Monday, May 24, 2010

CERCular Reasoning & Excellent Men

The purpose of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program is "to attract Canadian and international leading scientists" in critical areas of research: "environmental sciences and technologies; natural resources and energy; health and related life sciences and technologies; and information and communications technologies."

Recently, nineteen CERCs were chosen after ".. a rigorous peer review and selection board process". This process involves a first stage, in which Canadian universities vied for the opportunity to get one of these Chairs, and a second stage, in which the selected universities "nominate leading researchers.. The final selection of chairholders is made by a selection board and based on the highest standards of research excellence."

In an article on May 18 in The Globe & Mail, the results of the program are described, including the fact that Canada was able to "poach" leading researchers from other countries and lure them to Canada with the millions of research $$ associated with these Chairs. The article effuses about the aggressive program of luring top researchers:

For Ottawa, it was one of the biggest bets on scientific research in a generation. But for the man at the centre of Canada’s worldwide drive to recruit top scientists, it was a “ballsy” play that at times resembled a bidding war for NHL free agents.

These CERC chairs are referred to by the following terms: star researchers, renowned scientists, foreign researchers, and, more generically, as "individuals", or simply "these people".

Two days later, The Globe & Mail realizes that it might want to mention that "these people" are all men. In fact, there were no women on the short list of 36. (see also another article on this topic)

That there were no women on the short list might have been the first clue that there weren't going to be any women in the final list.

Government officials noted that there was no "deliberate attempt" to exclude women. It just happened that way.

Well, that's fine then! As long as no one said "Let's not nominate any women for these lucrative and prestigious positions", then everything must be fine.

There are lots of comments on The Globe & Mail article, including the usual lame ones stating that the lack of women is not a problem because there are no qualified women in these fields, women are whiners to complain about being excluded etc. etc. Can we assume that these particular commenters are qualified to make this statement about the lack of qualified women?

I am having trouble believing that there are no qualified women among all the scientists in the entire world in the above listed fields. Was is really not possible to come up with a global short list of ~40 scientists that included at least a few women based on their accomplishments as researchers in the fields relevant to the CERC program?

Let's assume, just for fun, that there are qualified women. Why didn't any women make it through the rigorous selection process, not even making it as far as the short-list, not to mention the 19 finalists? Some possibilities listed in the article are:

..the tight deadlines for the competition, the areas picked for research and a competition where candidates on the short list had only a 50 per cent chance of winning probably all worked against female candidates.

I must say that none of those reasons are very convincing to me. Can someone explain the "tight deadline" reason to me with respect to why that would work against the inclusion of (qualified) women on the short list? And the areas picked for research? Are there really no female "star researchers" in "health and related life sciences and technologies"? Are the CERC men really so awesome that there are no women of that caliber anywhere in these fields of research? Even in "health and related life sciences and technologies"?

I also read that there are so few women in these fields that naturally the chances were lower for a woman to be selected. But give women 10 more years, and watch out! We'll be well represented then. The funny thing is, I've been hearing that since I was in grad school, more than 20 years ago. And I still don't believe that a short list of 36 "top researchers" in the world contained no women because there are so few women in these fields.

And then there's the women aren't flexible enough in their personal and professional lives to make a big move such as required by the CERC program explanation. Evidence: The University of Manitoba approached one woman researcher but she withdrew herself from consideration because of "personal reasons".

Alas, women had one shot at a CERC, and that opportunity was blown. Women have such complicated personal lives; there's probably no point in even nominating any women. [<-- sarcasm, in case you aren't sure]

I would be curious to know more about the personal situations of the 19 excellent CERC men. Do any have wives with academic positions or other difficult-to-move careers, and, if so, what happened to them?

And whatever happened to the stereotype of the single woman researcher monomaniacally dedicated to her research at the expense of everything else. Couldn't the CERC panel dig up some of those?

And can someone explain the 50% reason mentioned above? The short list consisted entirely of men, resulting in a 100% chance that the final list would be 100% men, so presumably the 50% reference is to some pre-short list stage of the selection process. Women only apply for prestigious big-money positions if there is a >50% chance of success? That will be news to many women researchers worldwide who routinely submit proposals to funding agencies with success rates of <<50%.

