pandemic and put us all on a strong path to the future.

But before we begin, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the land. Although we are all in different places right now, we all have a connection to the City of Guelph. So I’d like to acknowledge that Guelph is located on the treaty lands and territories of many Indigenous peoples dating back countless generations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabe Peoples. I recognize these First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples and acknowledge their contributions to building our community and I want to remind us all of our collective responsibility to the land where we live, learn, work and play.

One year ago on a snowy day in March, we all gathered for an International Women’s Day breakfast, where we sat down and shared a meal, shared our perspectives, shared our stories and shared our hopes and dreams for the future but really, we had no idea what was in store for us and what that future would bring. At the time, we discussed the stunning transformation in women’s rights, education and politics and we have been able to achieve so much over the past few years, while acknowledging of course at the time, that there was still more work to do.

Well, fast forward 12 months and here we are today. It’s been an incredible year and we could never have predicted the hardships and challenges that we have all had to endure as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These past months have been incredibly difficult for all of us, between navigating the unique challenges presented by the global pandemic and social isolation, to addressing serious inequities in our society. We all have to work hard, hard to find solutions and keep our families and communities on track. And these five women have worked tirelessly, tirelessly to help us and to support us and to build a strong path forward at the U of G during these turbulent times.

International Women’s Day is a time for all of us to take a bit of a pause and reflect on how we are doing in the ongoing struggle for gender equity and this year, the struggle has been particularly challenging. While COVID-19 has affected us all in some way, studies show that it has had a serious disproportionate impact on women and girls. In fact, according to the United Nations, across every area from health to the economy, security to social protection, women and girls have been hit hard by the pandemic. For example in Canada, more women than men have been diagnosed with and died from COVID-19. Just think about that. And there’s a disturbing data that shows that isolation has resulted in more women and girls really being hit the hardest by this pandemic. The isolation in particular, has resulted in more women and girls facing violence at home, having limited access to critical supports and dealing with increased demands for caregiving and unpaid work. The research also shows that the pandemic has hit women hard when it comes to their wallets. Experts say women’s jobs are close to 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than those held by men. Women make up 39% of global employment but account now for 54% of overall job losses. These hash realities have some experts saying, we are headed for a “She-cession”, a recession that will be driven by the fact that more women have lost their jobs and fewer women than men are regaining employment.

With women’s labor force participation at a record low, decades of progress towards gender equality are at stake and this situation is more pronounced for Indigenous women, women of color, women with disabilities. This situation is so serious that we risk turning back the clock on the decades of progress, women have made so far when it comes to equity. That means that it is impossible, this International Women’s Day to ignore how the pandemic has disproportionately affected women and girls in Canada.

And so this year’s theme, “Choose to Challenge”, is really a call to action and change as we rebuild. As we look towards economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to address the added barriers to success for women and girls across the world because the harsh reality is, no society can be successful, when half the population is denied opportunity and respect.

As a Canadian institution known worldwide for groundbreaking research and innovation, we have a responsibility to work to identify and address these barriers, to participation and educate and develop the next generation of leaders. We must continue to push for the full empowerment and involvement of women on university campuses, in businesses, communities across the country and around the world.

The harsh reality is that we are still seeing fewer women in the top executive positions at Canadian universities and research shows that having women in leadership roles, contributes positively to the economy, industry and social programs.

At the University of Guelph, I am so pleased to say that the transformation is happening. For the first time ever in our history, our decision-making table is almost entirely made up of women. Just think about that; smart, powerful, hardworking, strong women and this is something we should all be extremely proud of on this International Women’s Day. And that brings me to our amazing panelists here with us today, the University of Guelph’s first female president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Charlotte Yates – Dr. Yates, I’m going to ask you to just wave to the audience while I call your names – also here is Shauneen Bruder, chair of the University’s board of governors and Gwen Chapman, interim provost and vice president academic; Martha Harley, associate vice president, human resources and Chioma Nwebube, president of the Guelph Black Students Association and a strong advocate on our campus. [each speaker is highlighted and waves.]

Thank you all for being here today and for sharing your ideas and thoughts on how we can all work towards a more equitable and inclusive academic institution for everyone.

Now, before I start off with our questions, I just want to make sure that the audience understands a couple of things. I want you all to know, that our questions were prepared in advance on the feedback we received from all of you as part of the registration process. So you had a hand in, in deciding what these questions were going to be. So thank you to all of you for sending in those suggestions and they were great, so happy to ask them on your behalf. That input of course means that we won’t be having time to take questions from the audience but I think that we’re going to be able to really have a robust conversation by following some of questions that you all proposed to us.

So thank you also to our panelists for joining us here today and to start things off, I’m going to ask each of you the same question and that’s the following question and I’m going to start with you President Yates; this year has been a challenging one for all of us, no question and women in particular have had to deal with some troubling realities during the pandemic. This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Choose to Challenge”. So tell me, tell me briefly, what does “Choose to Challenge” mean to you at this moment in time, President Yates?”

[President Charlotte Yates speaking]
“Thanks Indira and I must say you also are a kind of wonderful leader at the University and I want to say thank you for moderating this but your contribution and leadership is, is well-recognized, so thank you.

So what does it mean for me? And I’m, I’m going to speak kind of personally today because I think few of you do get a chance to hear about me personally, so I would say for me, the “Choose to Challenge” is to understand that even amongst women, not all women are equal and we need to understand that intersectionality is absolutely core to understanding the unequal effects of COVID-19 and where our efforts need to be as a University.

