“It’s not perfect, but the needle has moved”

Women in academic STEM continue to face gendered challenges despite decades of progress

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) has published the final installment of the Women in Academia Project. “It’s not perfect, but the needle has moved”: Women’s Experiences in Academic STEM is a qualitative look at the personal experiences of women faculty, graduate students and former graduate students. Drawing on the experiences of women in these three groups over the course of 59 interviews makes this study unique in the Canadian context.

Despite progress both within universities and in society more broadly, the findings of this report reveal that women in academic STEM continue to face gendered challenges. Interviewees describe a system that is changing too slowly and feel that sexist beliefs continue to negatively influence their experiences. However, the women also report an increasing awareness of gender bias that is improving the work climate. There was agreement on these shifts amongst women at different stages of their careers which is a positive development.

Based on the interviews and findings, HEQCO has the following recommendations for institutions:

  • Embrace accountability and institutional self-evaluation to ensure policies and practices are effective and relevant. Expand equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives and strive for more transparent and open data sharing.
  • Focus on supervisory relationships: review, update and implement guidelines for successful supervisor/student relationships.
  • Pay attention to the academic pipeline and encourage more women into and through STEM.

The fact that gender equity gaps exist in Canada is clear. It is vital that institutional leaders act now to ensure progress is made and that institutional values around gender equity are consistently upheld.

With the Women in Academia Project HEQCO branched out into a new type of research venture, one that was designed to be more interactive and include different types of resources. This approach allowed readers to explore current and historical gender disparity among faculty at Ontario’s universities and gain insight into the situations faced by women in the field. Previous reports explored the background of this issue and incorporated responsive data visualizations to examine trends in the representation of women in full-time university faculty positions in Ontario.