Anyway, lest anyone think I am bashing Canada, let me briefly note that I have longstanding personal and professional connections with Canada. Part of my family is Canadian. One of my relatives is the answer to a Canadian Trivial Pursuits question. I have lived in Canada. Some of my best friends are Canadian. I have been to all but some of the more remote provinces. I enjoyed a trip to Saskatoon not long ago. In February. I like Canada and Canadians.

But, like the US and other parts of the world, academia in Canada seems to be at a stage where, as long as no one is saying out loud "Hey, let's not hire any women" or "Let's deliberately exclude women from this lucrative and prestigious program", many will say there is no problem or, least, not a big problem.

I find it as disturbing as ever, however, that anyone with any real knowledge of the science and technology fields could sincerely say about the lack of women in a program like CERC: "It just happened that way", or "This type of program had various aspects that did not appeal to women researchers" or even "There are no qualified women anywhere in the world in these fields" (as is clearly proven by the lack of any women among the 19 selected CERCs).

That type of reasoning is rather CERCular.

62 comments:

Anne M. Archibald said...

I agree that something went badly wrong. But I think it's worth noting that I've heard about it from several different sources now, and it's being viewed as a national embarrassment here in Canada. So I don't think it's quite fair to say people think there's no problem. Just what the problem is is less clear...

Enginerd said...

The worst part is, I think, that a lot of Canadians think that gender discrimination is a thing of the past that just doesn't happen anymore. It seems like there's a big disconnect in peoples' heads between the way they think Canada should be, or is, and the way that it actually is. I can't count the number of conversations I've had where people tell me that women get it easy because engineers and scientists are so eager to give us jobs to make their numbers look good, or something. And I know plenty of people who wouldn't see a problem with those articles and would just think that all of the qualified candidates happened to be men, no big deal. I'm sure a lot of the panelists that picked the chairs would disagree that it was discrimination too, just because they didn't make an effort to be discriminatory or they themselves don't (realize that they) think of women as inferiours.

Given the broad scope of the research chairs, it really is disappointing that they didn't even short-list any women. Thanks for writing so well about this, I read about it a few days ago but the full disappointingness of it all took a while to sink in.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

...the tight deadlines for competition... Puh-leez. Because women are - what? Hormonally impaired from meeting deadlines?

This ranks right up there with one I heard this summer, about why there are so few women professors in university faculties in Exotic Research Country: apparently, it's because "getting a doctorate is an endurance contest."

So, our lack of representation is due to the fact that (a) we can't get things done quickly, or (b) we can't do things over long periods of time. Take your pick. Either way, it's our fault.

David Stern said...

There are 2 women here:

http://www.arc.gov.au/ncgp/laureate/laureate_outcomes.htm

which is Australia's equivalent award?

Anonymous said...

I'm Canadian, living abroad for the past 2.5 years. Comparing my experiences, I'd say Canadians have their heads in the sand. They think they have an equal society. To actually believe otherwise would be to go against the laid-back mindset that the society is trying to cultivate: un-Canadian if you will. By encouraging this mindset, the status-quo is strengthened.
I thought the old-boy stuffiness would go away when the baby-boomers started to retire and young people were brought in. The young people (men) are actually worse, and more narrow-minded.
Comparing with other places in which I have lived, the overt discrimination in Germany is easier to recognize and deal with. Just show some balls and you're instantly more feared and credible than the mainly compliant, haus-frau women researchers here. I'm not sure about the US. It's far more diverse than Canada. In Canada, conformity and decorum is the only way to get ahead. Having said that, I do hope to end up back there one day. Not as a member of a prestigious chair, just as a regular prof is good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

One of the British 'stars' that they recruited does have an academic wife. She got a mention in the last two lines of the newspaper article that I read - apparently they offered her a position at the same university.

CdnFemSciProf said...