And so I find myself reflecting on, much more deeply on how race, ethnicity, class is one area I’ve always thought about but race, ethnicity but also Indigeneity and then of course, around gender, around transgendered individuals. So it’s, first of all, recognizing that when we understand the challenges, we need to actually use, we need to use that intersectional lens. And I guess from there, that means self-education and advocacy. Advocacy so that not all, one shoe does not fit each foot. And so we need to make sure that our programs are responsive and so one of the big celebrations for us is the fact that in a very, very short time, we’ve been able to raise a fairly significant amount of money in support of BIPOC scholarships. I think that comes from being, being told, you must have an intersectional lens on this “Choose to Change, to Challenge”. And I think that’s our challenge, is being responsive to all but all in the place where they are and understanding that that comes with inequalities and we need to address those at their roots. So that would be at least my starting point.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Well, thank you and thank you for those thoughts. Shauneen Bruder, “Choose to Challenge” tell me, what does that mean to you at this moment in time?”

[Shauneen Bruder speaking]
“Well, first of all, let me say how honored I am to be sitting on this panel with all of you and such distinguished women with such interesting paths, each and every one of them. So I, I’m in my second career, I retired after a 35-year career within the corporate banking world and I find myself in a, in a, in a very privileged but also I feel the weight of responsibility in my second career as a corporate director.

So sitting on large companies, many in traditional sectors, it is just an extraordinary opportunity for me to challenge, to encourage these organizations, to set stretch goals. They got a long way to go many of them on diversity in all aspects. So challenging for stretch goals, really working on talent management to make sure that we are supporting and giving folks safety nets as they develop and build that succession pipeline and really the importance of sponsorship and advocacy for women and, and others as we go through that. So that would be one, the other area that I am really focused on is just my own education, dealing with my own lived experiences and my own biases which we all bring and making sure that in my reading and in my, in my conversations, that I’m learning every day so that I can really appreciate the experiences and challenges of others.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Thank you for that, so many thoughtful ideas from both of you. Chioma Nwebube, tell me, how do you choose to challenge? What does it mean to you?”

[Chioma Nwebube speaking]
“First of all, thank you so much for having me. It’s so humbling to be on such an amazing panel of such strong women but “Choosing to Challenge” to me, means choosing to challenge the system and laws set in place that directly opposed on the goals and objectives of women, specifically women, specifically women of color, so I believe that now is the time for long-lasting change to be made and it starts with the institution itself, so that means choosing to challenge hiring practices, choosing to challenge workplace culture and educational curriculums and many more structures.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Thank you. Gwen Chapman, what does “Choose to Challenge” mean to you?”

[Gwen Chapman speaking]
“Thanks Indira and I would certainly echo others’ comments about what a privilege and an honor it is to be in this group of women, including yourself Indira, who are presenting today. And certainly, the other speakers have all I think mentioned some of the aspects of what it means to choose to challenge.

For me, again, I certainly take an intersectional approach because we know that not all women face the same barriers and oppressions and so we need to challenge racism, we need to challenge colonization, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, because the impact all those oppressions on BIPOC women, disabled women, queer women, are different so we need to think about that. And I think the other thing for me, is that there are different ways and places that we can choose to challenge. And for me as a leader, I recognize that I’m in a position of privilege and in a position of power and so I have maybe a particular responsibility to use that power and privileges in ways to, to challenge unjust systems because a lot of what needs to change, I mean, there are, there are the interpersonal interactions at the individual level but a lot of, a lot of what needs to change is at a systemic level and those of us who are in positions to address that have a responsibility to do so.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Thank you, Martha Harley, what does it mean to you to “Choose to Challenge” this year?”

[Martha Harley speaking]
“Well, I can certainly echo everybody’s comments in terms of being inspired by my colleagues, colleagues here in terms of what they’ve shared and really grateful to be able to share this opportunity.

Much like Charlotte, I think I will be a little bit more personal in my comments. “Choose to Challenge” is such a profound tagline with so many meanings on a personal level. When I reflect back on my influences as a female, one of my greatest role models was my mother who enchallenged many women in her generation, not only got a university degree being the first to attend university in her family but also went on to a graduate degree, then relocated to the US to pursue her profession.

I grew up in a household primarily of women that were supported by both my parents to pursue aspirations and challenges each and every day, be that as a learner, not only in an educational sense but on a human level.

My experiences cemented my commitment to advancing women and women’s issues. I spent my adult life doing this in a very quiet, understated but purposeful way through different affiliations. But when I look back at learning from my experiences and those of others, I’m deeply influenced by my dearest friend who as a member of the LGBTQ community, pursuing grad studies in California, challenged norms and used her voice but that came with a price as she went missing 30 years ago and as her star was rising and has never been found, this is deemed a hate crime against gays. I’m daily inspired by, by my friend and her strength and deep commitment to violence against women, whose own sister was one of the countless Indigenous women murdered. “Choose to Challenge” means to me, to challenge arbitrary boundaries, speak the unspoken, provide a platform for voices, seek understanding and celebrate all who themselves choose to challenge. It means to embrace challenge, not as a, as a competition but to understanding to getting better and to bettering our future for everyone. This will make us better humans.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Wow, such, such powerful stories and such strong women and stories of strong women. It’s so good to hear some of those, those thoughts that all of you had. President Yates, I’m going to go to you now, you are the first woman to take on the role of president at the University of Guelph, as you look back on your journey to this top position, what are some of the key lessons you learned along the way? Did you face serious barriers and how did you eliminate them, President Yates?”

[President Charlotte Yates speaking]
“Wow, I mean, my career is long, I mean, I was just reflecting as I started this panel, it’s over 50 years ago that I first heard what a feminist was.

Many of you will know, I have five older sisters and I come from a very large family, all women. And I always remember my sisters saying to me, this is what feminism was and I thought, ‘Hmm, I wonder how that’s going to make any difference to my life.’

Well, needless to say, it made a big difference.

