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Being a woman in a profession filled with men comes with hurdles that make reaching the top difficult, including hurdles people don’t always consider

Maydianne Andrade is a professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and an expert on black widow spiders. But she spends a third of her time advocating for women in academia.The Globe and Mail

Canadian evolutionary biologist Maydianne Andrade is a world-famous spider expert who specializes in the mating habits of cannibalistic black widows.

That’s the job she was hired to do.

But during her first week as a professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough in 2000, she had a second role imposed upon her, one that continues to steal time away from promoting her research, working in her lab, applying for grants and writing about her discoveries.

“From Day 1, people asked me: ‘Can you talk to me about being a woman in science? Can you talk to me about being a Black women in science?’” Prof. Andrade says. “I did not come into science deciding to be an activist... Gender, race and intersectionality were just dragged into every aspect of my career.”

Two decades ago, when Prof. Andrade was starting out, just 11 per cent of full professors at U of T were women, according to an analysis of compensation records by The Globe and Mail. Today, it’s still just 35 per cent – an improvement, but it still means two-thirds of professors are men. It’s a similar story at universities across the country.

This is despite the fact that women have outnumbered men among university graduates for three decades and have been earning master’s degrees at a higher rate since 1995. As of 2018, women represented 48 per cent of doctoral grads. All of this is to say: There are plenty of accomplished female scholars in the pipeline, but they’re getting stuck.

Prof. Andrade, who is also the president of the Canadian Black Scientist Network, now spends about a third of her time trying to fix this. She runs workshops about how unconscious bias seeps into decisions around funding, promotions and hiring. She has come to accept that doing this work means she can’t be as productive in her spider research.

“I spent 12 years post high school educating myself to become a researcher and professor – and caring deeply about those things… But I value [this equity work],” she says. “The longer you’re in the system, the more you see that these things are not changing very quickly.”

Indeed, a two-decade analysis of Ontario universities’ employee data shows progress has stalled – most evidently at the very top, among full professor positions and in the highest earning brackets. The wage gap has actually increased.

As part of the ongoing Power Gap series, an investigation into gender inequities in the modern work force, The Globe examined Ontario’s public sector salary records going back to 1999. Compared with colleges, hospitals and public health bodies, school boards and Crown corporations, the university sector displayed the clearest lack of improvement on gender. (It was not possible to analyze the data by other measures of diversity.) At Ontario universities, there has been a significant increase in the overall representation of women. In 1999, about one in 10 six-figure earners were women. In 2019, it was one in three. But those gains have primarily occurred in lower-level, less prestigious jobs.

POWER GAP IN ONTARIO’S UNIVERSITIES

Overall representation of women

at Ontario universities

Inflation-adjusted*

Not inflation-adjusted

1999

2004

2009

2014

2019

50%

40

30

20

10

0

How much women make

for every dollar men make

Inflation-adjusted*

Not inflation-adjusted

1999

2004

2009

2014

2019

$1.02

Equal

98¢

96¢

94¢

92¢

90¢

*This data was collected using Ontario’s sunshine list, which includes employees who earn at least $100,000. To make comparison possible, The Globe has indexed each year to 1999 dollars. (In 2019, the equivalent is $147,537.) In the inflation-adjusted data, only employees who would qualify for the adjusted threshold are included.

POWER GAP IN ONTARIO’S UNIVERSITIES

Overall representation of women

at Ontario universities

Inflation-adjusted*

Not inflation-adjusted

1999

2004

2009

2014

2019

50%

40

30

20

10

0

How much women make

for every dollar men make

Inflation-adjusted*

Not inflation-adjusted

1999

2004

2009

2014

2019

$1.02

Equal

98¢

96¢

94¢

92¢

90¢

*This data was collected using Ontario’s sunshine list, which includes employees who earn at least $100,000. To make comparison possible, The Globe has indexed each year to 1999 dollars. (In 2019, the equivalent is $147,537.) In the inflation-adjusted data, only employees who would qualify for the adjusted threshold are included.

