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Choosing to Challenge: #IWD2021

Good morning, and happy International Women’s Day!

With my marketer’s hat on, I often pay attention to the ways in which higher ed institutions celebrate key dates, in social media or otherwise. (You may recall I have devoted many episodes of Ten with Ken to Holiday Greeting videos, or April Fool’s Day pranks, among other things.)

But gender equity is more than merely an occasion for “virtue signalling” tweets – it is a long-standing challenge for higher ed, in terms of leadership roles, STEM enrolments, faculty ranks, pay equity discussions, research awards and even citations. (I also devoted part of a social media episode to “Sexism Winners & Sinners,” but it’s not my best work.)

While I’m hardly going to be the best authority or spokesperson on the subject of women’s equality or gender in the academy, as a higher ed futurist I do feel I need to pay attention to the slow-motion social evolution still playing out before our eyes. Since this newsletter is focused on strategic foresight, we can’t very well allow issues of gender to be a blind spot.

And of course gender issues have played a large part in the COVID19 pandemic, also a core topic of this newsletter. Women have been disproportionately impacted, women leaders have demonstrated particular strengths, and a generation of girls may have their access to education disrupted. So, with apologies to those of you who were “looking forward” to my usual Pandemic Précis this morning, I’m going to put that off until tomorrow and allow IWD to focus our attention this morning…




The UN has been recognizing International Women’s Day since 1977 (so if it seems like a new thing, you’re definitely showing your age – and probably your gender). It’s an official holiday in 27 countries, including China and Madagascar where it’s a holiday for women only (which seems only fair). Where pretty much all of my readers live, though, it’s just one of hundreds of annual days of awareness – dedicated to promoting gender equality and recognizing women’s economic, cultural, social and political achievements. While every CdnPSE will likely recognize IWD in some fashion today, a handful started early (so those are the ones I can mention this morning)…


“A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions, all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”International Women’s Day



This year’s IWD theme, “Choose to Challenge,” emphasizes our moral responsibility to call out gender bias and sexism wherever we see it. Expect to see a flood of tweets and social media posts (there were already plenty as of this writing) recognizing colleagues, students and alumnae, and declaring support for IWD with selfies in a “pledge” pose.

Fleming College has already shared an uplifting 2.5-min ChooseToChallenge video (see #ICYMI below). In a similar vein, Royal Roads president Philip Steenkamp wrote (and recorded) an IWD reflection on his mother and grandmothers, observing that COVID19 has pushed 47M women and girls into poverty over the past year, and prompted a “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence. “Together we must put our hands up high to say ‘I’m in’ to challenge inequity and gender bias and to advocate for the kind of world we want to build together.”



Promoting Role Models

In addition to innumerable tweets and social media posts (already) to acknowledge female employees, students and alumni, CdnPSEs are publishing plenty of interviews and profiles. BCIT acknowledged the accomplishments of 9 female alumni, faculty and staff (including Lara Johnson, VP of Marketing & Communications). Centennial College profiled 4 women who overcame significant barriers to succeed in careers “that haven’t always employed women in large numbers,” such as automotive technician, executive chef, math and statistics. College of the North Atlantic (NL) has published 1 in what may be a series of leadership profiles, of Assoc Dean Mary Parrott. Mount Royal’s Faculty of Business and Communications, and the Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, are recognizing IWD with a series of video and podcast conversations with 10 women leaders from across Canada.


“I now see many new, younger women joining the workplace where they have women as colleagues. Combined with an increasing acceptance by male co-workers, this will inevitably relieve some of the pressure to ‘walk on water’ and create workplaces where women can learn and grow.”Kathryn Pratt, Program Coordinator, Motive Power, Centennial College



Lectures & Speakers

VIU’s Faculty Association Status of Women Committee held a panel discussion yesterday on “Homes and Homelessness: Women’s Struggles, Resilience and Action.”

Seneca College’s Business school is hosting a keynote and fireside chat this morning with 6 prominent women leaders. UFV is holding an online panel discussion of female scientists this afternoon, “Let’s All Choose to Challenge.” On Wednesday morning, Centennial College is hosting a conversation for social change, “Another World is Possible: Women Leading Change.” And UoGuelph announced Friday a new annual lecture series of women leaders in science, funded for the next 5 years by chemistry prof Peter Tremaine and his wife. (The inaugural lecture will take place in person in Fall 2021 or Winter 2022, when PHO restrictions allow.) This week UofG is also promoting a collection of IWD films, a podcast on women in sport, a webinar on research into women leaders, performances and panel discussions.


Supporting Entrepreneurs

Sheridan College’s EDGE entrepreneurship program, in partnership with UofT, is hosting “Pitch with a Twist” today, to bring together women-identifying innovators and judges to pitch their ventures for cash prizes and in-kind support. uCalgary is partnering with The51 to launch the Financial Feminism Investment Lab today, “to create easier access to women-led capital for women-led businesses.”


