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#BreakTheBias: International Women's Day 2022

March 08, 2022

This year’s global theme for International Women’s Day is “Break the Bias.” From environmentalism to public health, education to policy and more, breaking the bias asks us to challenge given norms, expectations and assumptions in our lives. In celebration of International Women’s Day 2022, we asked leaders, influencers and changemakers from across the university to talk about what this theme means to them and in their work.

Maya Gislason (she/her)
Associate professor, Faculty of Health Science

As both a critical ecological feminist and eco-social health equity scholar, I regularly tackle biases that are built into social ideas and institutional practices around climate change. Increasingly, my work focuses on how children and youth’s mental health is being impacted by climate change and by a lack of action on climate change by those currently in positions of power. Bringing intergenerational justice to life means connecting a diversity of voices, values and insights together, bringing youth and elders to decision making tables. Centering EDI in climate change policy means listening to people who have been structurally marginalized, silenced and exploited, as well as truly taking notice of the impacts to desecrated lands and waters. Those with living experience and a diversity of equity-seeking women need to be at leadership tables. As a society, we need to work quickly with great agility, nuance and insight, foreground life over profit, and move equitably in our sustainability efforts - it is 2022 and time for this to simply happen.

Sobhana Jaya-Madhavan (she/her)
Associate vice-president, External Relations

For me, #breakingthebias is about being on a journey in search of genuine respect. I believe disrespect is at the heart of all kinds of biases and it thrives on ignorance—ignorance about the true value of diversity. At SFU, I focus on fostering diverse relationships and building bridges within and outside of SFU. I try to understand issues in-depth and engage with people with the utmost respect. I have been reflecting on this year’s theme and I think without peace, we cannot #breakthebias in a meaningful and sustainable way.

Joy Johnson (she/her)
President, Simon Fraser University

During my time working in research and healthcare, I saw first-hand the effects of bias against women in that field. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had to create change then, and for the opportunities I have today to create change at SFU. To me, moving toward a bias-free future means moving toward inclusion—I truly believe this is the most important opportunity facing research universities now. Centering inclusion and embracing difference makes us better teachers, knowledge producers, researchers, innovators, and change-makers. And perhaps more importantly, it builds a campus community where everyone feels like they belong.

Mary-Catherine Kropinski (she/her)
Professor & associate dean, equity, diversity, and inclusion, Faculty of Science

"Break the Bias" implies abruptness, disruption. It says to me that we should no longer be putting up with the status quo nor the agonizingly slow pace of change. Women graduate students are facing many of the same barriers that I experienced as a graduate student over 30 years ago. Women faculty continue to earn less than their male counterparts, are nominated less frequently for high-profile awards, have their contributions undervalued... I could go on. In my role as Associate Dean for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion I fight against the biases that lead to these unfortunate outcomes for women and other equity-deserving groups in the Faculty of Science—and it is a fight. "Break" also implies that one day, those of us fighting against bias might no longer need to. I would like to believe that this day will come.

Dugan O'Neil (he/him)
Vice-president, Research and International

I have spent most of my career in the physics and computing world—I’m no stranger to the underrepresentation of women. I am aware of the need for increased gender parity in research and academics overall. We are working to move the needle—SFU’s equity, diversity and inclusion efforts are tackling everything from the pipeline to pay equity and are guided by open dialogue. We have implemented an EDI action plan for externally funded research chairs and awards, including the Canada Research Chairs program. A big part of this plan is centered on data and information sharing, transparency in how positions are allocated, hiring processes, and the like. This is only one example of what we have underway, but this alone is a big change in the way that we work. We must do more and are committed to breaking the bias.

Paola Quirós-Cruz (she/her)
Educator, Sexual Violence Support and Prevention Office

As a femme of color and immigrant, I have been committed to eliminating the ongoing bias that PoC and immigrants are only capable and relegated to do certain jobs. With humbleness and certainty, I have been opening spaces for people like me to be heard and looked at as mentors and changemakers.

As an educator working in the field of sexual violence prevention, I am commited to creating a bias-free campus community by inviting people to think outside of the box, to continue considering the systemic impacts of sexual violence and to keep centering equity-seeking groups in access to support. We are all interconnected in this awareness of breaking the bias that sexual violence is uncommon in our community. Questioning ourselves in how we perpetuate silence and violence, and inviting us and others to contribute to a culture of care and connection through walking our talk is a muscle to exercise every day, it is a practise that may shape a new future.

Julia Smith (she/her)
Assistant professor, Faculty of Health Science

Breaking the bias means challenging the blindness of the policies and structures that download care work onto women without adequate compensation, recognition or support. In the context of the pandemic, a more equitable recovery will value the unpaid care work provided, mostly by women, in the home and community, alongside the essential labour of, (again mostly women) healthcare workers, teachers and early childcare educators. The Gender and COVID-19 Project has documented the differential effects, including loss of income and poor mental health, born by the women who have also sustained the COVID-19 response. On International Women's Day, and everyday, we need to lift up these women with gratitude and meaningful support.

Kristen Woo (she/her)
Director, Human Rights Office

As a woman, I have often been told to “speak up” or to “take up more space” if I want to be seen and heard. What if we created space for the quiet voices in the room? Together, we can “Break the Bias” by listening more, interrupting less, and reflecting on whose voices matter, which choices matter, and how we can create space for those important voices and choices that are missing from the discussion.

Azadeh Yamini-Hamedani (she/her)
Associate professor, Department of World Languages and Literatures

Bias is easy to see in others, but difficult to spot in myself. It masquerades behind all manner of excuses. It hides in plain sight in culture, in education, in practice—in me. To work against any prejudice is to unlearn generations of lies.

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