POWER GAP IN ONTARIO’S UNIVERSITIES

Overall representation of women

at Ontario universities

How much women make

for every dollar men make

Inflation-adjusted*

Not inflation-adjusted

Inflation-adjusted*

Not inflation-adjusted

1999

1999

2004

2009

2014

2019

2004

2009

2014

2019

$1.02

50%

Equal

40

98¢

30

96¢

20

94¢

10

92¢

90¢

0

*This data was collected using Ontario’s sunshine list, which includes employees who earn at least $100,000. To make comparison possible, The Globe has indexed each year to 1999 dollars. (In 2019, the equivalent is $147,537.) In the inflation-adjusted data, only employees who would qualify for the adjusted threshold are included.

Two decades ago, 12 per cent of university employees in the top 10 percentile of earners were women. By 2019, just 26 per cent were women, and growth has been stagnant for years. (In 2009, it was 21 per cent.) The gender wage gap has also been steadily growing. In 1999, even though women were dramatically outnumbered overall, there was no pay gap, because they were evenly distributed throughout the salary bands. Today – with so many women stuck at the bottom – the gap is 5 per cent, or an average of around $10,000 per year.

Percentage of women at different salary bands

1999

2019

0

50%

0

50%

Highest

12

26

12

27

13

30

10

35

13

35

Middle

12

37

12

39

11

39

14

41

12

47

Lowest

Percentage of women at different salary bands

1999

2009

2019

0

50%

0

50%

0

50%

Highest

12

21

26

12

22

27

13

20

30

10

22

35

13

25

35

Middle

12

29

37

12

30

39

11

35

39

14

34

41

12

34

47

Lowest

Percentage of women at different salary bands

1999

2004

2009

2014

2019

0

50%

0

50%

0

50%

0

50%

0

50%

Highest

12

19

21

22

26

12

16

22

24

27

13

20

20

24

30

10

19

22

27

35

13

18

25

34

35

Middle

12

21

29

31

37

12

17

30

35

39

11

22

35

34

39

14

17

34

38

41

12

20

34

41

47

Lowest

Universities have made progress adding women to their executive ranks – in 2019, 39 per cent of vice-presidents were women, up from 26 per cent in 1999 – but, on average, they still make less than male colleagues. Women VPs, for example, made 2 per cent less than male VPs in 2019, or $6,292 per year. There has also been dramatic improvement in representation for women in lower leadership roles, such as assistant VP – from 17 per cent in 1999 to 64 per cent in 2019. But at the very top, only 21 per cent of university presidents are women, which has actually fallen from a high of 24 per cent in 2009.

Percentage of women in different academic

and management positions

No positions held by women

1999

2019

0

50%

0

50%

17

21

President

40

Provost

26

39

Vice President

25

53

Vice Provost

33

49

Associate VP

17

64

Assistant VP

13

42

Dean

14

32

Professor*

9

31

Professor

44

Assoc. Prof.*

Data omitted due to the low number of individuals.

43

Assoc. Prof.

46

Asst. Prof.

*Has additional roles, such as department

head or research chair.

Note: Carleton University, Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Ottawa are excluded from the professor positions, as well as the role of dean, because they do not provide enough job-title detail. Only universities with at least 100 six-figure earners in 2009 were included in the analysis (six of the 21 did not qualify). The exception is the president role: all 21 Ontario universities were considered.

CHEN WANG AND MURAT YÜKSELIR /

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ONTARIO PUBLIC

SECTOR SALARY DISCLOSURE

 

Percentage of women in different academic

and management positions

No positions held by women

1999

2009

2019

0

50%

0

50%

0

50%

17

24

21

President

47

40

Provost

26

23

39

Vice President

25

33

53

Vice Provost

33

52

49

Associate VP

17

46

64

Assistant VP

13

32

42

Dean

14

21

32

Professor*

9

25

31

Professor

31

44

Assoc. Prof.*

Data omitted due to the low number of individuals.

36

43

Assoc. Prof.

38

46

Asst. Prof.

*Has additional roles, such as department head or research chair.