So in terms of the barriers, I mean, I think for most of us and I hope Chioma you have in a sense, the privilege to be able to confront the barriers that I did because I think one of the first was being paid differently than a male colleague who had, didn’t have his PhD, had not published the same level and it was, and the answer to me was, “Well, your husband lives in another city”, and I was like, “Wow, is this really the world in which we live?”

So I think we’ve changed, I think that battle I was lucky there were others to fight with me and I think, so it starts there but it starts… and I think all of us have had this where you have a great idea and it’s not actually acknowledged as your idea, it’s actually acknowledged as somebody else’s, often a man’s idea and it’s a whole muting phenomenon which makes women feel, “I’m I really not making a contribution?” or “Did nobody hear me or am I invisible?”
And I think that’s a pretty common experience whether we go to meetings and I think it’s, it’s one of the deep kind of cultural biases that often exists. So I think there’s a range of things that I think I face, some of you will continue to face today, how do we overcome them? Well, for me, I think allyship and support is incredibly important. Throughout my entire life, I’ve had an incredible network of women, some of who are on the call today and one of whom I’ve been friends with over 35 years, they, we’ve shared, we’ve worked together, we’ve collaborated and we’ve supported one another.

So I think that’s important but it also means lifting up those who are coming behind us. So those younger, those behind us, we need to pave the way through mentorship but not enough to be a mentor, to me, you need to put yourself on the line and actually call up that employer and say, “I have this amazing person that I really think you should consider”. And so, it’s pulling up, mentoring, challenging, supporting. So being that person that you had walking beside you, for the people behind you, so that we can begin to transform.

All of you know, I’m an eternally optimistic person and yet this is after over 50 years of struggle to make gender equal and we still are on 73 cents on the dollar. So we still have the fights ahead of us and for many women, even less so, depending on if you’re a Black woman and so on. So I think these are the struggles that face us, I think we can overcome them together but I don’t think we can, individually.

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
” So many important insights that you shared there and really, I, I appreciate you saying that we need to continue being strong voices for women in our communities and I know that you certainly are for those at the U of G, so thank you for that.

And if you don’t mind me sharing, I just am going to share with our audience that it is President Yates’ birthday today, so at some point we, please take a moment to wish her a happy birthday and, and make sure her day is special. Sorry, President Yates but I had to share that, I think it’s important.

Next I’m going to go to Shauneen Bruder. Shauneen, you’ve spent many years working in the highly competitive corporate, corporate world, honestly, reading your bio it’s, it’s just really remarkable all the things that you’ve been able to accomplish and I have no doubt that there were challenges along the way. So tell us, what was it like to be a woman in the banking industry and are there gender equity strategies and initiatives that you saw being used in, in some of those environments that you think universities should consider adopting from the private sector or that you just think we should be thinking about? Are there things that successful organizations are doing to advance women that perhaps we need to explore and that you’ve learned that we need to, to look into more?”

[Shauneen Bruder speaking]
“So, great questions, thank you. When I, when I did start my career, Indira, I was often the only woman in the room. And I would say that the banks have been leaders or the financial sector generally have been leaders in looking at all aspects of equity, so I was fortunate to work with a company that really did value merit and my secret sauce was always to work hard, to be the most prepared and I did benefit from some very strong corporate talent management processes, they, the, the financial sector does invest in their people, they have programs, formal mentoring and sponsors, most of my sponsors early in my career by the way, were men, very strong advocates and supporters and I wouldn’t have been where I ended up but for them.

But I would also say that for the first decades of my career, I did not feel that I could bring my whole self to work. As a mom, as a daughter, as a woman, I compartmentalized and I didn’t feel that I could share those things which are so very important to me. And so you’re, when you’re applying that energy constantly to edit, it does, it does take a toll, it’s exhausting. I think there are, there are a lot of strategies that the universities could take from the private sector. The private sector generally I think, has been further advanced and there are a lot of lessons that we can learn. Large companies did a lot of things wrong but we don’t need to repeat those, those mistakes. I think the cultures tend to be quite innovative and agile, I got a great example from a board meeting that I, I just came out of, I’m on the board of, of CN and they were sharing with me that in the early days of the pandemic as they sent all of their employees home, they realized that it was a real challenge for working women in particular. And so they launched literally within the space of two weeks, a virtual daycare program that had online training and activities and, and diversions. And that’s a great example of agility and innovation and that just let’s get it done culture that I think large companies with the resources that they can bring to bear can offer.

Employee resource groups are really important support for employees and, and the community and I think corporations have been leaders in supporting those and nurturing those over time and making sure that they’re linked into strong leadership, mentoring sponsorship programs that are formalized and support, of course development and career planning, so that we really support the development of folks so that they can broaden and aspire to as senior leadership positions, as their ambitions suggest. Setting targets, I am a big proponent that if you don’t set targets and measure, you’re not going to make progress and then the final point I would make and a lesson that I’ve learned is we have to provide training and development for our people leaders. We have to give them support so that they can in turn, provide a supporting culture for the development and supportive of our people. So those are just a few of the lessons that I’ve learned in my career.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Some amazing thoughts there though, Shauneen Bruder, thank you so much for sharing them and really, that notion of compartmentalizing and pointing out that in many ways women face so much before they even get to work at times and I know exactly what you’re talking about. Sometimes you think to yourself, “If I even explained what it took to get here and what, what my day was like, people would just go, ‘What?'”, but having said that, I think it also prepares us well to deal with challenges that we’re not expecting that may come or that we’re blindsided by during the day or in our, in our efforts that really have us be able to deal with things that can unfold that are unpredictable in a very good way, so thank you for sharing that.

And childcare, that’s absolutely an important conversation that we need to have and one that I feel very strongly about and so good for you to point out how some folks are dealing with some of these, some of these needs in order to, to build supports for the workforce and the people on their teams. So thank you for that.