The reasons given for the lack of women among the 36 CERC finalists are not real reasons. Suzanne Fortier is typically quoted and, as President of NSERC - Canada's science and engineering funding agency - she likely does not want to discredit the program in any way. Not that this excuses her demoralizing message - I find her response shameful. One could say things in such a way so as not to embarrass the government, without pretending that senior outstanding women do not exist.

The process was very informal - basically the Departments or groups chosen by the universities to compete for these positions just thought of potential star recruits. Since the timeframe was short, it helped if someone knew of a top researcher who might be likely to move. So, it was a lot of 'who you know' and 'what you've heard', and I think such an informal process favours the status quo and works against women and other underrepresented groups.

More generally, since the mindset in each unit was to recruit that one star who would get up to 10 times more funding than anyone else and who would be expected to quickly build a large group and perhaps oversee hiring of new young faculty in his/her area, I think there likely was some unconscious "star leader = a man" association.

I find the whole premise of the government's and Suzanne Fortier's approach to the problem infuriating. They have framed it as "how can one include some women without lowering standards". With some foresight and effort, they could have recruited some women who are at least as good as these men. If Fortier or others realize this, they certainly are not saying so publicly.

Anonymous said...

"The academic “old boys club,” also was a factor. With limited time to
find and court top researchers, universities resorted to “informal
processes” to find candidates, the study finds. “These informal outreach
processes may have involved senior researchers identifying potential
nominees from among their international peers,” it says."

This is taken from one of the articles you cite, and I think it is the
main problem with the advancement of women in science, at least in
places where moreblatant examples of sexism have been removed.

Women do well when their performance is analyzed objectively, but sadly
this doesn't always correlate with prestige, and along a career this
leads to an incremental loss of opportunities that makes it difficult to compete with equally talented male peers that are working inside the networks.

Regards,

zed said...

This is a fantastic post! Thank you! Canada is a great country full of smart and thoughtful academics, it's 2010- this shouldn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Wow Canada, wow. Way to fail. Sounds like the usual "old boy's club" bullshit. sigh...

justin said...

I'm a Canadian and I think this was a disgusting disgrace. Please, bash away.

These positions really are prestigious around here: In the social sciences they come with annual grants 3x the size of standard grants. (I don't know how the natural sciences compares.)

A Canadian Scientist said...

Not that I think it is a good thing that there are no women on the list, or that this is even a good excuse, but I can tell you that at my department, we were mostly looking for older profs (so that this would be kind of a last hurrah to establish a nice program and leave behind a legacy). The CERC money is serious money, but it only lasts 7 years, so we didn't want someone who would stay 7 years then move on when the money ran out. Our targets were in the 58 to 68 age range, and alas, there are few women profs in science in that age group. I say this coming from a STEM department that is well above the norm in tenured female faculty, where diversity in hiring has been a priority.

Personally, I think it is embarrassing for Canadian science that we couldn't even find one woman that is "qualified".

Anonymous said...

I am a Canadian woman assistant professor, and I think that this is quite shameful. Perhaps there are not that many women at the right stage of their careers, but even if there were only 10% women, where are the 4 that one would expect to see nominated? That being said, I don't think that there was a systematic exclusion. I think that there was a combination of factors that accidentally led to this (not necessarily excusable factors though):

(i) The good old boys factor - I bet that people tended to nominate people they already knew, friends etc. If 90% of senior people in these departments are men then likely most senior people's buddies are also men.
(ii) This thing is really not that good a deal for a high profile US researcher. Fine, so you get 10-15 mil over the next 7 years for your group. This is not even that much for a super duper scientist in the US. But after 7 years, what? Do you just have to live on the CAD 80,000/year that NSERC gives you as a senior researcher and line up at the bottom of the queue as a non-american for US money? I wonder if TOP women would be attracted to this. It is more like a 7 years here then move proposition. I don't think TOP US men would have been attracted. A lot of European countries are still behind US and Canada in terms of percentage of senior women.
(iii) For the NEAR the TOP women, perhaps they do have complicated lives and the move here then move out proposition is not that sweet.

sorelle said...

If only there was a listing including the top women in the world in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine...