Note: Carleton University, Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Ottawa are excluded from the professor positions, as well as the role of dean, because they do not provide enough job-title detail. Only universities with at least 100 six-figure earners in 2009 were included in the analysis (six of the 21 did not qualify). The exception is the president role: all 21 Ontario universities were considered.

CHEN WANG AND MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: ONTARIO PUBLIC SECTOR SALARY DISCLOSURE

 

Percentage of women in different academic and management positions

No positions held by women

1999

2004

2009

2014

2019

0

50%

0

50%

0

50%

0

50%

0

50%

17

24

24

9

21

President

33

47

29

40

Provost

26

30

23

33

39

Vice President

25

25

33

57

53

Vice Provost

33

33

52

47

49

Associate VP

17

43

46

50

64

Assistant VP

13

30

32

32

42

Dean

14

16

21

27

32

Professor*

9

19

25

28

31

Professor

20

31

41

44

Assoc. Prof.*

Data omitted due to the low number of individuals.

26

36

41

43

Assoc. Prof.

29

38

44

46

Asst. Prof.

*Has additional roles, such as department head or research chair.

Note: Carleton University, Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Ottawa are excluded from the professor positions, as well as the role of dean, because they do not provide enough job-title detail. Only universities with at least 100 six-figure earners in 2009 were included in the analysis (six of the 21 did not qualify). The exception is the president role: all 21 Ontario universities were considered.

CHEN WANG AND MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: ONTARIO PUBLIC SECTOR SALARY DISCLOSURE

 

Only employees who earn at least $100,000 are subject to Ontario’s disclosure legislation. The Globe has adjusted for inflation for over-time salary-related analysis. Universities that had fewer than 100 employees as of 2009 could not be included. In total, 15 of Ontario’s 21 universities were part of the review. (Affiliated colleges were not included.)

While these findings are Ontario-specific – it’s the only province that makes this historical data available – they serve as a useful barometer to assess gender imbalances in academia across Canada.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, universities pledged to do better. Governments doled out millions earmarked for hiring female professors. But in 1988, the Council of Ontario Universities released a report that warned men would continue to dramatically outnumber women professors for another 50 years if hiring practices didn’t change. At the time, women made up about 20 per cent of full-time faculty in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

By 2005, as Ontario universities prepared for legislation that would end mandatory retirement at age 65 – which had already been enacted in many provinces – school administrators complained it would stall efforts to hire more women. Still, after decades of supposedly being focused on progress, just 33 per cent of full-time teaching staff in Canada were women.

So why has change been so slow?

Women in academia contend with the same challenges women in other sectors face, including work interruptions like maternity leave and the burden of unpaid care work at home. But female academics also have to battle deeply engrained societal biases that see women as teachers and men as professors.

Female professors receive less research funding than men, get less support from their institutions when starting out, win fewer grants and have a harder time getting published. Yet by the time they’re sitting in a job interview, there’s a veneer of fairness around why one candidate is more qualified than another.

“Universities get away with not doing as well with equity, diversity and inclusion because everyone assumes the university sector must be so good at this,” says Bessma Momani, a professor at the University of Waterloo, who has spent time researching gender inequities in academia.

There’s a huge gap between rhetoric and reality, however, she says. “We’re among the worst of the public sector, but we think we’re so woke.”

How do Ontario universities compare? See The Globe's analysis of the Power Gap over 20 years, at 15 institutions


Dr. Paige Lacy, a professor in the University of Alberta's science department, says she has felt throughout her career that she didn't belong.The Globe and Mail

No one has ever said outright to Paige Lacy, a scientist who studies cell inflammation, “You don’t belong because you’re a woman.” But that message has been clearly communicated throughout her career, says the professor with the University of Alberta’s department of medicine.

“You’ll see male colleagues in each other’s offices and then realize they’re publishing research papers together as co-authors,” says Prof. Lacy. “And you think, But I’m an expert in that field – why didn’t they ask me?

