Women in Science Speaker Series


The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, PC, MP
Minister of Science and Sport

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
January 14, 2019

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Good afternoon, everyone.

Thank you, Peggy [Schmesier, assistant professor, University of Saskatchewan], and thank you to everyone involved in organizing this Women in Science Speaker Series.

And I want to recognize University President Peter Stoicheff. It’s always a pleasure to work with you, and this speaker series is another example of the great work you and your team are doing here. Thank you.

Let me start by saying how proud I am to come from our research community and that I am awed, humbled and inspired by the work you do each and every day. Research matters, teaching matters and service matters.

Thank you for everything you do. And I say to the students here today that I look forward to seeing what awaits you in the near future.

When the Prime Minister asked me to serve as the Minister of Science, I had one goal: to put our researchers and students at the heart of everything we do.

That means ensuring that they have the funding necessary for their research and the labs, tools and digital tools needed for research today.

And we have delivered—a historic $4 billion in Budget 2018, the largest investment in fundamental research in Canadian history.

And we committed more than money—we committed to improving the research community, broadening it and ensuring that under-represented groups would be included.

Let me ask the professors here to reflect on your labs and on your graduate students over the last decade or the last 20 years. Who was there? Was anyone missing? What ideas might have gone unexplored? What questions might have been left unasked?

And what results that might have benefited all Canadians went undiscovered?

Think about the first air bags for cars designed by engineers on prototypes of the male body: it was women and children who were initially injured or killed when the air bags activated.

And even today, heart disease in women is under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-researched. What if more women had been included earlier in research? Would the results have been different?

What if we had had more Indigenous researchers and we had listened to elders and communities? Would Indigenous peoples have suffered death, injury and indignities when they asserted their rights? Would we have learned from Indigenous peoples, and might we have thought about protecting the land for a future seven generations?

What if the LGBTQ2 community had been treated more compassionately at the start of the AIDS pandemic?

How quickly we forget that gay men, even men who were simply suspected of being gay, lost their jobs and were evicted from their apartments. Would the policies of governments have been different and the results less devastating had we included their voices instead of excluding them?

Here’s another thought-provoking example: newly appointed Canada 150 Research Chair Judith Elizabeth Mank is studying the genetic differences between men and women.

Dr. Mank’s research asks if we might be missing more effective treatments for women when we’re only screening male mice for drug targets!

The point is… diversity of thought and ideas breeds great research that will have an impact on the lives of Canadians.

Science is even stronger when all Canadians are included—in class, in the field and in the lab.

With this in mind, a lot of my work as Minister of Science focuses on promoting equity and diversity within research.

We needed data to be able to do that. That’s why we brought back the UCASS—the University and College Academic Staff System. It provides the government with important data on full-time teaching staff at Canadian universities, and it will help universities create a more inclusive, diverse faculty body, one that reflects Canada today.

We launched #ChooseScience, a national social media campaign to encourage young Canadians—especially girls and young women—to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

There was a gender imbalance within both the Canada Excellence Research Chairs and the Canada Research Chairs programs. So we made changes.

The Canada Excellence Research Chairs and Canada Research Chairs program now require universities to submit detailed equity, diversity and inclusion action plans with their applications.

I have also personally made it clear to university presidents that I would instruct my program officials to withhold funding for universities that do not meet their own equity and diversity targets.

These conversations were not easy. Change is never easy—or quick. But it does happen.

I’m truly heartened by the gains we are already seeing in these areas.

For example, we have appointed the Canada 150 Research Chairs, and a full 60% are women.

And for the first time in Canadian history, we had 50% women nominated for the Canada Research Chairs and the largest percentage of Indigenous peoples, visible minorities and people with disabilities ever.

This is really something to celebrate!

So what’s coming next?

Well, our most recent budget set aside an historic $1.7 billion for our granting councils—but we have tied this support to the expectation that they develop plans to ensure the next generation of researchers is more diverse.

And, again, I don’t mean just women.

I mean all groups that have traditionally been under-represented: Indigenous peoples, visible minorities, persons with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ2 community.

There are too many voices that have been left on the sidelines for too long, and it’s up to us to change that. If that makes some people uncomfortable, so be it.

