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People of SFU: Meet Suman Jiwani, equity, diversity and inclusion in Faculty Relations
Suman Jiwani has always been driven by data.
An SFU alumnus holding a bachelor’s in mathematics and computing science and a master’s in statistics, Jiwani has worked at the university since 2001. For most of those years, she worked in Institutional Research and Planning, doing data analysis projects related to SFU’s faculty and staff. And in 2019, she took on a new role: working in equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within SFU Faculty Relations.
Looking from the outside, this transition from math major and data analyst to working in EDI might seem abrupt. But for Jiwani, it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
“Because of my life experiences as a racialized person, a child of immigrants from India and a woman who has studied and worked in male-dominated fields, I’ve always had a personal interest in issues of equity, the legacy of colonialism and how someone’s identity impacts their experiences,” she says.
“My work at SFU has included contributing to various diversity initiatives and reporting on employment equity data. Through this work, I’ve also developed an understanding of the policies and processes that generate data at SFU, and this institutional knowledge helps me understand how we can create lasting impact at the systems level when it comes to EDI.”
In her current role within Faculty Relations, Jiwani works to advance EDI efforts on several fronts, but her focus is building awareness of EDI considerations in SFU’s faculty hiring processes—for example, examining the impact of bias in hiring decisions and identifying potential barriers to inclusion during recruitment. Most recently, she has turned her attention to career progression and retention, exploring how SFU can better support faculty by incorporating EDI principles into the tenure and promotions process.
And through it all, Jiwani continues to ask the same question she’s asked her whole working life: what does the data say?
“In my mind, data is foundational to EDI work,” she says. “I often have conversations with people who want to improve diverse representation among their department’s faculty, but it’s hard to measure progress, or even know what has to be addressed in the first place, without understanding what kind of representation already exists.”
To this end, another of Jiwani’s projects has been developing a comprehensive plan for collecting demographic data from SFU’s employees—a huge undertaking, and one that she hopes will provide the backbone for much of the university’s EDI work moving forward.
As the world continues to reckon with the inequities exacerbated by COVID-19 and with a marked upturn in racism and hate, Jiwani is finding hope in the increased number of SFU community members who are helping make the university a more inclusive place to work and learn.
“I feel fortunate to do this work as my full-time job,” she says. “And I’ve met people across all levels of the university who are, and have been, doing EDI and reconciliation work for a long time. It’s a real privilege to speak to and learn from these folks, and I deeply value their commitment to promoting fairness, removing barriers and raising awareness.”
She adds, “I’m also encouraged by the number of people who are starting to newly locate themselves in EDI work—it doesn’t always have to look like big splashy programs or initiatives. There are lots of things we can do every day to advance EDI efforts, including examining our workplace practices, continuing to educate ourselves, or simply being mindful of how we interact and engage with others. I believe we can thrive as a collective while respecting and valuing difference, and all of this helps.”