In March 2020, the usual buzz of collaboration and creativity in research spaces at Canadian universities suddenly went silent.
COVID-19 was on the rise in Canada—and researchers were forced to cease all in-person research activities in the interest of public health.
While most would agree that all members of university communities were affected by the pandemic in some way, a new study from UBC Okanagan suggests that women and racialized faculty members were hardest hit.
Dr. Jennifer Davis, a Canada Research Chair in Applied Health Economics and lead author of a study published recently in the journal Gender, Work and Organization. Dr. Davis, an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Management, shares her research findings and insights on how to advance equity in academia.
How did this research come about?
During the onset of COVID-19, several important changes were quickly felt by those working in academia. These included the closure of research labs, the shutting down of trials, transitions to virtual classrooms and limitations on how resources were used.
While all of this was happening, I began to wonder what shifts were being felt across faculties and institutions, and how these may affect the health, wellbeing and productivity of faculty members in Canada.
What type of information were you hoping to uncover and what did you find?
I was looking to identify who was most significantly affected by these research curtailments and whether or not some groups were disproportionately affected.
My team and I rolled out a survey across public academic institutions in Canada following the initial lockdown to gauge the consequences. The data we gathered demonstrated that women and racialized faculty members said they were experiencing higher levels of stress, social isolation and lower levels of wellbeing.
Fewer women felt their health and wellness were being supported, and one example given was that they had an increased caregiving burden at home that was affecting their research productivity.
These effects were most exacerbated among pre-tenured faculty.
What did you find most interesting about your findings and how will they inform research going forward?
While our study focused on those in academia, it’s interesting to note that other studies had similar findings, particularly related to women and increased caregiving responsibilities due to COVID-19.
This illustrates that these issues were not limited to folks working in academia, as they were reported across other sectors too. In this study, we provide some recommendations for moving forward that I hope will create positive change and prevent further exacerbation of systemic inequities.
What do you suggest to prevent a worsening of these inequities?
One of our key recommendations is to increase the use of narrative and storytelling to share the experiences of faculty members. We propose examining ways to collect and understand stories about individual repercussions of the pandemic on faculty members who conduct research.
Our research supports the idea that sharing individual experiences of the consequences of COVID-19 will foster more understanding in academia and hopefully support a sense of community among women and racialized faculty.
I’d like to think our work can also provide a path for senior administrators, or managers in other sectors, to connect directly with the experiences of marginalized faculty members or employees and engage with disparities in an effort to create more inclusive work environments.