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.
12 years ago