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html


Or maybe a list of top Computer Scientists that includes women?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_Award

Heath said...

Considering the fact that around 45% of life science PhDs now go to women it does seem bizarre that a group could do something like this. I am a male and just beginning the graduate school process but I think that a high level of diversity in a department or research group is a big plus(academic background, race, sex, personality all included.) Not only will each person bring their own perspectives and ideas but each faculty member is also someone that a new student can potentially connect with. I had a couple of professor in my undergrad career that I connected with and that experience played a big part in my success as an undergrad and my decision to continue on to graduate school.

Anonymous said...

First, I have to applaud the investment in research. There's a lot of research on how women have to have far better credentials than men to be seen as equals - a mostly unconscious bias since I will give people the benefit of the doubt that most want to be unbiased. This is a real problem. However, my PhD advisor had an interesting perspective - he and his wife are both professors. When he was looking for a job he applied and considered the effects of moving etc. once he got an offer. When she was applying she discussed the effects of the move before sending in an application - that resulted in a lot fewer offers. I can see where this difference would affect the selection process for CERC chairs. The women may opt out of the process because they don't plan to move, whereas the men will apply even if they don't plan to move, but when an offer comes it may be too good to pass up. I think it was the Chronicle that had an article a while back about men sacrificing a lot more than women for academic "status" even when that status isn't objectively worth the cost.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I forwarded it to several Canadian friends/colleagues (male and female).

Mark P

Anonymous said...

Presumably there's a long list. Could you get the (anonymized) reviews of some of the women and men who didn't make it to the short list and see what the reasoning was?

How many women were on the long list? It sounds like you had to apply to the program, so perhaps higher-qualified women are more content at their current jobs than high-level men?

Anonymous said...

One data point: my university (Western Ontario) has also hired the spouse of its new CERC chairholder. She is also a scientist; it is not clear from the news release whether they work together.

Anonymous said...

(the "satisfaction" reasoning is entirely testable, although it needs to not be linked to this article in order to keep the study valid. One could take N randomly-chosen male and female researchers across the world, ask their peers how they rank in their field, and ask the subjects themselves to complete a survey to gauge their satisfaction with their current position. The problem with the survey is that it'll likely tend be completed more often by dissatisfied than with satisfied subjects. This will amplify any difference by some perhaps unknowable amount, although the null result (i.e. no difference in satisfaction) would not be.

We can do it. We have the technology. ;)

John V said...

A couple of reasons this issue is not simple:

The cited and ridiculed reasons for a shortage of women in the candidates and winners was compiled by the 3 senior women who reviewed the results, not the reporters, CERC people, nor readers.

Short lead time does seem plausible to me in favoring the "good old boys", although the strength of the effect would be hard to assess.

The 50% success rate seems irrelevant. The only way I can conceive of it working is if some women feared being token nominees with little chance of success in the finals. 50% is a high success rate, not a low one.

The choice of subjects clearly has some male-dominated aspected, but not a 36-0 edge, although I don't know the numbers.

Factoring in also could be the perceived likelihood of the candidate moving. Both men and women with spouses with unique jobs would be harder to move. It might be interesting to see what fraction of the male candidates have more moveable wives than "normal" for superstars. I'd guess if the candidate declines, the position goes to another university, another market force arguing for conservation choices.

Adding an element of "rising stars" is a fundamental change. Taken to a finer grain, my university would be willing to invest much more to get the proven leader of a large and overhead-rich research group than someone with the potential to attain that stature in the future.

We're fortunate (for fixing it) that the experiment was done on a large enough sample (36) that the disparities are clearly not just noise in the measurement.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about this!

I'm an American currently on faculty at a Canadian university and have been fuming about the lack of female CERCs for the past week.

In general, I've found the resources put into increasing the participation of women in science in Canada to be very weak, relative to what the US spends through programs such as NSF-ADVANCE.

Anonymous said...

PS in case we're feeling smug, that the EXACT same thing happened with the first round of NIH PIONEER awards

Mark P

Anonymous said...

