Politicians, Chiefs, scientists, actresses: 10 Canadian women who are changing the game in their field
Canada has an amazing history of strong, motivated, and downright talented women in many different fields. In 1992 Roberta Bondar became Canada's first female astronaut and the first neurologist in space. Angela James was one of the first two women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Dr. Samantha Nutt cofounded War Child Canada, an organization that helps children in war zones across the globe.
In every field from sports, science, NGOs, and the arts Canadian women have proven themselves time and time again.
So that's why it's utterly disappointing every time there's a new report showing that gender bias is still evident in Canada. BioTalent Canada just released a report which outlines the results of a national survey of women in the biotech sector called "Moving Beyond the Boundaries: Connecting and Advancing Women in Biotechnology". There were three major findings: "women want to work in the bio-economy, and when they do, they are regarded as vital contributors to companies' technological and business success; gender bias has a real and discernible negative effect on women in the bio-economy workforce; and concrete steps can be taken by the sector to make it even more welcoming and supportive of women's success."
It also found that the average annual salary for female participants in a national wage subsidy program was $6,728 less than male participants, thus a gender-based salary gap. Not particularly shocking considering Statistics Canada data from 2011 shows that the gender wage gap in Ontario is 26 per cent for full–timer workers meaning that for every $1 earned by a man, a woman earns 74 cents.
What is shocking is why this report was done in the first place.
"The national project undertaken by BioTalent Canada and funded in part by Status of Women Canada stemmed from a disturbing statistic within the organization's 2013 labour market report: Sequencing the Data, which revealed that in 2013, 59 per cent of the graduates of post-secondary biotechnology programs were women, but employment of women within the sector had fallen by 11 per cent since 2008," the release stated.
That clearly makes no sense. Women are graduating from biotechnology programs in a higher percentage then men but being employed less.
So in light of that disheartening statistic I've come up with a list of 10 women making waves across Canada so maybe the employers in the biotechnology field can do a little soul searching about their gender bias'.
In no particular order
1) Elizabeth May - Leader of the Green Party of Canada and a Member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
The Green Party might not hold much political clout in Canada but Elizabeth May can get the country talking. Before the recent Canadian election, May made her presence known when she stole the media from the Globe & Mail debate (she wasn't invited to) by participating on Twitter. Later at the Maclean's magazine debate many people said she actually won. Now there are petitions going around urging incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau to make her environment minister and Trudeau has already asked her to join the Canadian delegation at the Paris summit on global warming.
So even after winning just one seat and only three per cent of the vote, May shows that she will be heard.
2. Cindy Blackstock - Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada
As the executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, Blackstock along with the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint against the Federal government in 2007, which alleges that Canada discriminates against First Nations children by consistently under funding child welfare on reserves. Since the complaint was filed the federal government has tried multiple times to derail the case challenging the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Act to deal with the complaint. The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed the challenges and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal began hearing evidence February 2013 with a decision expected any time now.
So how important is Blackstock's case? Blackstock has been under surveillance since 2007 by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Justice.
Government documents showed that they monitored her personal Facebook page, tracked people who posted to her page, and sent staff to take notes on her public presentations in an attempt to stop her human rights case.
3. Tatiana Maslany - Actress
Coming from Regina, Saskatchewan Maslany has starred in series such as The Nativity, Being Erica, and Heartland but has created a brand new fandom and picked up recognition around the word for her role (roles) in the hit show Orphan Black. She's won two Critics' Choice Television Awards, a TCA Award, and two Canadian Screen Awards, as well as receiving Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG nominations.
With her increasingly global platform Maslany has taken the opportunity to be outspoken about sexism in the TV and movie industry and in society.
“Like being told, ‘Let’s not talk about that, sweetheart,’ if I have an issue with being hit on by a 50-year-old when I was 17 and on set,” Maslany said in a Vanity fair article. “It’s never ending. Being put into this little outfit that showed my midriff in a scene where I’m supposed to be grieving the death of a family member, and it’s like, ‘Make sure that her belly button is showing’—it’s just pathetic. It’s so pathetic.” The actress also admits that she’s been asked to feminize her appearance for certain roles by shaving her armpits and waxing other parts of her body.
“I don’t think that any woman in this industry hasn’t [experienced sexism],” Maslany said after in the interview “Sometimes you can’t even tell that it’s happening because it’s so ingrained in the way things are structured. . . . Seventy or [eighty] percent of the people on set are male—directors, writers, producers, people in positions of power, but that’s shifting too.”
4. Molly Shoichet - a professor of chemistry and biomaterials and biomedical engineering
Shoichet is the perfect example of what the biotechnology field is missing by having a gender bias. This past March she took home a global award which recognized the top scientists for her work applying engineering principles to medical problems.
In the release, prize officials said she is being honoured for “for the development of new materials to regenerate damaged nerve tissue and for a new method that can deliver drugs directly to the spinal cord and brain.”
She also used the opportunity to tell the Globe & Mail that such recognition for women scientists is important “because I think we need to galvanize our entire population, not just half of our population, to get the best and most creative minds to try to make the world a better place.”
If that's not enough, she is using the more than $100,000 in prize money to "help younger female faculty members, who often juggle multiple roles, secure more time for their research."
5. Dr. Janet Rossant - the Chief of Research at The Hospital for Sick Children at the the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute and Mount Sinai Hospital
What's that biotechnology industry? Another amazing woman scientist getting recognized for her work?
