In order to avoid another embarrassing episode of sexism laid bare, as happened when the CERC results were announced (19 awards and no women? – but we’re not sexist!), universities are required to demonstrate their commitment to equity:
In order to ensure that gender equity issues are considered in an institution’s decision to support a given applicant, proposed host institutions will be required to confirm their commitment to gender equity and involve institutional equity officers (or equivalent) in the endorsement of applicants for these awards. [Banting website]
At the UofA, an equity officer will be part of the final institution-level review. After being scanned at the Faculty level and vetted by a SSHRC subcommittee, applications are subject to university-wide endorsement. That stage involves an equity officer in some as-yet-opaque capacity.
Will this process give us the equity we seek? More specifically:
- What are the equity goals for the Banting competition? Given the ubiquity of quantitative measures for all aspects of postsecondary life – think university rankings, ratios, research impacts, institutional report cards, etc. – I am struck by the absence of hard targets according to which universities/Ottawa will measure their equity success.
- Which women is the Banting for: the postdocs themselves or the women researchers they will work with? The competition is being described as a boon to superstar researchers rather than as a help to promising (post)grad students caught in a vicious market. The explanation for the deplorable CERC results was the familiar demographic excuse that there are simply not enough senior women professors in Canada. If this is the case, measuring equity by the applicant‘s gender will simply perpetuate the demographic pyramid – especially in a challenging job market, which will do its part to ensure many of these postdocs will never become professors of any kind, let alone senior ones.
- Here’s a big and obvious question. As we know, equity is not just about gender. How will this competition speak to the other protected grounds: Aboriginality, disability, race/visible difference?
- Is the penultimate stage of a four-part review process really the place to take up equity? Cast your mind forward to that moment. The university president is in the room. The review committee is examining applications that cost, conservatively, 110 person hours to craft. All remaining competitors are deserving. But …. The equity officer clears her throat. There is a pause. What happens then? What happens then is that a discourse takes shape. Even if the committee puts aside some applications in favor of others, perhaps others they rejected earlier, the rhetorical ground for pitting equity against excellence has taken shape. In other words, even if we win the Banting, we lose the war.
- The Banting postdoc, like the Vanier and the Trudeau awards, emphasizes “leadership” (more on that in future posts). However, unlike the Vanier and Trudeau, the Banting measures leadership in narrow terms, as “demonstrated capacity for leadership in the research domain defined by the sphere of influence achieved to date by the applicant.” So my final question: won’t the Banting’s limited emphasis on research structurally disadvantage women, Aboriginal and racialized applicants, given that we know these groups are disproportionately called on to serve academic and community groups?
I actually posed a version of these questions to SSHRC, through our university’s postdoc office. Their answer [sic]:
The goal of the program as it relates to equity is to ensure that each institution has considered equity when endorsing their applicants. In terms of success rates of the program we realize that we aren’t able to ensure an equal representation of men and women since the peer review committee does not consider equity as part of their reviews. However, our expectation is that the institutions keep it in mind in the hopes that we receive as equal a balance of total men and women applicants as possible. There is no strict rule about % of men vs. women per institution however, and the idea is that the institutions would indicate to us that equity has been taken into consideration when they are deciding which applicants to endorse. We don’t need any more detail than that in the endorsement letter. Other protected grounds are not explicit in our requirements and therefore are left at the institutions own discretion to determine how they are considered in the endorsement process.
Over to you, readers.