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BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Finding a job in academia: What’s sex Got to do with it?

AUTHOR: Sawayra Owais 

Disclaimer: Some of Dr. Steiner’s students may be cringing as they worry I am using the terms sex and gender interchangeably. Unfortunately, the literature on workplace male-female disparities seems to use the term ‘gender’ when I think they are referring to sex. For consistency’s sake, I also refer to it as a gender gap/gender disparity in the following piece.  


From the cheeky “Because it is 2016” remark to the recurring ‘diversity is our strength’ narrative, our government emphasizes the importance of equity and inclusion. This theme has trickled down to our academic institutions and even our classrooms, as we learn the importance of representation in the academic realm. 


Women have been historically under-represented in academic faculty positions despite having similar qualifications as their male counterparts. The reasons for this discrepancy are multifactorial including lack of mentorship, implicit bias, and institutional policies that promote gender inequity (Ibrahim, Stadler, Archuleta, & Jr, 2017). Recognizing this gender gap, several governmental and grassroots initiatives are slowly coming to the fore to implement a gender parity in academia. For instance, a new quota for Canada Research Chairs, researchers that are leading pioneers in their fields, requires that 31% be female. An additional 20% must be filled by visible minorities, individuals with disabilities, and Indigenous Peoples (Government of Canada, 2017).  


With academic institutions making a beeline to fill equity quotas, one may question whether we are choosing ‘political correctness’ over research quality.  


Diversity and inclusion are not at odds with meritocracy. In fact, several lines of research suggest that gender parity in the workplace, including the academic realm, demonstrate that equity promotes collaboration, yields innovate ideas, and enhances research productivity (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2016). Adversaries against the existence of a gender bias argue that women get ‘distracted’ by family life and simply do not wish to progress in their careers. Since women have the near-ubiquitous role as the primary caregiver due to socio-cultural demands, initiatives have been aimed at balancing this work-life balance. Research from these initiatives has shown that perceptions of institutional support and career progress increased in the short-term and research productivity increased for all faculty in the long-term (Ibrahim et al., 2017).  


What is important is that we follow evidence-based policies when we wish to implement institutional change. So far, the evidence suggests that academic institutions and its members should not begrudgingly fill quotas; they should embrace it. The removal of systemic barriers to include all underrepresented populations is what we need to do to achieve not only equity, but excellence. 


Government of Canada, I. C. (2017, May 4). Canada Research Chairs. Retrieved November 1, 2017, from 

Ibrahim, H., Stadler, D. J., Archuleta, S., & Jr, J. C. (2017). Twelve tips to promote gender equity in international academic medicine. Medical Teacher, 0(0), 1–7.   

Positive impact of gender mainstreaming in academia and research institutions. (2016). European Institute for Gender Equality.