November 21, 2012

Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: The Gender Dimension

The Expert Panel on Women in University Research


After the notable absence of female candidates in the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC) program, the Minister of Industry, in March 2010, struck an ad-hoc panel to examine the program’s selection process. The ad-hoc panel found that the lack of female representation was not due to active choices made during the CERC selection process. As a result, the CCA received a request to undertake an assessment of the factors that influence university research careers of women, both in Canada and internationally.

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The Question

What policies and what societal, cultural, and institutional, economic, and/or other relevant factors influence the career trajectory of women researchers in Canadian universities and underlie gender disparities observed in Canadian university researcher’s statistical profile, by discipline area, rank, duty/position/stature, salary, tenure, research funding and or/any other relevant indicators?

Key Findings

To conduct the assessment, CCA convened an expert panel of 15 Canadian and international experts from diverse fields, which was chaired by Dr. Lorna Marsden, President emeritus and Professor, York University.

The report is informed by a life-course model, which allowed the Panel to provide an in-depth overview of the factors that affect research career trajectories. The Panel was also able to develop a baseline of information regarding the statistical profile of women researchers in Canada.

  • In general, the Canadian profile is similar to that of other economically advanced nations.
  • Women’s progress in Canadian universities is uneven and dependent on discipline and rank.
  • The higher the rank, the lower the percentage of women in comparison to men.
  • The key factors determined by the Panel that impact the career paths of women start early in life with stereotypes that define roles and expectations, followed by a lack of knowledge about requisites for potential career paths, and a lack of role models and mentors.
  • These issues, combined with a rigid tenure track structure, challenges associated with the paid work-family life balance, and the importance of increased support and coordination amongst governments and institutions should be examined if Canada is going to achieve a greater gender balance within academia.     

Expert Panel

The Expert Panel on Women in University Research