She’s one of more than two dozen women academics who spoke to The Globe about gender barriers in the knowledge sector. Many of them brought up issues around publishing research, a dominant metric by which universities make decisions on salary, promotion, tenure and resources. Schools look at the volume of published work, the reputation of the journal that prints it, sometimes the order of the authors’ names, and how many other academics go on to cite the research. But a mountain of studies has shown that women academics are at a huge disadvantage.

Men are more likely to collaborate on research with other men, papers written by men are more likely to be cited by other academics, and women are held to higher standards in the peer-review process, so it’s harder to get published in the first place.

Even when women do collaborate, they receive less credit. Research has found that when men and women co-author a paper, female authors are more likely to be listed in a less important position – an experience Prof. Lacy endured as a newly hired assistant professor.

She had been recruited to U of A in 2000 by a prominent scientist in her field. Early on, she was preparing to submit research to a prestigious immunological journal. It would be her first as a primary author – a moment of significance that cannot be overstated. But her mentor insisted his name be included on the paper, since she was his post-doctoral fellow. Moreover, he said it would be inappropriate, given his status, if he weren’t listed as the senior author.

“I asked him, ‘Could you not be?’ I came up with the idea and all the experiments. My grad students had done the work, but he said no,” says Prof. Lacy. (The journal accepted the paper, and it ran on the cover with her mentor’s name as senior author.)

The next time a journal accepted her work, she stood firm, including only her name and those of her grad students. Her mentor was furious, she says, and began spreading rumours that she had stolen his ideas. This was corroborated by a professor who worked in the department at the time as a post-doctoral fellow and recalled the mentor – who died several years ago – warning other researchers to avoid collaborating with Prof. Lacy, saying she was “two-faced” and took credit for others’ work.

Prof. Lacy, who is also hearing impaired, says it took years to rebuild her reputation. Because of her disability, forming relationships with colleagues was already challenging.

“I know I have had many missed opportunities,” Prof. Lacy says.

Women in academia, in general, are missing opportunities.

In 2000, the federal government created the Canada Research Chairs Program to stop a feared brain drain to the United States. The goal was to create 2,000 new research positions and dole out hundreds of millions in funding. But three years later, eight women scholars took the CRCP to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal alleging discrimination. Only 15 per cent of the chair positions had gone to women, even though women accounted for 26 per cent of professors. In a landmark settlement in 2006, the CRCP agreed to set targets to ensure that women, Indigenous people, other visible minorities and people with disabilities were being properly represented.

But little changed.

In 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Commission took the extraordinary step of asking the Federal Court to enforce the settlement, as most universities were still missing the targets. (In the CRCP system, schools nominate candidates, which the program then evaluates.) Earlier this year, universities were warned that if they fail to hit equity targets by December, 2029, they’ll lose some research chair positions. (A spokesperson for the CRCP said that as of May, 2021, 85 per cent of institutions were meeting equity targets.)

The CRCP’s gender bias wasn’t unique. In 2010, Stephen Harper’s government announced the first recipients of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program, which was to award “world‑renowned researchers” millions in funding. Not one of the inaugural 19 scholars selected were women. Almost all appeared to be white.

Several of the women academics who spoke to The Globe hold CRC positions. All said they still frequently encounter sexism.

One woman, an award-winning scholar with a Tier 1 chair, says it’s not uncommon for her to see male peers – with less experience and fewer awards – win more grant money.

“This has such a cascading benefit,” she says.

Because universities often assign research space based on grant dollars, the inequity is compounded, she explains. Men win more grants, so universities assign them more space, which helps them recruit more people, which helps them produce better research and win more grants.

“The only times I’ve really been able to better my situation is when a male colleague has disclosed to me … what they’re getting,” she says. “Then you’re in a position to say, ‘I know he got this. I want what he got.’”

But there are costs. The time spent fighting for equal treatment is time she’s not in her lab. More complicated to calculate are the reputational costs: The research is clear that women who advocate for themselves are viewed negatively by colleagues. The professor, who asked not to be named because of potential professional repercussions, says she has received feedback that she comes off as overly confident and self-important.