Another data point: My husband was recruited for one of the chairs. We did not pursue the opportunity, but the department seemed prepared to do just about anything to accommodate spouses (e.g., faculty position with early promotion). Thus, dual-careers issues may have been minimized.

Squeaky_Brakes said...

As a Canadian who had spent part of his childhood in the US, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments. I further find fault that there appears to be a lack of visible minorities in the selected chairs.

As much as Canada would like to present itself as a progressive, gender neutral, and multi-cultural society, the fact remains that Canada is fundamentally quite backwards, sexist, and racist -- this is not a reflection of all Canadians, but those in positions to makes these high-impact decisions.

The problem with the CERC results lies in the "committees" who made the decisions. As much as the "Globe and Mail" article would like to booster the credibility of these committees, and imply that the process of selecting these chairs was stringent,comprehensive, fair and unbiased, I would hazard a guess and perhaps bet a few dollars (either US or CAD since they are on par) that these committees are filled with elderly, white men -- herein lies the problem: the decision makers in our society are older white men who grew up in an era where women and visible minorities are perceived as lesser members of society.

As a current member of the academia world in Canada, I would strongly disagree that the current climate favors men, but quite the opposite. Statistically, women are enrolled in greater numbers in graduate studies in most of the sciences and in professional schools such as medicine and dentistry. In terms of fellowship funding, women are being funded on par if not slightly more (well the past few years anyways).

The CERC result is a reflection of the "old ghouls" still in control of our country's decision making and they are out-of-trend with the current efforts of gender and race equality.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous American in Canada here again.

I also wanted to note that the heavy university filter on this process--going through the "who you know" network rather than openly soliciting applications--strikes me as both representative of the Canadian process for these things, and quite disadvantageous to women (who often fare poorly on a scale of "perceived brilliance", even if their record is very strong).

Also, the comparison to the NIH pioneers is very interesting, but this is the SECOND time this has happened up here. Women were also underrepresented in earlier Canada Research Chair competitions because universities (there's the filter again!) nominated few women.

Anonymous said...

At least people are outraged at this disparity. Could you imagine if there was a lack of homosexual nominees...would anyone care/know?

Women, african americans, and latinos are all considered underrepresented, and are therefore helped in the process of receiving grants and awards designed to encourage underrepresented groups.

What about discrimination against those with different sexualities? While not as apparent as a gender or skin-color difference, it can still be an issue, and no agencies are currently encouraging this type of representation in STEM fields. Thus, there are other minorities we should also be considering in the underrepresented pool with the same amount of outrage when they are discriminated against.

female Science Professor said...

You can view the selection board by following the first link in the article.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a good post. The question is not why the old boys club, if it exists, is so effective. It is why the old girls club or the lets not ignore any source of good scientific talent club, if they exist, are ineffective. Another valid question is whether anyone at the granting agency was paying attention. Apparently Canadian women scientific leaders are not strategic enough and bold enough to head off such situations before half of society is missing from a short-list, let alone a final list of appointments that grant future competitive advantage to their holders. As in "Twelve Angry Men"(!) it only requires one reasonable and persistent doubter to avoid groupthink and produce a better decision-making process.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a good post. The question is not why the old boys club, if it exists, is so effective. It is why the old girls club or the lets not ignore any source of good scientific talent club, if they exist, are ineffective. Another valid question is whether anyone at the granting agency was paying attention. Apparently Canadian women scientific leaders are not strategic enough and bold enough to head off such situations before half of society is missing from a short-list, let alone a final list of appointments that grant future competitive advantage to their holders. As in "Twelve Angry Men"(!) it only requires one reasonable and persistent doubter to avoid groupthink and produce a better decision-making process.

grumpy said...

wow, what a huge mistake not to catch (and rectify) this earlier in the process.

geekmommyprof said...

What's sad is that I am not even surprised...

I think I would be more surprised (and pleasantly so) if it had been 19 CERC of which 5 were women. It would actually surprise me that one such search (for very prestigious chairs/awards) actually went with proper regard for unconscious bias and measures taken to counteract it.

Sort of like it would surprise me if my kid would brush his teeth properly on his own, without me having to pinpoint what he missed and insist he does it again better and more carefully...

Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:55 forgets to mention that Canadian grants are not subject to any overhead. In Canada, for example, a grad student will typically cost you the cost of his RA + lab supplies. Not a cent more. In the USA, the cost would be RA plus cost of lab space + office space +50% overhead for all of that, plus the portion of your three months summer salary as supervisor.

To compare US and Canadian grants you need a multiplier between 2 and five depending on your institution.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:24: Anon at 8:55 here . Fine. Multiply 80,000 by 5 - you get 400,000. This is hardly the income of a TOP US research group. The bottom line is: in my field (Chemistry) there are no groups in Canada with 20+ grad students and 20+ postdocs. There are a lot of those groups in the US. There is lots of good science done in Canada, but let us not pretend that the levels of funding for top people approach those in the US, no matter how you do the Math.

EuropeanFemaleScienceProfessor said...

Our governmental funding agency has just announced what I feel is a great program to get the number of women professors increased. No, not the usual stuff.

Just plain money.

For any woman hired to a lifetime position, the government promises to pay the university 1 1/2 times her salary. For life. That's a lot of spending money.

When I spoke with the chancellor about this, he had Euros dancing in his eyes as I noted that we had a shortlist with only women. He then announced: I only want to hire women this year.

Anonymous said...

Well, from experience when open statements mentioning the phrase, "due to a tight-deadline", it ususally means that either all the 'desired' or 'pre-notified' (as in having been notified of the opportunity WAY ahead of the starting application date) potential applicants had already submitted their forms and so they don't want any more. It happens a lot more than people often than people may be aware of. Still, I'm not saying all programs are like this but they are generally the ones with relatively long application periods. Shorter periods are more indicative of tactical employment of buddies.

Ann said...

I remember a woman colleague telling me about going to a conference in Canada and being told by another (male) attendee that while he was glad to see some women at the conference, he was awfully glad that Canada hadn't gone all overboard with affirmative action the way they had in the US...

Old Biddy said...

This is pretty depressing. Around 15 years ago, it seemed that the Canadian schools were hiring more women than their US counterparts, at least in chemistry. I'm sad to see that it's regressed and that so little effort was made to identify talented women for the short list.
I saw one blog that attributed it to women being less likely to want to relocate. Uh, WTF?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:55, this is Anon 12:24. Your figures are still quite a bit off. For one, individual NSERC grants in Chemistry top out at $190K, not $80K (look it up).

As well a researcher of CERC caliber would have no problem obtaining an NSERC strategic grant ($200K a year) as well as a CFI equipment grant for a million dollars every five years.

So now we are talking $400K*5+200K*2=$2,400,000 a year. This might still be below the level of the very top US grants, but a hell of a lot closer than what your original figure of $80K a year implied.

Anonymous said...

...these committees are filled with elderly, white men

This comment is in itself quite ignorant and racist. By now most such senior committees in Canada have countless foreigners as well as women representatives. It tars a group of people, just because of their race, with a single brush. This is the epitome of racism.

Anonymous said...

An example of the good old boys club.. my university (US, R1) is working on hiring a group of people in a specific topic on a short time frame. At one of the planning meetings to discuss which applicants were worth pursuing, an elderly male suggested we ask 'people in the know if the field who they would suggest.. that's the way we used to do it'

To the credit of the younger men in the room, one of them stated, 'yep, and on those job ads we obviously didn't say equal opportunity employer'. It was nice to see that some people do get it.. and, because he was a male it didn't lead to the normal angry discussion that would have followed if I had said it

CdnFemSciProf said...

Re Anon 03:20, I agree that comment is tasteless, but if one looks beyond the stereotyping, there is some content in the point raised.

First, the 36 all male nominations were made by universities. The CERC committee had the job of selecting 19 men from a list of 36 men.

If you look at the departments which did the work of coming up with a proposal, thinking of names, trying to recruit the top candidate(s) -- i.e. the people who collectively nominated 36 men and 0 women -- they likely were mostly white men, simply because that is what most (but not all) science and engineering departments in Canada look like.

