What will #HeForShe mean for Waterloo?

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Gender equity is a human issue, not a women&rsquo;s issue. That&rsquo;s the idea behind the United Nations Women&rsquo;s HeForShe campaign, which launched last September with a speech by Emma Watson on International Women&rsquo;s Day. The campaign urges men to become part of the global community fighting for gender equity, which has historically been driven entirely by women.</p>

As part of this campaign, 10 universities, 10 corporations, and 10 governments have been or will be selected as Impact 10x10x10 leaders. These organizations will make commitments to improve gender equity and promote HeForShe in their respective areas. One of the universities that has been chosen is UW.

In order to be part of the Impact 10x10x10 campaign, the university must set tangible goals towards gender equity that are set to be reached by 2020. President Feridun Hamdullahpur unveiled the university’s three commitments on May 5 at the HeForShe launch event:

1. Increase the number of women enrolled in currently underperforming engineering and technology disciplines to 33 per cent. Programs that will be targeted include any that have less than 25 per cent women. This includes seven different engineering programs as well as physics and pure math.

2. Have a faculty composition of 30 per cent women. As we currently have 26 per cent women, this represents an increase of half a percentile each year until 2020.

3. Increase the female leadership in the school from 24.5 per cent to 29 per cent. Positions that are counted as leadership roles are associate deans, directors, associate directors, chairs, and executive directors.

Although Hamdullahpur is ultimately the one charged with ensuring Waterloo lives up to its commitments, he has enlisted the help of Diana Parry, special advisor to the president on women’s and gender issues, and Waterloo’s Equity Office.

Impact universities

Four other universities were announced at the same time as Waterloo: the University of Hong Kong, the University of Leicester in England, Nagoya University in Japan, and the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. More recently, the following five universities were added to the program: Georgetown University in the United States, the University of Oxford in England, the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, Sciences Po in France, and Stony Brook University in the U.S. This makes Waterloo the only Impact University in Canada.

Each university will be tackling gender equity issues in ways that suit their unique campuses.

The University of Hong Kong is going to triple the number of women in Dean-level roles and to use their influence to challenge other universities in the area to follow suit.

The University of Leicester will work to integrate its six most gender distinct-programs going both ways (increasing women in male-dominated programs and increasing men in female-dominated programs).

Nagoya University will build a Centre for Gender Diversity to give people a space on campus to drive change on campus and throughout Japan.

The University of Witwatersrand will develop a comprehensive approach to dealing with sexual assault and will build an executive team that reflects gender parity.

Georgetown University will ensure that 100 per cent of their faculty and staff are trained in a program meant to recognize and report sexual discrimination, harassment, and misconduct.

The University of Oxford will increase all leadership positions on campus to include at least 30 per cent women, including professorial roles, decision-making boards, and senior leadership positions.

The University of Sao Paulo will create a program to teach its students and faculty, as well as other Brazilians, about violence against women through sports.

Sciences Po will launch programs to encourage male students and faculty to step up at home with a target of 90 per cent of eligible men to take paternity leave by 2017.

Stony Brook University will integrate gender equality programming into their mandatory first-year course, ensuring every student will learn about gender issues.

United Nations Women offers some guidance for what sort of programs these universities should consider implementing. One of these programs is gender sensitization education given to first year students and refreshed annually. The University of Hong Kong has gone further than that, promising to train all students and faculty by 2021.

Another requisite part of being a HeForShe Impact university is to encourage men on campus to join the HeForShe movement. One suggested way to do that is to use the “HeForShe Commitment API,” an app which geographically tracks the number of men who’ve signed up for HeForShe in real time.

Gender equity on campus

“Waterloo has been very supportive of the gender equality cause. President Feridun Hamdullahpur has created several new positions like the director of equity and the special advisor on women’s and gender issues, as well as been “a huge support behind our involvement in the United Nations HeForShe campaign, and the 10x10x10 impact factor,” said Parry.

Parry encourages students to get involved in the movement, “If this is something that they’re passionate about or they have experiences with, my door is open,— I’d love to hear from them. If they have a concern or a question or an idea, I’m happy to hear it.”

HeForShe was not the first time Waterloo has worked towards gender equity. The university had been looking at the possible wage gap since last fall, and began making plans to address it, as well as any other gender equity issues that might be present at the university. Parry said that there was a wage gap a few years back and Waterloo took care of it then, but they are looking to see if a gap has appeared again.

“We’ll take action if a gap emerges,” said Parry.

Parry also said that McMaster’s decision to equalize male and female faculty members’ salaries did not influence Waterloo into looking at the university’s own faculty salaries.

“It’s an important issue that we already knew we needed to look at.”

Has Waterloo gone far enough?

Despite this movement forward, there are certainly still areas that need to be addressed and some concerns about Waterloo’s commitments.

The increase in female leadership only applies to some leadership roles within the university. Notably, the role of dean, associate vice president, vice president, president, and chancellor are all not counted. As well, the Board of Governors and the Senate have not been touched. Only 22 per cent of the Board of Governors and only 31 per cent of the Senate is made up of women. Other universities, such as the University of Oxford, have committed to improving gender balance in those senior leadership roles and decision-making boards.

As well, the improvements in gender parity for student enrolments only affects those in STEM fields that have less than 25 per cent female enrolment currently. As well, the focus seems to be on getting women into the programs, not on supporting them during their programs. Other universities, such as the University of Leicester, are also looking at increasing the number of men in female-dominated programs.

It’s also worth pointing out that none of these commitments require action from men.

HeForShe is meant to be about action from men, but the focus of Waterloo’s efforts seems to be on opening up spaces for women and encouraging them to take those spaces. Other universities, such as Stony Brook University, are planning on providing programming to all students to educate them about gender equality and why it matters.

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