Volume 96, Issue 92
Tuesday, March 25, 2003

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Female researchers cite inequality

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff

Female academics are claiming that a prestigious federal research award is biased against women.

A complaint was recently filed with the Human Rights Commission by a group of eight female academics; it alleges that the Canada Research Chair program discriminates against women, said David Robinson, associate director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Females make up approximately 27 per cent of faculty in Canada, however, they are only receiving 16 per cent of the federal research awards, Robinson confirmed.

The reason for this bias stems from the federal government's lack of foresight in regards to establishing consideration towards female researchers for nomination to the program, Robinson said. Professors are nominated by university administrations, which tend to favour research intensive academics and ignore the fact that women tend to take more time off for family reasons, he said.

The federal government has also not bound universities to the Employment Equity Act, which allows certain considerations for women, Robinson added.

The chairs are actually awarded to the universities and the universities nominate professors for the award, noted Rene Durocher, executive director of the Canada Research Chair program, adding the request is then reviewed by a board of three experts.

"There is no discrimination whatsoever," Durocher stated, adding the real problem lies in the fact that the board does not receive enough requests from universities for female candidates.

Over the past several years, universities have been asked to consider more female professors for the awards, taking into account the fact that many female academics are younger than their male colleagues and to heighten recruitment efforts to get more women into university faculties, Durocher said.

At Western, 57 per cent of the awards given to the social science and humanities faculties have been granted to women, who, as a whole, compose 30 per cent of the faculty. In the health sciences, eight per cent of the awards went to women, whereas 23 per cent of the faculty are women, said Ted Hewitt, associate-VP research at Western.

"At Western, generally the proportions are favourable," Hewitt stated, adding that Western administration has recognized problems with representation in the health sciences and still has some awards that have yet to be distributed.

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2002 THE GAZETTE