Watch: Investigative reporter Robyn Doolittle runs through some of the key takeaways of the Power Gap investigation, including how and where men outnumber, outrank and out-earn women in Canada. You can see more at tgam.ca/powergap.

The Globe and Mail


In recent years, some schools have proactively reviewed gender discrimination in pay. At McMaster University, for example, full-time female faculty were awarded a $3,515 salary bump, after a study accounting for variables such as discipline and experience found a gap. At the University of British Columbia, tenure-stream women received a 2-per-cent raise.

But the results of these reviews aren’t always embraced.

At the University of Toronto – where the school identified a 1.3-per-cent wage gap among tenure and tenure-stream professors – the faculty association has filed a grievance over the issue. It alleges the gap is much higher and that ongoing discrimination is also likely affecting other equity-seeking groups.

Emma Phillips, a labour lawyer at Goldblatt Partners LLP who is representing the association, says the university reached that figure by excusing away many of the factors that harbour deep gender implications, such as rank and promotion.

“I think one of the blind spots universities have is that they believe they are making decisions based purely on merit...and there is an assumption that the measurements of merit are neutral and objective,” Ms. Phillips says. “In fact, there is a very large and robust body of research that shows these measurements – things like citation counts and grant success rates – are in fact tainted by gender bias.”

Terezia Zorić, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association, says they’ve noticed significant growth in the number of women at the assistant professor level – the lowest-ranked position – and among top administrative leadership, but women are largely absent from the middle salary echelons and full professor ranks.

The data echoes this.

In the latest data analysis of Ontario’s sunshine lists, The Globe assessed 12 academic and leadership job titles over a 20-year-period, including assistant, associate and full professor. In 2004, about one in three assistant professors were women, one in four were associate professors, and one in five were full professors. By 2019, the assistant and associate ranks were nearly even, but women still made up just 31 per cent of full professors.

Prof. Zorić says a key area of concern is student evaluations, which she says the school continues to rely heavily on when determining merit-based salary increases and promotions.

Ontario arbitrator William Kaplan made a precedent-setting decision in 2018 when he declared Ryerson University could no longer use such surveys to assess teaching effectiveness when making decisions around promotion or tenure. “According to the evidence, which was largely uncontested … numerous factors, especially personal characteristics … such as race, gender, accent, age and ‘attractiveness’ skew [these evaluation’s] results,” Mr. Kaplan wrote.

In an e-mailed statement, University of Toronto vice-president and provost Cheryl Regehr said gender imbalances at the school are primarily related to historic hiring practices, as “It can take 10 to 15 years, sometimes longer, for faculty to progress to the most senior rank of professor.” She added the faculty who conducted the pay review are experts in their disciplines, and the university is “confident in the findings.”

With respect to student reviews, Prof. Regehr noted course evaluation reports can still be used in assessing tenure and promotion, “but they are not the sole factor in these decisions.”

Dr. Delores Mullings, an associate professor and Interim Dean Undergraduate Programs at Memorial University of Newfoundland, says she has been the subject of racism and gender bias throughout her career.the Globe and Mail

Delores Mullings is an associate professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador and Interim Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs. She has had problems with student evaluations her entire career. (She also happens to be one of only a handful of Black professors in the School of Social Work at a largely white university.)

A sample of recent feedback shows students remarking that Prof. Mullings should be “more approachable,” that she comes across as “intimidating” and that students did “not feel comfortable asking her questions.” Especially early in her career, it was not uncommon for students to openly question whether she had a PhD.

“You know you’re experiencing sexism and anti-Black racism, but they aren’t calling you the n-word or a bitch. So you can’t file any policy complaint,” she says.

Until recently, she says she felt unsupported by her superiors, who saw the student feedback as a problem she needed to fix.

For her entire academic life, Prof. Mullings has done things differently. She went back to school after working in sexual assault centres for much of her thirties. After earning her PhD, she couldn’t seem to land a faculty position and couldn’t understand what she was doing wrong.

She puts it down in part to a lack of mentorship for Black women. As a grad student, no one had told her she should be applying for research positions, which is where young academics learn to apply for grants and get some early publications under their belt.