Note there are only 2 visible minorities among the 19, one originally from India and one originally from Iran. The latter will join an engineering department at McMaster where 50% of the full faculty are originally from Muslim countries. Coincidence? Perhaps. However, it is depressing that Canadian departments do seem to be getting CERCs which look like most of the senior people in their department, and that applies to both gender and race.

The CERC committees and the government do deserve blame however. This was predictable given the informal nature of the hiring. Had they required universities to submit a list of potential names along with their original proposals (of which there were more than 100) the committee could have checked these to see if universities were treating underrepresented groups equally or only placing names on the list which reinforced the status quo. Furthermore, they could have then provided feedback on diversity issues at this earlier stage to ensure universities were aware and equipped to do their best to land the best person, truly irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation,... However, anyone who knows our government, knows they would not do that and so they are rightly reaping the fallout from their lack of leadership on this issue.

Both universities and the government and its committees are at fault in this. And, that includes the President of NSERC and the President of Alberta.

Kea said...

Those female government apologists should hang their heads in shame.

John V said...

re anon@4:12

I was reading along, nodding, until I came to this:

Furthermore, they could have then provided feedback on diversity issues at this earlier stage to ensure universities were aware and equipped to do their best to land the best person, truly irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation.

This entire problem has been identified solely by the metric of gender distribution (i.e., 36-0), and will likely be solved by the supervision of making sure the gender distribution is greatly improved at every stage next time.

I understand the goal of an absolutely optimal gender-blind process, but it doesn't look like Canada (or anywhere) is getting the hoped-for gender distribution that way any time soon.

Anonymous said...

they likely were mostly white men, simply because that is what most (but not all) science and engineering departments in Canada look like.


You mean white men such as Mona Nemer, VP Research, Ottawa U, Luce Samoisette, President, U Sherbrooke, Feridun Hamdullahpur, Provost, U Waterloo, Christiane Piche, Assoc VP Research, U Laval, Cheryl Misak, Provost, U Toronto, or Martha Crago, VP Research, Dalhousie, ???

Look, I am as embarrassed as anyone else in that there were no women there. Not one in the 19 finalist would have been bad enough, none in the list of 36 is outrageous. However I do not use that as an excuse to utter racist comments about the committees which selected the candidates.

They failed to select women because they are sexist (perhaps inadvertently so), not because they are white nor because they are men.

Anonymous said...

Those female government apologists should hang their heads in shame.

I don't see any of those here. A few have pondered how could this have happened. I.e. where the process failed.

So many things had to go wrong for this to happen: not a single committee out of 36 selected a woman; not one university sent their candidates back saying "get a woman"?; not one of the more senior bureaucrats with access to the entire list said "hey this is just not right, no minorities no women in this day and age?", the minister himself didn't hold on the list and say "hold on to this until we have a woman", etc.

We can do grandstanding here, with might make some feel better but will fix absolutely nothing. Alternatively the Canadians in the readership may, after some introspection and pondering, think about what can be changed in practice to prevent a repeat occurrence. We are all part of this process, since I believe the readership of FSP's blogs is composed of academics, so it is up to us to change it.

Anonymous said...

Yes it is an unfortunate outcome. An NSF Advance type program is urgently needed in Canada!

A silver lining of the situation is that the women whom are now on the job market may well benefit from this....

Kea said...

A silver lining of the situation is that the women whom are now on the job market may well benefit from this ...

ROFLOL ... ROFLOL ... yeah, right. I'm in Theoretical Physics.

Anonymous said...

An NSF Advance type program is urgently needed in Canada!


You mean the NSERC Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering Program or the 1999-2008 University Faculty Awards which covered the first five years of any female hire in an area where they are underrepresented?

CDNscientistAbroad said...

What confuses me, and perhaps I have missed something here, is why NSERC would create such a prestigious set of awards, and then have such a quick rush to fill the chairs. WHY the rush? Why not take the time to do a careful search, and do it right? That part seems suspicious to me, but then again, maybe I missed something here.

