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Working towards equity

Women in Science Queen’s (WiSQ) is the second Employee Resource Group at Queen's University.

[Women in Science Queen's team]
The organizational team for Women in Science Queen's, includes, from left: Tiziana Cotechini, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Science; Kimberly Dunham-Snary, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine;  Elahe Alizadeh, scientist at Queen’s Cardiopulmonary Unit (QCPU); Patricia Lima, adjunct assistant professor at QCPU; and Caroline F. Pukall, professor, Department of Psychology and Biomedical and Molecular Sciences.

Women in Science Queen’s (WiSQ), Queen’s University’s second Employee Resource Group, recently wrapped up a successful first series of events, including hosting meetings to discuss issues of equity, career development, and work-life balance.

The group is the brainchild of Patricia Lima, adjunct assistant professor in the Queen’s Cardiopulmonary Unit (QCPU), who was looking to help other women as they explore and build upon their careers at Queen’s while at the same time helping foster equity within science.

Initially uncertain of the response she would receive, Dr. Lima, says the support she has received throughout the process – from her supervisor Dr. Stephen Archer to the Human Rights and Equity Office – has been extremely encouraging.

Driven to help others, Dr. Lima, who also happens to be a volunteer firefighter, set up the group to help women in various stages of their science careers at Queen’s feel empowered while also connecting them with available resources.

“The idea was to have a discussion group where we would meet on a monthly basis with the objective of motivating, encouraging, and supporting women in science or research-related careers at Queen’s,” she says. “What I had in my mind was, first, it had to be an open environment; second, although it is a women’s group, everybody should feel welcome, friendly; and third is that it should be a mentored environment.”

Other goals include promoting discussions about gender bias in science; incentivizing the active participation and leadership of women; and establishing a visible, equitable, diverse and inclusive community promoting the development and retention of women across all scientific disciplines.

“The collaborative approach that has been taken in creating WiSQ is very encouraging and their initial success shows what can happen when someone or a team takes the initiative to make a difference at the university,” says Teri Shearer, Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion). “Through the support of ERGs Queen’s continues to build a campus that embraces diversity and empower all members of our community to thrive.”

Previous to her arrival at Queen’s, Dr. Lima had participated in a similar group as a post-doc at University of Ottawa. She found that the support came at an important time in her career and she wanted to bring that opportunity to others at Queen’s.

Her chance to make a difference arrived during a performance review at QCPU with Dr. Archer.

“During the performance review, Dr. Archer asked what I thought could make the work environment better. When he asked that I could not resist,” Dr. Lima recalls. “I explained the idea and I said that I was willing to step up to lead this. He loved the idea and green-lighted it.”

As a follow-up, Dr. Lima then met with Equity Advisor Heidi Penning who provided direction on how to get the ERG up and running as well as some further encouragement.

“That changed a lot of things inside me,” Dr. Lima says. “I left her office and, I know that this is just a small group, but I had the feeling that I could change the world.”

Over the next month Dr. Lima focused on recruiting an organizational team with a range backgrounds and skills, including staff, students and faculty members, to ensure a diversity of viewpoints and experiences.

Currently, the WiSQ team includes: Dr. Kimberly Dunham-Snary, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Medicine; Dr. Tiziana Cotechini, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biomedical and Molecular Science; Dr. Elahe Alizadeh, scientist at QCPU, Whitney Montgomery, operations manager at the QCPU; and faculty advisor Dr. Caroline F. Pukall, a professor at the Department of Psychology and Biomedical and Molecular Sciences).

“WiSQ would not be here if we did not have this great group of committed and motivating women,” Dr. Lima says.

A series of five meetings, featuring guest speakers or discussion groups, were held over the winter term and another five are set for the fall term.

At the midway point, Dr. Lima is encouraged by the response.

“I really do think it is helping. It is reaching more people than I expected,” she says. “It’s independent of gender. We don’t have only women attending. What I hoped would happen with the group is happening. You have students, you have staff, you have faculty members in the same room discussing life matters, discussing how to become better, how to be more competitive, how to deal with transition situations, how to promote retention of women at Queen’s. I think that is pretty special, to be able to put those people together.”

The Employee Resource Groups initiative was developed as a way to promote the career development of equity seeking groups on campus. The first group, Queen’s Women’s Network – previously known as Young Women at Queen’s – was launched in 2015 and continues to play an important role at the university.

Contact WiSQ by email to learn more about the group or to become a member.