Chioma, what can we do to promote more leadership opportunities for female students? Now, you are a strong leader in our community and you have a strong voice and it’s one that all of us here respect very well. So I want you to tell us, what can we do to promote more opportunities for female students, including female students of color and Indigenous students at the U of G? What tips would you give us?”

[Chioma Newbube speaking]
“I would say that in order to promote more leadership opportunities for female students of color and Indigenous students, you first need to be providing us with more support.

So that starts with mentorship opportunities because not only does mentorship give us strong role models but they also give us an idea of the path that we need to take in order to tackle the field that we wanna take on.

And then the second thing that I would say is we need more scholarship opportunities for BIPOC women and we need more financial support because BIPOC students, Black and Indigenous students especially, are at a larger disadvantage financially. So financial support for our education will just help propel us further into these leadership roles.

And then the other thing is we need more women in high-power positions and we’re at a great start but when you have more women of color specifically, in high-power positions, that role just becomes more, becomes more attainable and you can visualize yourself in that role. It’s just very empowering to see a woman of color specifically, in a role that would historically be occupied by a man.

And then the other thing is that you have to ensure that when these roles are occupied and when you do have female student leaders in these roles, you have to ensure that our skills are being utilized and that we’re being challenged. It’s not enough to just have seat at the table, we also have to have our voices centered so that we can have a say in what goes on and so that we can take action and make a difference in the school. So yeah.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“So many thoughtful suggestions and I particularly like the ones when you said, talking about seeing yourself in the role through others but also the mentorship piece. And I have to say, all of the women here on this call I’m sure have mentored many people over the years but there, there is a moment when you think to yourself and I, I, I know many of the women on this call will be thinking about this, when I was first asked to mentor, I remember thinking, “Well, what do I have to say? I don’t know what I really can do,” but then you realize later, it’s really about that support and encouragement and helping to build that confidence in folks and younger people.

So thank you so much for, for reminding us of that. Gwen Chapman, we know the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and BIPOC communities. So tell me, what kind of an impact has COVID-19 had on these groups at the U of G, would you say? Are there concrete steps that we can take to reduce the negative impact of the pandemic on women on campus?”

[Gwen Chapman speaking]
“Yes, thanks Indira. I mean, that is such a challenging question, I think it’s been one that we’ve been asking ourselves and that we’ve been trying to address really since the very first days of the pandemic because there absolutely are disproportional impacts and effects and, and some of this relates to the, I think the compartmentalization that Shauneen and you were talking about that one of the ways that we get ahead in our careers is through that compartmentalization of our work life and our home life.

And for many of us, the pandemic just sort of blew all of that apart because our home became our workplace, our work became at home, certainly not everybody even at the university, there are some, some people, some women in particular who have continued to work on campus or in their usual workplaces throughout the pandemic. But for most of us, we have basically been at home and that has completely blurred those boundaries between work and home life. And again, we can take a bit of an intersectional approach to that because it depends on what your home is like, are, what kinds of caregiving responsibilities do you have? And particularly for women who have young children at home, maybe school-aged children who suddenly weren’t in school anymore, so not only were, were the moms working from home but they were having to homeschool or supervise, supervise schooling and many people didn’t have or don’t have really high quality workspaces and so again, that is challenging.

This affects men as well and there has been some work done through and her graduate student, Rebecca Lee, that looked at some of these things that show that for men with young children at home, they’ve been impacted as well but it in general, isn’t to the same extent that it has impacted women because we know that women still take on most of the burden for caregiving work within their families. In addition to the children, many of us are at a stage where we have aging parents who have needed caregiving and again, that tends to fall on women.

So, it has really I think, impacted women’s workloads that they’ve felt that we have to do it all and it’s led to feelings of being overwhelmed, not being able to perform their, their career work at the level that they want and probably not performing their caregiving work at the level they want as well. And I think this has been experienced in many cases that even more pronounced levels by women from the BIPOC community, whether for family or economic reasons, the demands of caregiving and keeping up with paid work or studying, have often been even more seriously exacerbated for them. And also I think particularly for women from the, the BIPOC community, the heightened attention over this last year of the needs to address racism, to speak out against systemic oppression, has meant that many members, of particularly the Black community, have also experienced increasing community service and activism, expectations and responsibility.

So, those are the problems, we have taken steps to, to try to reduce the negative aspects of this, I know it hasn’t been perfect, we haven’t been able to do everything that we would like to do and we’re still working on those things but we’ve certainly been encouraging managers to be flexible, to set, be sensitive to the unique challenges that individuals are experiencing, as provost, of course the faculty, faculty and TA, sessionals would fall under my purview but for faculty, we did things like canceled the performance review cycle that had been scheduled for last summer and fall, we automatically extended the tenure clock for pre-tenure faculty members, so that they didn’t have that same pressure to reach that bar as quickly as they would have, we encouraged people to document the impact of COVID on their career progress, so that when they are eventually reviewed again, we will be training the review committees to take that into, into account. We’ve provided extra supports for instructors through TA-ships, extra TA-ships, co-op students and we’ve also I think, been explicit that we really recognize that the impact of the pandemic is going to have on people’s research productivity and again, that varies depending on the type of research people do, and we’ve tried to slow down or postpone some of the service responsibilities, so if there’s committee work that doesn’t have to be done right now or doesn’t have to be done as quickly, we’ve taken that into account as well.

And these strategies aren’t specifically directed towards women but I think that they really have the possibility of helping some of the challenges that women in particular are experiencing. And as I say, I mean, we know it hasn’t addressed all of the issues but we have certainly been trying to be mindful of this and continue to look at ways that we can address the impact and we know that this is going to continue on for a while, even post pandemic and so we’ll continue to be looking at that.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Well, thank you for that and some really thoughtful observations and are very much appreciated. And I really like the fact that you pointed out, this isn’t just a conversation for women, this is a conversation for all of us to have, men, women and all folks out there in our communities. It’s an important conversation about how we move the needle forward for, for everyone. So thank you for, for making that point.