This past March Dr. Rossant was the first female scientist to win Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, a top international medical research prizes. The Gairdner Wightman Award is specifically meant to recognize career achievement and research leadership within Canada.
"Janet is the face of stem cell research in Canada,” said her colleague Dr. Andras Nagy. “The vibrant regenerative medicine research community in Toronto, Ontario and Canada rightly views Janet as our fearless leader and ambassador.”
6. Kimberly Jonathan - first female Chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, current FSIN first Vice Chief
When Kimberly Jonathan was made chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) it was a historical moment. It was the first time a woman had ever taken the role, which is the top Chief of more than 70 First Nations in Saskatchewan. Her predecessor was current Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde.
It wasn't just that Jonathan was the first female Chief in the role, it's what she did with that responsibility.
She spoke out about when she was attacked for being an aboriginal woman and the sexist treatment she has received in politics, including one instance where a community leader told her that he would not support her candidacy unless she slept with him.
She also took the opportunity to start the Strength of Our Women Awards which honours indigenous women in multiple categories
"Historically we know how important our roles were and are, and we want everyone to know that First Nations women are extraordinary and not disposable and not victims," FSIN Interim Chief Kimberly Jonathan said in an interview with the StarPhoenix in Saskatoon . "It's time we honour our women and our girls."
7. Brenda Andress - co-founder and commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League
There are so many phenomenal female Canadian athletes but one you may not have heard to much about is Brenda Andress.
Andress started playing hockey at 16 years old and was quickly hooked. She became the first woman to ever play for a men’s college varsity team, suiting up for Centennial College in 1978. So unsurprisingly, she created the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), the world’s first professional women’s hockey league.
On top of becoming one of the most qualified hockey referees out there, Andress has also spent her life advocating for a decent, living wage for female athletes spreading the message that "every girl can achieve her dreams and should never doubt her own worth in this world."
In 2013, the Hockey News named Brenda as one of The Powers of the Future, in their annual Power and Influence issue.
8. Elizabeth Croft - Associate Dean, education and professional development, faculty of applied sciencel NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, BC and Yukon Region, the University of British Columbia
I think Elizabeth Croft would be much better in the Tomb Raider games and movies because she would build you a robot. Robots always win.
Seriously though, this is a list of what she is working on: Robotic assistants for manufacturing assembly and homecare; Collaborative human-robot lifting; handover, and turn-taking; Robot Visual Servoing; and lost target search; Roboethics; Modeling and identification of control of human balance through an immersive robotic platform; and Collaborative work includes rehabilitation robotics, medical robotics, haptics.
When not building robots, Croft founded WWEST in order to attract, recruit and retain women in engineering and science careers. WWEST now is the place to go to talk inclusion and increased participation of women in science, engineering and technology disciplines on Canada’s west coast
This is what she shared with RBC Champions after being recognized for her work:
"Implicit bias, the automatic assumption that ‘he’ is an engineer and ‘she’ is a secretary, tilts the playing field for every woman. It leads to self-exclusion, self-doubt and stereotype threat, causing women to withdraw or perform below their potential. This is real, measurable and scientifically proven. Change comes through awareness, role modeling and a concerted effort from both women and men—we are all biased—to put aside preconceptions and truly consider individual potential.”
9. Niki Ashton - the NDP Member of Parliament for the electoral district of Churchill in Manitoba
Ashton was first elected in the 2008 federal election and has been making waves ever since. She was elected as the Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women in the 40th Parliament of Canada, has served as the NDP Post-Secondary and Youth critic, as the Rural and Community Development critic and from 2012 to 2014 as the Status of Women Critic. Leading up to the most recent election, Ashton was also the Aboriginal Affairs critic where she received praise for holding AANDC Minister Bernard Valcourt to account on numerous occasions.
On top of her politics she speaks Greek, French, English and Spanish fluently and was reportedly also studying Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, and Cree.
She's only 33 years old.
Michaëlle Jean - All around awesome
I didn't really know what even to put as Jean's title so I'm just going to copy her description from Wikipedia because nothing can really do her legacy justice.
Jean is "is a Canadian stateswoman and former journalist who is the third and current Secretary-General of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, after succeeding Abdou Diouf in January 2015; she is the first woman to hold the position. From 2005 to 2010, Jean was Governor General of Canada, the 27th since Canadian Confederation.
Jean was a refugee from Haiti—coming to Canada in 1968—and was raised in the town of Thetford Mines, Quebec. After receiving a number of university degrees, Jean worked as a journalist and broadcaster for Radio-Canada and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), as well as undertaking charity work, mostly in the field of assisting victims of domestic violence. In 2005, she was appointed governor general by Queen Elizabeth II, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Paul Martin, to replace Adrienne Clarkson as vicereine and she occupied the post until succeeded by David Johnston in 2010. Early in her tenure, comments of hers recorded in some of the film works by her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, were construed as supporting Quebec sovereignty and her holding of dual citizenship caused doubt about her loyalties. But Jean denied separatist leanings, renounced her citizenship of France, and eventually became a respected vicereine noted for her attention to the Canadian Forces, Aboriginal Canadians, and the arts, especially youth involvement in them. Jean is also currently the Special Envoy for Haiti for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and Chancellor of the University of Ottawa.
Michaëlle Jean was sworn in as a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada on September 26, 2012, giving her the accordant style of The Honourable; however, as a former Governor General of Canada, Jean is entitled to be styled for life with the superior form of The Right Honourable."
Let me know who else I'm missing because there are a lot more.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada