Making data readable and usable is the first step in repairing pay equity gap amongst U of O professors

In 2017, an updated report by the joint Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) and University of Ottawa Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee (EDIC) was released showing both a disparity in pay and promotion amongst male and female professors at the U of O.

In June of this year, U of O president Jacques Frémont appointed professor of biochemistry, microbiology and immunology, Dr. Steffany Bennet, to the newly created position of special advisor, diversity and inclusion. Bennet sat down with the Fulcrum to speak about her ongoing work to create clear and usable data in order to tackle the pay equity gap.

In her role, Bennet is mandated with identifying potential gaps in equity, diversity and inclusion and the reasons why this is occurring so that, in her words, “we as a community of professors, staff and students can work together to move into the future, to make the changes needed.” The initial report identified the overarching issue but the underlying factors causing the inequities have yet to be found. However, Bennet is determined to find them, to do this she has turned to numbers.

The U of O has 17 databases documenting all potential factors relating to equity, diversity and inclusion, including salary and promotions. Currently, the databases are not organized which makes analysis particularly difficult. Bennet is working through the process of searching this data, consolidating it, and making it readable.

She says the critical indicators are the key to finding solutions. The only way to determine those indicators is to sort through the data but in its current disorganized state and the gaps in between collection, the process is slow. Remaining hopeful, Bennet would eventually like to automate the process of searching and recognizing factors. The creation of an algorithm, designed to parse through the data, would be able to recognise patterns and trends which would indicate the areas where solutions are needed.

In the latest collective agreement for professors, one of the recommendations was regular collection of data relating to equity, diversity, and inclusion. This would mean each year the report could be automatedly produced, enabling the tracking of where the university has made progress and where the stagnation occurs far more efficient.

But Bennet isn’t just looking at data relating to the professors. She believes the issues can be identified and by extension, changed, earlier on. This is done through the consideration of student demographics.

For example, if today in the Faculty of Medicine 50 per cent of the graduating class are men, 50 per cent are women, and 10 per cent are visible minorities, in five years, after post doctoral degrees and internships, Bennet says those same demographics should be hired. If the demographics of a graduating class with a path to academia do not translate to the demographics being hired in five years, then according to Bennet, a problem has been identified.

While some students could attend other institutions or change their career paths, the demographics should roughly be the same. The numbers will show this, says Bennet. She goes on to say the same thing could be done when examining the transition from the undergraduate to graduate population.

Bennet hopes to have her first report to the president by mid- to late-September. After that, the amalgamation of data will be sent to the EDIC, where they’ll utilize the information to determine actionable steps.

Bennet is positive that the causes behind the pay disparity will show themselves in the data, because “the numbers will make a difference. The numbers never lie.”