Martha Harley, what do you think is the biggest equity issue facing university campuses right now? I mean, you’re in HR and I’m sure you are having to face some challenges all the time where you hear about folks and some of their needs. So what sorts of policies do you think we have to be particularly mindful about and what do we need to think about as we consider issues, like hiring, retention, pay equity, after all, there’s a lot of talk these days about a very real “She-cession” or a recession that’s targeting women underway? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.”

[Martha Harley speaking]
“Oh, thanks and yeah, Gwen has touched on a lot of, a lot of the things I was going to speak to but I think I’ll put it in a bit of a different context.

I think in terms of COVID, in some ways it really shines a light on the disproportionate pressures on women in terms of caregiving responsibilities and balancing work. And while we’ve, we’ve come some ways in terms of providing leads for new fathers, to sharing caregiving responsibilities as children go on and age, that responsibility tends to fall back onto the mothers and there’s a real balancing act. And while we have compartmentalized, I’m one of those women who compartmentalize just like my colleagues as well, it, the COVID pandemic didn’t allow women to compartmentalize, it blurred the lines. “You are living at work”, I think is a phrase that I’ve heard over and over and you’re stretched so far that you don’t feel successful in any way.

I think in terms of how we look at things, it is helping us in terms of, okay, we’ve come so far but now we need to see how far we can go in terms of support because what, when we reflect back, we can all recognize that caregiving responsibilities, taking lead for caregiving responsibilities, whether they be children or elder care falling on women, actually produce gaps in CVs and resumes and put women at a disadvantage in terms of perhaps their current role or perhaps if they were pursuing new opportunities and therefore trying to negotiating, negotiate at starting salaries.

And so perhaps the time now is to reflect on lessons learned from pandemic and how we can support folks differently in terms of advancing and progressing in their career, recognizing the challenges with regards to balancing work and family life. I think it’s reflected in many ways in terms of those people who could do their work at home and do we introduce more flexibility in the workplace in terms of being able to balance between work and home? So I think there are a number of lights that are shining on a number of policies relative to where we could go, where we’ve gotten and where we could go, outside the world of the pandemic. But I think if, if anything, the pandemic has really brightened that light in terms of what are the, the huge challenges that are faced by women in the workplace and progress in terms of their career.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris]
“So important, I mean, what you’re really saying is we’ve had these lights shone on really what some of the challenges are in our community in a very real way but you’re also saying these are opportunities and opportunities for large institutions like ours, to really think about how we can build the right supports and the right path forward and thank you so much for that thoughtful answer.

Shauneen, although we are seeing more and more women in faculty positions, positions of leadership, on boards at universities and organizations in Canada, as we all agree, we still have a long way to go. So what do you think are the barriers that are preventing women from assuming leadership positions in post-secondary institutions? The numbers are there and they’re not great when you look across the board, across Canada and North America and see how many women are really in those, those senior leadership roles. So what is your best advice for women looking to earn a seat at the table? And you’re in a great position, I think from your own experiences and your role as the head of our board of governors to answer that. I’d love to hear your thought.”

[Shauneen Bruder speaking]
“I think there’s some societal and then some structural challenges that we just have to be creative and courageous about dealing with.

As Martha mentioned, we need to support women as they go and make their life choices, especially in the early years of, you know, having young children and making those, those trade-offs or older life when you’re dealing with elder parents. So programs that’s worked, when I was at the bank, for instance, we had a specific program that looked at re-entry options for women that had stepped outside the bank to raise young children and wanted to come in after eight or 10 years. Again, extremely valuable talent but we needed to be creative about a different kind of career path for them.

I think looking at how we expose people, especially early in their career to leadership development opportunities and take some risks and there’s lots of creative ways that we can take risks with people in putting them in roles that perhaps they’re not quite ready for, coaching is something that, I’ve often gone into a role where I’ve got a lot of gaps and I’ll have an external coach that’ll help me be successful in my early six to 12 months, having a safety net, having a mentor assigned, having the team composition structured so that you’re rounding out the, the individual’s flat side.

So there are some really important structural things that we can do to, to deal with the gaps. But in terms of best positioning, women that want to earn a seat at the table and really have those ambitions for more senior leadership roles, my advice always is to take those stretch moves that challenge you, take risks, get outside your comfort zone, now, those are the dog ears of learning, as I call it, develop mentors and sponsors, reach out, I never ever said no to anybody that reached out and asked me for a cup of coffee to talk about careers.

Develop that work network of peer relationships that just make you stronger in your ability to get things done and understand what’s going on, develop those leadership experiences and they don’t always have to be work-related, they can be volunteer work, community work, association work where you sit on a board and you operate at a different vantage point, lots of skills that can be learned there and then just be a lifelong learner and be curious and continually ask why and read and learn. I think those are the things that best position you for those opportunities when they come along.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris]
“That’s such great advice and I love the one where you said, if there’s a, if there’s something out there that allows you to stretch, seize that moment and really that goes just to the notion that the only thing standing in our way at times, is ourselves. We just need to think about the possibilities and…”

[Shauneen Bruder speaking]
“Always say yes, that’s what I say, always say yes.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Fantastic. Chioma, what gender specific challenges, stereotypes or barriers have you had to overcome during your time as a student? And tell us how can we create a more inclusive work and learning environment that, and really encourages engagement and retention, especially for young women at the U of G. I’d love to hear your perspective on these things.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris]
“Yeah, so as a woman, particularly a Black woman at the University of Guelph, a huge problem that I’ve had to face is not being taken, being taken serious enough and being treated as if my voice and my opinions are less than.