Moving forward, we are going to bring in a made-in-Canada version of Athena SWAN—that’s the U.K. initiative to include more women in science to advance equity, diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

And we’re going to expand the program to ensure other under-represented groups are included, too.

In fact, right before I joined you here this afternoon, I had the privilege of hearing from leaders in academia, industry and other sectors on what they would like to see in a Canadian Athena SWAN.

And I would really like to acknowledge Peter Stoicheff again for his leadership in facilitating the roundtable.

This was one in a series of roundtable discussions with Canadian university leaders and researchers on the opportunities and challenges of bringing the program to Canada.

We are aiming to launch our pilot of Athena SWAN this year—so please watch for it, and I thank you in advance for your support.

There will also be new grants for higher-education institutions to make progress on increasing representation of under-represented groups.

We are also taking steps to involve more Indigenous voices in research. This morning I announced the recipients of 116 grants worth up to $50,000 each to identify new ways to include Indigenous research and knowledge. These grants support community gatherings, workshops and activities that mobilize existing knowledge, facilitating dialogue and knowledge sharing.

It’s important that all those who want to be involved in research in Canada are able to do so.

Some of the most rewarding moments in my time as Minister of Science have come from speaking to women, especially young women, about science and research.

Why? Because we need their smarts, their ideas, their passion and their desire to build a better Canada for all Canadians.

Throughout my career as a politician, and for decades before as a researcher, I worked hard to encourage young women to get excited about research.

More importantly, I worked hard to support them to stay in research throughout their education and career.

I have often given young researchers my phone number and said, “call on the hard days. I am here to listen.” Because research can be hard, it can be lonely, and sometimes all you need is someone who cares and someone who’s been there.

I was raised in a family that believed in the notion that I could become anything I wanted and that I would have the same opportunities as my brother.

As a woman in science, like many of you, I understand what it can feel like to be the only woman in the lab, the field and the classroom.

In fact, I was once asked at a faculty staff meeting when I planned on getting pregnant! How deeply personal and illegal to ask such a question.

On other occasions, I was given the option of how I wanted to be treated: either “as a woman or as a scientist.”

Later, when I asked a university official why I was being paid in the bottom tenth percentile, I was told it was because I was a woman.

That’s why, as Canada’s federal Science Minister, I have made it one of my priorities to reverse this pattern of discrimination—and ensure not only that women are welcomed in STEM fields but also that their voices are heard, that they choose to stay, and that they are paid and promoted equally.

And not only women, but also Indigenous peoples, visible minorities, members of the LGBTQ2 community and everyone else who has ever been left on the sidelines.

I dream of a world where all voices are heard equally and have the same impact.

You may have heard our Prime Minister talk about diversity. “Canada’s strength comes from our diversity,” he says.

And he’s right; we are one of the most diverse countries in the world.

That diversity of perspective, experience and knowledge has contributed so much to what makes Canada great…

An open, progressive and prosperous society—one that has succeeded because of diversity, not in spite of it.

We are committed because it’s the right thing to do, but also because we know that in a competitive global economy, Canada can't afford to leave any talent on the sidelines.

Broad backgrounds, experiences, ideas and perspectives breed better research. The questions and methodologies are richer, and the results benefit all Canadians.

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the culture of our great—and I do mean great—institutions to welcome all Canadians into the classroom, the field and the laboratory.

It is exciting to witness change and to make change, but it is going to continue to be a challenging process. Because it’s about changing hearts and minds as well as programs and policies.

I’m eager to get to our discussion, so let me sum up by asking, can I count on all of you to be champions for inclusion, for a better post-secondary community that reflects—truly reflects—our amazing country?

Because when women, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, visible minorities and members of the LGBTQ2 community succeed, we all benefit. It is not a zero sum game.

We all have a responsibility here—to speak up when there is a lack of diversity… to speak up when a comment or behavior is inappropriate.

There can be no bystander effect. Every time we let it pass, we give permission.

Let us instead learn to celebrate others’ achievements and successes and rejoice in them.

Let me finish by saying that we all need to be part of much-needed generational change. Our calling is research, teaching and service—and they matter.

And finally, it is our shared responsibility to use our talents to continually build a better research community, a better post-secondary educational experience and, ultimately, a better country, where everyone is included.

Thank you.

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