Even after securing a faculty position at Memorial, Prof. Mullings struggled with funding. “My [first research proposals] weren’t good … because I didn’t know how to write them,” she says. There was an unspoken language that she didn’t know. She signed up for research application training and taught herself.


Explore The Globe’s Power Gap data on public-sector employers, by topic


Ryerson, Wilfrid Laurier University and York University – these three schools broke with the status quo in The Globe’s 20-year analysis. Each has more than 40 per cent women among all its six-figure earners. At Ryerson and Laurier, that ratio held even in the top 10 percentile earning bracket.

Going back to 1999, Ryerson’s gender divide was among the smallest in the province, a trend that continues today. York’s numbers have been edging toward parity at different levels since 2009.

But Laurier’s shift is new and dramatic. In 2014, women typically made up less than a quarter of employees in the top six salary brackets. Female staff was almost entirely concentrated in the lower salary bands. By 2019, nearly every level of the work force was nudging toward even.

Deborah MacLatchy, a biologist, came to Laurier as dean of the faculty of science in 2007. In 2009, she became vice-president academic and provost, the most senior executive position below the president. When the top job came open three years ago, she was initially reluctant to apply. She enjoyed her work as provost, and being a university president is all-consuming. But she knew she was in a strong position to compete, and she thought about what it would mean to younger women on staff to see her leading the institution.

Prof. MacLatchy is hesitant to name definitive reasons for Laurier’s recent success, because the school hasn’t conducted a proper study of the issue, but she has some theories.

First, there has been a very intentional effort to hire women, at least since she’s been there. For at least two decades, any hiring and promotions committee must include at least one female faculty member. (In recent years, this rule has been expanded to include equity more broadly, notably with the goal of adding more racial diversity to Laurier’s staff.) And when the school makes someone an offer, compensation is based on criteria such as their field, when they earned their PhD, how many years of post-doctoral work they completed, and what others in the department make.

“We know that negotiating can be gendered,” Prof. MacLatchy says. “There’s not a way to be a better negotiator with our process. We have walked away from candidates if we can’t come together on salary.”

Lastly, Laurier has had the opportunity to hire – a lot. Two decades ago, there were about 9,500 students and 300 faculty members. Today, there are about 22,000 students and 550 faculty.

“The ability to grow and do new hires during that period has allowed us to change the proportions based on gender within the faculty ranks,” Prof. MacLatchy says.

This is where smaller schools that are growing may have an advantage, she says.

Senior administrators at three research-focused universities, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of their institutions, acknowledge change at the top can be challenging because there’s no mandatory retirement age. Some people have been in high-paying, prestigious jobs for many years and aren’t interested in leaving. And in many cases, the school doesn’t want them to, because they attract funding, talent and overall prestige for the institution.

The data showed no consistent trend between the size of a university or its research reputation when it came to improving the gender imbalance in higher salary brackets.

It’s true that at the largest school, the University of Toronto, women made up 18 per cent of the top 10 percentile in 2009 and just 20 per cent by 2019. But smaller schools, such as Brock University, also marked limited progress, moving from 17 per cent to 18 per cent over that same time period. At the University of Ottawa, women’s representation actually backslid – from 28 per cent in 2009 to 20 per cent 10 years later.

In a statement, University of Ottawa spokesperson Isabelle Mailloux-Pulkinghorn noted the university’s senior leadership team now includes three women and two men at the vice-president level and that the school has been reviewing its hiring procedures to recruit a more diverse work force, especially among faculty. (The school has shown strong progress in other salary bands.)

The Globe has surveyed most universities across Canada about the gender gap in academia, and the majority said they’re making a concerted effort not just to hire more women but more diverse faculty in general. That’s a promise schools have been making for more than 20 years, however.

For spider researcher Prof. Andrade, the situation recently took on a new urgency. She sent her daughter off to university this year, and she found herself thinking: “Oh my God, how many more decades? Is she going to face the same thing?”

With reporting from Denise Balkissoon

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