So it’s the idea that if I were to say something and I were really passionate about it, I could be misconstrued as being angry and aggressive and, Oh, I’m just an angry Black woman. Whereas if a white man were to say the same thing, he would be perceived as, Oh, he’s passionate, he’s important, he’s intelligent and he has something to say. And so it’s taken me a while to, to be, to know that I can be vocal about these issues and to know that in order to have my voice heard, I need to be vocal and I need to take up space because the instinct is to shrink but I’m very lucky in that I have strong women in my life that always continually urge me to be vocal because what I have to say is important.

And so I believe that in order to promote a more inclusive learning environment for female students, you first need to be centering the voices of women, particularly women of color and you need to use our voices to enact change. And so that starts with creating safe spaces where women can feel free to bounce ideas off each other and have conversations as to how the University can create a more equitable learning landscape that starts with dismantling internal biases, dismantling internal biases of professors and TAs because these are the people who are grading our papers, these are the people who are teaching us. We need to reflect on the number of women who are in power positions and we need to increase that number and we also need to change the curriculum. We need more courses in women studies, more courses in Black studies, Indigenous studies, we need to tackle that intersectionality and then like I said before, I touched on mentorship, I touched on financial support, we want to sit at the table and we want our voices to be used and heard to enact change because these are our lived experiences. And so should have a say in what goes on in making change.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“And a lot of great thoughts there but one of the things that you were pointing out, is really we need to at times, educate our, our colleagues and the rest of our community about, about what is going on and really, how folks perhaps relearn at times or learn how to, to deal with other members of our community so that they are being respectful and sensitive. You touched on this and someone else touched on it earlier, being in a meeting and possibly saying something and have it being attributed to somebody else, that, those kinds of pieces are things that we can all do and navigate through if we’re more careful and sensitive to what’s going on and paying attention.

So thank you for that, very thoughtful and the space, safe spaces idea is something for all of us to think about, so thank you for sharing that. I’m now going to go to Martha. Martha, what are your top priorities when it comes to addressing EDI concerns at the U of G?”

[Martha Harley speaking]
“Thanks, Indira. Well, we know that Black, Indigenous and women of color are underrepresented in Guelph, in the University of Guelph and actually at most universities. I would say that data is one of our biggest challenges in our ability to collect and know and analyze and identify potential barriers in terms of career progression and advancement.

The University of Guelph is investing in a new HRMS and that certainly will help the sector as a whole, this continues to be a challenge for, and in particular, for those universities that have not invested in enabling technology. I would say, needing to hear the lived experiences and perspectives and wisdom from many voices, to really hear the issues that are central to BIPOC women, it’s important to acknowledge the BIPOC community does not speak with one voice but many voices to be heard.

And we need to hear and learn to continually be attentive to our current culture, the, the impacts on our culture and our vision for the future. In terms of, we do a number of different surveys at the, the University, an example would be a healthy workplace. I think in terms of doing these with a gender equity lens to support building an environment for success, provide BIPOC women and by embedding this perspective as part of the foundation of the survey or touchpoint that we do institutionally, will go a long way.

We, as a University, we need to understand how we connect and engage the BIPOC community, so the University is viewed as progressive and a community that’s supportive of advancing diversity and equity at all levels. How do we attract the BIPOC talent and wisdom to become a part of the fabric of our University, to engage in promotion in advance, leading to a leading organization? This requires a lot of listening, learning, doing things differently. We have so many unheard voices that can contribute to the, our planning, our strategic planning, the richness of conversations, so how do we encourage those voices and bring, and bring those voices forward to the table to get those important thoughts and perspectives?

We, I think we first need to be reflective on why those voices remain unheard. I think our goal and our priority is really in terms of attracting important talent, to contribute to the University of Guelph to continue these conversations and continue to build the richness in terms of thought and diversity to advance the university going forward.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Thank you for sharing those thoughts and really I find I can’t turn on the television set anymore, whether it’s news or something else, without hearing about EDI. Across the board in so many different ways, it’s a, it’s an important conversation that’s happening in all sectors of our society and across the world really, so thank you for that.

Gwen, what systemic challenges or barriers have you experienced in your career and how have you navigated through these situations? I’m sure there’ve been things that you’ve bumped into along the way and we’d love to hear what’s your advice, what advice do you have for some of the younger women out there in our audience who may be faculty or staff that could, could get a little guidance from someone like yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

[Gwen Chapman speaking]
“Thanks for that question and it’s been interesting, I mean, I knew the question was, was coming up and so I’d done a bit of thinking about it ahead of time and then even during this, the discussion this afternoon, I’ve been doing some more reflecting and have some more ideas.

And I think when I first saw the question, I thought, well, because I’m, I’m also sort of an optimist and a-glass-half-full person, I thought, well, I’ve been pretty successful and I’ve achieved a lot in my career and so it’s easy for me to sort of overlook or not see some of those challenges but the more I thought about it, the more I saw things and even I think it was when Shauneen talked about not bringing your whole self to work at first that, that was certainly a theme and then it reminded me, particularly as a queer woman, when I started my career, I was definitely not bringing my whole self to work.

And I was just remembering now, it even affected my job search because when I was finishing my PhD and looking for an academic career, at that point I was living in Toronto and I thought, there’s not very many places I’m gonna want to live as a queer woman. And I was fortunate that a job came up at UBC and I thought, “Yep, Vancouver is a place I could live”. And so, I was able to get that job but it, it limited me… Sorry, my dog gets excited about somebody ringing the doorbell… but I certainly did not bring my whole self to work at that point and I was very, very cautious about who, who I, who I came out to.

But that was during the 1990s, I was in Vancouver and so by the time my partner and I had a child, several years later, I was definitely out and was, was able to bring that part of myself to work. And so I was sort of in the right time and place to be able to do that.