It certainly seems that this rushed, through-your-local-department/University scheme of nomination worked against equal representation.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the first round of NIH (US) Pioneer Awards went only to men. Then the PROCESS was changed. Initially, the candidates were nominated by others. Now, any one can apply and the applications are evaluated for Pioneeritude. Since 2004, 30% of the Pioneer awards have gone to women.

Anonymous said...

In the case of gender-blind hiring do applicants get codes rather than use their names? I would have thought that names would almost immediately give away the gender of the applicant...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:49--the UFAs are gone and (according to my contacts at NSERC) aren't coming back.

The engineering chairs are focused on, well, engineering (as the chair who I met last year admitted to me). That's great, but it is not a broad-based effort to support the participation of women in science in creative ways. Hence the reference to ADVANCE.

Anonymous said...

Why the rush?

So far I've heard of no good reason for the rush. Likely some sort of political calculation... is the conservative government expecting an election in the summer, perhaps? did they want to get them through before an economic (and presumably cost-cutting) update on the budget? Others?

As you said, a slower process but have meant less reliance on the old boys network.

Anonymous said...

I think that the university filter is a huge issue. At my CanUni, almost everything but NSERC Strategic and Discovery grants go through a university filter. What that means is that if you aren't perceived as brilliant in your local context (and many women aren't--just look at the pay disparities within most universities), then you'll never make it into the pool of nominees.

Rosie Redfield said...

It's deja vu all over again. About 10 years ago, the people administering the Canada Research Chairs program were shocked (shocked!) to discover how few recipients were women.

Anonymous said...

About 10 years ago, the people administering the Canada Research Chairs program were shocked (shocked!) to discover how few recipients were women.

While some people tried to make hay out of the number of women in the original CRC chair allocation, the issue was a lot less clear cut.

In fact, when the numbers were examined in closer detail the representation of women at the each level (CRCs come in senior and junior versions) was close to the expected value when adjusting for seniority. That is the percentage of senior female CRC holders was about the same order as the percentage of female full professors. Ditto for junior CRC and assistant professors.

In the end the only decision was to increment the number of junior chairs, to give an opportunity for women to raise to the top tiers.

Contrast this with the current CERC situation where the proportions are totally out of whack.

Anonymous said...

I used the UK Royal Society and the US Nat Acad as a very conservative index of how many 'star' women one would expect to be eligible for this type of award. It's around 10%.

If you use a binomial calculator to see what the chances are of getting 36 zeros, just by sheer chance, when for each nomination there was a 10% chance of getting a terrific woman... hmmmm.... p = 0.022.

So really, no-one can claim this was just 'one of those things': it really is bias!

Georgia (UoGuelph -- but thankfully not Canadian...)

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to what ratio of women is like amongst top researchers? I looked at the top 100 authors by h-index in my field (computer science) and only found 4 women. I don't know what the figure would be like in other fields.

I believe that women were under-represented in the CERC program, but by how much? If appropriate representation should have been maybe 1 or 2, then this is minor. If it should have been 5 or 6, then its a serious issue.

Anonymous said...

I will probably look sexist, but I will say what it seems to me to be the case. The mean quality of female scientists is above the mean quality of a male ones, but the variance is lower. So even if we had equal number of male and female professors, I would expect more males at the top (and also at the bottom).

Anonymous said...

Anon at CanUni (but also thankfully not Canadian) here--It might be useful to flip this on its head and ask why men were OVERrepresented in the CERC pool, given that they clearly (can we all agree) do not make up 100% of excellent scientists.

Anonymous said...

"For any woman hired to a lifetime position, the government promises to pay the university 1 1/2 times her salary. For life. That's a lot of spending money."

What portions of Europe?

I'm looking for a permanent, possibly faculty job. Hopefully I don't have to compete against a woman, since my dad gave me a Y instead of an X. :(

Either that, or weight my applications less toward Europe since I needn't waste my time. *sigh*

I really hope I don't stay stuck in postdochood forever. My family can't maintain the uncertainty and we need to get on with our lives. Between this and other things I've heard, I'm very very very uncertain about what my future holds. :( :(