The Laurentian Chapter of SETAC (L-SETAC) celebrated the 2017 International Day of Women and Girls in Science (IDWGS) on February 8th in Burlington, Ontario. IDWGS was established by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize the essential role that women and girls play in growth, development and innovation within the science community. An important goal of IDWGS is to promote gender equity within science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), which remain largely male-dominated fields. The inaugural event was organized by the newly founded L-SETAC Diversity in Science Committee and featured Eden Hennessey and her internationally recognized photo-research exhibits, #DistractinglySexist and #DistractinglyHonest. The evening event started with discussions and networking over dinner, followed by an hour seminar talk by Eden, ending with an audience discussion facilitated by L-SETAC members.

Eden Hennessey, a Social Psychology PhD Candidate and data-driven artist at Wilfrid Laurier University, shared her research on sexism in STEM for which she was named Laurier’s Graduate Researcher of the Year for 2015. Specifically, she assesses the consequences of confronting sexism and explores strategies to buffer women against the costs of confronting discrimination, such as mentorship and a strong scientific identity. While sexism can occur in any field, Hennessey’s research shows that women in STEM feel like they have a lot to lose by confronting sexism, more so than non-STEM fields. Hennessey also found that women confronters are perceived to be stronger but are also more likely to be labelled as complainers, while other research shows that men confronters are generally perceived positively. The lower cost to men for confronting sexism highlights their pivotal role in advocating for gender equity and speaking out against sexism.

In addition to presenting her research in a seminar format, Hennessey also showcased portraits from her two photo-research exhibits. The photo-research exhibits communicate Hennessey’s and other’s research findings on gender disparities in STEM in a captivating manner; photographs of individual women scientists, accompanied by a powerful summary of the research, visually representative of specific research-based challenges faced by women in science. As evidenced from the lively post-talk discussion, Hennessey’s research and photo exhibit sparked interest and reflected the desire to improve gender equity in STEM fields. The discussion included tips on how to respond to sexism, the importance of mentorship and inoculating youth against harmful female-scientist stereotypes, and the importance of men participating in the conversation and actions to achieve equity for women in science. Importantly, one male attendee found that the discussion was, “really eye opening, especially considering that a lot of the bias/discrimination might seem subtle when looked at superficially, but is actually quite problematic and systemic in a sense when looked at deeply especially when hearing of such bias directly from the other gender (i.e., primary source).”

Eden Hennessey, PhD Candidate, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON

Feedback from the inaugural event was positive with survey respondents stating that the discussion initiated the important conversation surrounding gender equity in STEM fields. Several respondents suggested that future events could include an organized panel with pre-planned topics. Although the majority of event attendees were L-SETAC members, the event also attracted a few non-members, including a female high school student with career aspirations in STEM. Hennessey was asked to speak at the student’s high school, demonstrating the positive outreach impact of this year’s event.

Bibliography: Eden Hennessey is a researcher and data-driven artist completing a PhD in Social Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University with Dr. Mindi Foster. Her dissertation focuses on the costs of confronting sexism in science versus other fields. Eden researches diversity promotion and discrimination reduction and transforms her research findings into thought-provoking photo-research exhibits (#DistractinglySexist and #DistractinglyHonest) that have reached international acclaim. She is inspired by her ongoing work with the Laurier Centre for Women in Science (WinS). Connect with her on Twitter @EdenHennessey or @LaurierWinS.

Job Title & Credentials: Research Associate, Laurier Centre for Women in Science, M.A., Psychology, PhD. Candidate (2018)

–          Submitted by Laura Dindia