But I would say that the other reflection is that the, the work styles that typically lead to academic success, particularly our star researchers or our star academic leaders, tend to be based on a masculine model. And even if I wasn’t bringing my whole self to work all the time, I had kept very clear boundaries around work and around home so that I could bring my whole self home. And I think that sometimes that, that other model of research stars, doesn’t, people don’t necessarily bring their whole self home or not maybe as much as was important to me as a woman.

So there were the people who were very clear and very proud to be able to say in faculty meetings how late they’d been in their lab the night before or how many hours they worked on the weekend and that was just not a game I was willing to play. And so for me, yes, I worked hard but I also wanted a good work-life balance and so I balanced the hard work and those hours with being there for my family. I also wanted to be true to my own research interests, which tended to be again, qualitative research methods, soft research, not what would have necessarily propelled me forward in my career as quickly as I, as I might’ve wanted to. So I pursued the grants that were important to me, the research questions, the research methods that were important to me, not where I would necessarily get the most money, I did put also a lot of effort into being an innovative and effective teacher, a lot of effort into mentoring, particularly graduate students and again, those weren’t the things that were necessarily going to move me ahead as quickly in my career, particularly at the university that I was at.

So I remember some of my male colleagues, their goal was full by 40, they wanted to be a full professor before they were 40 years of age and I, I just didn’t do that because it wasn’t, it wouldn’t allow me to do the other things in my life that I wanted to do. And so, I think partly because of that, my first forays into academic leadership were not that successful either. I felt I had really strong leadership skills and certainly, colleagues who’d worked closely with me, were encouraging me and telling me I had those talents but because I didn’t necessarily have the typical CV that people were looking for on those search committees and again, I think when I was starting out, search committees tended to be dominated by white men, that I didn’t, I didn’t get those opportunities as quickly as I maybe would have otherwise.

But I did persevere, I was true to myself through that and true to my values but I didn’t give up and I kept looking for opportunities, I did say yes when things came along but often I had to look for those opportunities because they weren’t dropping in my lap because again, I didn’t have necessarily that typical profile. So, but when I was given those opportunities, I showed that I was pretty good at it and so then that gradually started opening some doors for me. And I think through all of that, I hope that I have been able to facilitate some changes, I’ve shown that when you maybe do have search committees that are a bit more open to something a little less typical, that it can actually work out pretty well.

So I think that would be my advice to younger women, it may not get you there as quickly but if you are true to yourself and, and just persevere because I think, I think through that perseverance, you’ll get where you want to go.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Wow, lots of think about, some great advice. President Yates, I have left the final word to you and so I’m really looking forward to hearing what you have to say here.

How important is gender, gender equity at the U of G to you? What have you done to promote it and what can we do as a community to achieve fairness for women in post-secondary institutions? It’s 2021, it’s an important year and you’ve worked hard in this area and we’d love to hear your thoughts on how we move forward as a community.”

[President Charlotte Yates speaking]
“So do I have one minute or one hour?”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Well, you take your time, we have plenty of time, you take up as much time as you can.”

[President Charlotte Yates speaking]
“That’s such a big question and in a way, it’s kind of an overwhelming question to answer because gender equity is, it’s kind of like the blood that runs through my veins. Equity is the blood that runs through my veins and I say that because only because others championed gender equity, have I ever been able to achieve where I am today. This was not because I’m particularly great at what I do, it’s because I was supported by some great people and helped to really go after things.

So it really does run through my veins and in that sense, it’s core to both who I am but also how I believe that we become excellent.

I know I say this often and people… and I think it requires deep thought because for me, without equity, you cannot possibly achieve excellence. And the reason is, that if you’re searching for, whether it be a faculty or a new administrator or a new grad student in your lab, if you’re only looking at 50, 40%, 30% of the population, you can’t possibly know that you’re getting the best. And therefore, equity means that to me, it means that we can be the best but also, we also promote people who can be the best and it’s, and I think Gwen touched on something and it’s kind of atypical because sometimes we use a standard set of categories and those standard categories, exclude about 50 to 60% of the population.

So for me, if we want to achieve excellence, if I want to be, achieve excellence, it is about equity but it’s not about individual, it’s about individual and collective because I don’t believe you can overcome systemic structural discrimination and inequality, without there being a collective structural change.

And so I can change some things individually but one of the reasons why I’m always or for now, 15 more years I’ve always been drawn to leadership is because I believe in, universities are amazing institutions. They have the capacity to be more porous to change, to lead change and to be, and I believe that, I actually believe that education is a transformative experience. Not just because of the job you get at the end because in the process, it is about changing the attitudes, the structures, the processes, we’re supposed to inquire about all these things and by inquiring and changing those things, we change the very things that hinder some in our communities. And so, if I load that in, it gives you a little bit about how I’m personally motivated but also it’s why gender equity, it’s why equity, diversity and inclusion are core to who I am but also who I am as a leader.

There is not a day goes by, I actually don’t think about how I can do better, how I can learn something different, that will advance how I think about and how we think about the issue of equity, diversity and inclusion. But I want to kind of tackle a little bit more specifically, some of the questions because I think sometimes we need to unpack, how do we do this?

I remember one of the first committees I sat on at university and you’re kind of going to laugh at this, well, at least you should do, I was on the gender equity committee for the university. New faculty member, I was a pre-PhD and there were three women on this committee. Within a year it was dissolved because there really wasn’t much that they, that needed to be done. It had all been done and I was like, “Really?” And of course I didn’t have the power or the influence or even the structural understanding of change to know where to look for us to tackle it, it was such a big issue, it needed to be unpacked.

It can be overwhelming if we’re activists, to figure out where do you start. And so to me it means then that I start by saying, okay, we need to address process, structure and culture. And those three begin to embody a large part of what we do.