Setting the Record Straight

SFU’s Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub BC hosted a “Wikipedia edit-a-thon” over the weekend, to mark IWD by increasing the presence of women on the world’s most popular online encyclopedia. Currently, <20% of English biographies are about women, and <10% of Wikipedia contributors identify as female. Organizers were hoping to add 100 new articles to Wikipedia over the weekend. “We want the next generation of young women and girls to see themselves reflected back in the images and stories of scientists, engineers, mathematicians and entrepreneurs so that they know that there is room in STEM and business for them too.”  SFU



Feminizing Science

Back in November (you may recall), issues of gender and sexism revolved around the US presidential election, health precautions, and effective pandemic response…


Fragile Masculinity

Back before the election, Joe Biden observed that Trump’s resistance to wearing a facemask was “macho,” some kind of male bravado. Fox News commentators seemed to regard masks as emasculating; one retorted that Biden “might as well carry a purse.” Certainly much of Trump’s term as president has revolved around “masculinity contests” of one kind or another, and his reverence for strong-man dictators is well known. Studies across North America find that females are more likely to follow social distancing guidelines and wear masks, while men represent more COVID19 cases, hospitalizations and fatalities. Stereotypical social demands on men are that they display strength, take risks, hide their fear and appear in control. Public health advocates observe the same challenges with encouraging birth control and the use of condoms.  New York Times


Female Leaders Rule!

No doubt that helps explain why countries led by women seemed to have significantly better outcomes managing the COVID19 pandemic than those led by men. “Women leaders [are] significantly more risk averse in the domain of human life, but more risk taking in the domain of the economy.” National Post



The Glass Ceiling

Female leaders can bring advantages to companies, institutions and countries alike, although they still remain the minority overall…


Building Back Better?

McKinsey estimated that women’s jobs were 1.8x more vulnerable during the pandemic, and the UN found they were more likely to face increased household chores and unpaid childcare responsibilities. The World Economic Forum points out that, although women are just 7% of world heads of state, 6% of heads of government, and 25% of health ministers, leaders like Jacinda Ardern (NZ) were responsible for some of the best COVID19 responses in the world. Female-led countries achieved “systematically better” results than their nearest neighbours, and researchers think this could be because risk-averse decision-making led to earlier lockdowns. “Decisive and clear communication and participative leadership styles could have played a part” too.  WEF


Top Female-led Universities

The share of the world’s top 200 universities led by women has now climbed to 20%, in a slow and steady climb over recent years. The UK now has 9 female VCs in the top 200 this year, and Germany has 4 (up from just 1 last year). The US, ever the outlier, has actually seen a decline from 13 to just 10 female university leaders in the top 200. Suzanne Fortier, Principal of McGill, is among the top 10 universities led by women. Times Higher Ed



COVID on Campus

Since Friday, there have been 2 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheetfor a running tally of >1500 cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)

McMaster U reported a student case on campus on Saturday.  Mac

Ontario Police College reported an additional case on Friday, bringing the total in the outbreak to 94. Classes remain suspended this week.  London Free Press


And already, we’re starting to worry about next week…

Kingston PHO has issued new orders to curb St Patrick’s Day partying over the next 2 weekends. From Mar 13-21, businesses that serve alcohol must stop serving by 10pm, and manage social distancing at tables and in line-ups. Fines will range from $5,000 for individuals to $25,000 for corporations, for each offence. In previous years, student street parties have attracted crowds from outside the region.  Global

Miami Beach (FL) is bracing for spring break revellers in the next few weeks, thanks to brutal winter weather in much of the country, cheap flights and hotels, and lax rules on bars and nightclubs in the state. (Not coincidentally, Florida has one o fthe highest rates of new infections in the country.) Miami Beach, however, “is not going to tolerate anarchy.” They have boosted code compliance patrols, implemented curfews and public health orders. (Social distancing on the beach? I’ll believe it when I see it.) Authorities rejected one application for a 900-person pool party, and expect rule-breakers to move to party boats instead.  Wall Street Journal




No doubt there will be plenty of other IWD videos out today, but Fleming College published one of the first in CdnPSE, on Friday…


Choose to Challenge

From Fleming College president Maureen Adamson to dozens of students, faculty, residence life advisors, EDI coordinators, and more, this 2.5-min video features sound bites from Fleming women explaining what they “Choose to Challenge.” Some choose to challenge ignorance about sexual violence, racial and gender stereotypes. Others vow to celebrate women’s achievements in sexist industries, indigenous women’s achievements, to be an ally for survivors of domestic violence, or to forge positive visibility of women.  YouTube



And also #ICYMI, back in 2019 I published an episode of Ten with Ken focused on issues of equity and diversity, in dialogue with Maureen Adamson – who is not only president of Fleming College, but a former Deputy Minister for the Status of Women in Ontario…


Equity & Diversity

Maureen Adamson observes that our society still has “a lot of work to do,” to close the pay equity gap for women and balance our boards of governors – and that work needs to start with colleges and universities. (At the time of our conversation, 44% of Ontario colleges were headed by women.)  YouTube



Thanks for reading!  Tomorrow I’ll tackle my weekly Pandemic Précis, and if space permits, I want to round up an absolute flurry of recent announcements for Fall 2021 plans. (Spoiler: everyone is feeling really optimistic right now!)

Stay safe and be well,


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