anada’s liberal government was officially sworn in last
year on a bright and unseasonably warm November day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emerged from Rideau Hall
to present his new cabinet to the cheering crowd that had
gathered on the grounds of the Governor General’s residence.
With 15 men and 15 women, he boasted it was the first gen-der-balanced ministerial team in the country’s history and
“a cabinet that looks like Canada.” When asked why gender
parity was important, the prime minister replied with his
now famous quip: “Because it’s 2015.”
Despite the positive gesture, gender parity remains a concern in the political arena and indeed in most other spheres.
In the corporate world, women hold only a third of senior management
positions and account for one-fifth of board seats at major Canadian corporations, according to Catalyst Canada, a research and advocacy organization that promotes the advancement of women in the workplace.
The halls of academia are no exception, although at some levels
women’s advancement in higher education has been a success story. Gender parity in student enrolment at Canadian universities was reached in
the late 1980s and since then women have come to outnumber men in
undergraduate and master’s studies; at the PhD level, women account for
nearly half of students. Women also represent half of sessional instructors and more than 42 percent of assistant professors, according to a 2012
report on gender by the Council of Canadian Academies.
But go higher up the ladder and the story takes a different and all-too-familiar turn. Only 36 percent of associate professors and about 22 percent of full professors are women, the same study notes. Over the 133-year
history of the prestigious Royal Society of Canada, only three of its 113
presidents have been women. And the number of women who have led
the three major research granting councils can be counted on one hand.
The numbers are equally bleak in the ranks of senior administrators.
A study on university leadership by David Turpin, president of the Uni-
versity of Alberta, found that the proportion of women university presi-
dents rose to about 20 percent in the mid-1990s. Since then, despite some
minor fluctuations up and down, that level has held more or less steady
ever since (see Figure 1, page 26). As of September 1, 19 of the 97 member
universities of Universities Canada are led by women ( 19. 6 percent).
The figures are no better outside Canada’s borders. Data from the
2015-16 Times Higher Education World University Rankings show that
just 33 of the top 200 universities in the world ( 16. 5 percent) are headed
by women – including Canada’s own McGill University, led by Suzanne
Fortier. This is actually an improvement from the 28 universities ( 14 percent) led by women in the 2014-15 top-200 ranking.
in fairness, women’s contributions to university leadership are more significant than the numbers would suggest. In Canada, women have held the
presidency of degree-granting institutions since the early 1900s, although
at the time they were relegated to the Catholic-run, women-only schools
like Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. In a 2004 speech to the
Canadian High Commission in London, Lorna Marsden, past president of
York University and Wilfrid Laurier University, remarked that the Sisters
of Charity who founded and ran MSVU were pioneers in academic administration and curriculum design but weren’t acknowledged as such, overshadowed as they were by their male counterparts and the higher-profile
institutions they ran.
It took much longer for women to emerge as leaders outside of MSVU.
The first woman appointed president of a co-ed university was the formidable Pauline Jewett, who assumed the helm of Simon Fraser University
in 1974. In her biography of the late Dr. Jewett, Pauline Jewett: A Passion for
Canada, Judith McKenzie, political science professor at the University of
Guelph, paints a vivid portrait of her presidency and ambitious agenda.
Among Dr. Jewett’s priorities were to hire Canadian academics at a time
when they were often ignored in favour of their U.S. and U.K. counterparts;
to expand student access beyond the traditional economic and social elites;
and to bring pay levels of female academics in line with those of their
male colleagues. But she ran up against fierce resistance and criticism.
Before making the move to SFU, Dr. Jewett had been one of the few
women members of Parliament “and was no stranger to patriarchal institutions,” writes Dr. McKenzie. “Yet none of her experiences had prepared
“[Pauline Jewett] was mar-
ginalized and seen as an
outsider, although by her
extensive academic back-
ground she should not
have been seen that way.”
Lorna Marsden, past president of York University
and Wilfrid Laurier University