And if I can just take the issue of hiring, for me hiring is probably one of the most important things that we do and can change at the University because as Martha Harley said, if we begin to hire, if we widen the pool, increase the pipeline and the same with our graduate cohort, we begin to transform the University through our hiring but it requires attention to process and that means not just the formal process, it’s all the informal norms and behaviors and standards we use, which we’ve inherited often from the past, that go into us making decisions and we need to be very self-aware. Self-aware that within those norms, traditions, processes, are often embedded bias.

And to me, we need to unpack that and it’s our job as individuals but it’s also our job as leaders because let’s imagine, I’m on a committee and so is a student. I need to be able to embolden the student to be able to speak out and protect them but I cannot expect them to carry that responsibility. So it’s also about understanding where power lies in committee. To say, “Well, we all have an equal voice”, is actually not true. We need to understand and unpack, where does power lie and how do we empower those to make good decisions and to speak out if they really believe that something has been said or even done unconsciously that needs to be paid attention to.

So I think that’s, we need to pay attention to process and with process, we ultimately need to pay attention to culture. And to me culture comes in many ways, it’s how we interact with each other but also the external signs of what we celebrate. What kind of art do we have displayed? What kind of, who do we celebrate as leaders? And I think this panel is an incredible kind of, it captures a little bit of that cultural change but I think we need to be very intentional. Culture is partly inherited but it is also intentional. And so I think we need to address that. And then there are structural embedded within our structure, whether our pay structures, our hiring structures, our decision-making structures, there can be both explicit and implicit bias.

And by starting to unpack, you can’t do it all in one time and that’s why most times we fail, we succeed here but we don’t succeed in entirety. It takes time. If I say I’ve been a faculty member over 30 years, my first committee was that gender equity committee and I made a lot of progress when I was at McMaster, I think we’ve made a lot of progress here but there’s also lots to be done. But it’s the fact that you can’t give up and you can’t stop. And that’s sometimes the hardest thing because, and Chioma, I look at you particularly, you’re just starting, it’s a lot of work, it’s emotional, physical work and it can be hard but it’s incredibly important work and when you get discouraged, reach out to those people who can lift you up because most of us have also struggled in our own and very different ways but we’ve learned to persevere and we have to persevere, as Shauneen said, you have to, even if you don’t think you can do it, take a pause and you take that next step forward.

So to me, gender equity is the blood that runs through my veins but I also think, it’s the blood that that runs through the veins of the University that will truly make us an excellent University. And so for that reason, it’s a lifelong project. And whether I’m here, whether I’m retired, I will always do something in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion and it requires we speak out. Sometimes it’s hard to be that voice that says, “Ah, I don’t think, I think that’s actually kind of promoting…” And all of us have been there, those moments in a, in a, in a committee when, “I do think that’s kind of sexist” and someone looks at you horrified that you’re naming it. It’s being able to know that you’re in the company of people who care and want us to succeed.

And I think this panel, I think, I want to say thanks to everyone who showed up today, what a great group, there are so many names in the participants who I miss seeing in the campus and I look forward to seeing again but that’s why gender equity matters to me and that’s how much it matters to me.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Some fantastic thoughts and so much to think about, President Yates. Thanks, thank you so much for sharing that with us. I’m just going to ask you one final question just really quickly, you are after all the first woman to be president at the U of G and so I have to say, I have to ask you, it is International Women’s Day, that’s what we’re celebrating and certainly, Women’s History Month, I should say, what does this mean to you and how does it feel to be that first, that first woman in that role?”

[President Charlotte Yates speaking]
“Okay, this is kind of a weird response because I actually don’t think of myself as having achieved that much. That sounds weird but I truly mean that. It’s like I really talk to others about what, outside of the University but it’s because there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m in this job and I feel happy that we have a woman president.

There are only like 20% women presidents across the country. We’re a very small group and we’re shrinking, to be honest with you and we tend not to be presidents in large institutions. There is not one, there’s one female president in all of the research intensives. So there’s still a lot of progress to be made. So I feel very proud but I’m kind of a person who the role itself is not what’s important. For me where I will really be extremely happy, is if at the end of my term, whenever that is, that we have made progress and it can be, I hope we find that we are the best in terms of the level of BIPOC scholarships, the level of experiential learning opportunities for our BIPOC students, the number, the increase in the diversity on our staff. So for me, it’s not about today for me, it’s about where will I be, where will we be in a year, two years, five years? I really hope that we’ve seen some significant change.”

[Indira Naidoo-Harris speaking]
“Thank you so much and thank you for sharing your thoughts and excellence essentially, very much appreciated.

Well, that is pretty well it for all of us folks, I want to thank you all for joining us today, this has been an amazing, thoughtful, informative discussion with lots of great tips and suggestions and so I’m going to say to our folks out there who are watching, go away and think about some of the things that you’ve heard. There have been some very different perspectives on experiences and also where we are and how we can move forward but all of the things that we heard today, have been really helpful I think, to all of us, whether you are a woman or you belong to our larger community, it, this is a conversation we need to have and it was very useful and thoughtful, so thank you.

Thank you, President Yates, thank you, Shauneen, thank you, Gwen, thank you, Martha and thank you, Chioma, I know that it’s not easy sometimes to share your personal experiences and perspectives with folks and talk about things that you, we don’t always get a time, a chance to think about and aren’t always, I think and aren’t always comfortable talking about ourselves but having you all here today and join in and sharing with you really, what you’ve learned in your journeys has been unbelievably helpful and useful to all of us.

And so from, from me to you and from all of those in our audience, thank you very much for being here today, we’ve heard you, we understand what you’ve been saying to us and we know that we are in a good place and the U of G is in good hands. Thank you to all of us, the conversation doesn’t stop here, it’s just begun. Take care.”