March 2, 2023

Building a diverse and inclusive future through agents of change

Celebrate International Women’s Day March 8 by embracing equity 
Illustration with a multicoloured background and a group of diverse women in the middle.

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) theme is #EmbraceEquity, bringing awareness to what we can do to create an equitable, diverse and inclusive world.  

IWD is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The event also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.  

Researchers at the University of Calgary are making significant progress in tackling the issues affecting women’s health and well-being and addressing inequities in male-dominated fields. One such example is Dr. Laleh Behjat, PhD, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Software Engineering. A large part of her work centres on the idea that the barriers women and other equity-deserving groups face with equity and inclusion are systemic problems that often go overlooked, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. 

“I think sometimes we get stuck in thinking about equitable treatment and forget about equitable systems,” says Behjat, who is also the NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (Prairies).

“When I think about what embracing equity means, it is not just saying, ‘How can we equitably treat different people?’ but, ‘How can we make a system that is equitable from the beginning?’” 

Dr. Laleh Behjat posing in front of a window.

Laleh Behjat

Courtesy Laleh Behjat

Change leadership training 

To help people address and create systemic change, Behjat established WISE Planet, a program funded by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) that offers change leadership training to early career professionals in STEM. The program began in February 2021 and has so far seen more than 85 participants nominated from industry, non-profit organizations and universities across Canada.  

WISE Planet has been on a journey to plan, implement and communicate strategies to build a diverse and inclusive future. The program’s goal is to empower the voices of equity-deserving groups and showcase their perspectives so that, together, we can build an equitable, diverse, inclusive and just society. 

The one-year change leadership training course covers four online learning modules, experiential learning through Leadership Equity Action Plan (LEAP) projects, and networking opportunities through the WISE Planet Network. The network includes volunteers, mentors and allies from academia and industry. 

“Participants are put into learning communities where they can engage in discussions with WISE leaders, get to know each other and learn from their experiences,” says Behjat. 

The program is a journey that encourages creative, collaborative, agile planning skills while building up the participants’ confidence to see themselves as agents of change. Behjat hopes graduates of the program will enable and empower people, learn how to look for root causes and systemic barriers, and find solutions to resolving them. 

“It goes back to role modelling: By showing empowerment and change that we can make, we inspire others to do the same,” says Behjat. “If each person is able to work with five other people and empower them, and so on, this kind of change leadership will be something that scales up exponentially.” 

Empowering students 

Each year, WISE Planet gives an entrance scholarship to the Schulich School of Engineering. While there, students also get leadership training and networking opportunities. 

Behjat hopes academic staff who go through the program will think about how they can transform their teaching and learning spaces into inclusive places.

“We have a responsibility to teach our students about sustainable-development models, and how we can use those within the science and engineering work that we do,” she says. “Hopefully, that knowledge will transfer back to the students in their work and in the community.” 

Get involved 

The IWD website outlines ways everyone can get involved in embracing equity. They explain that equity is not just something we simply say or write about. It's something we need to think about, know and embrace. Each of us can actively support and embrace equity within our own sphere of influence. Forging gender equity isn't limited to the efforts of women themselves; allies are incredibly important for the advancement of women. 

Here are some of the events taking place across UCalgary to celebrate IWD: 

Women’s Week (March 6 – 10)  

Join the Women's Resource Centre for a week of thought-provoking sessions, workshops and panels led by incredible speakers and community initiatives. There will also be a variety of in-person and online events to give students opportunities to explore equity, social justice, as well as personal and professional development.

Learn more and register.

Virtual panel series: Toward making caste-based discrimination a protected ground 

A collaboration between the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary 

Efforts to officially make caste — a millennia-old system of stratification, division of labour, and discrimination — a protected category are well underway in post-secondary institutions throughout the United States. The conversation has yet to begin at educational institutions across Canada. UAlberta and UCalgary are collaborating with international activists and scholars on a series of conversations to raise awareness about caste-based discrimination. 

When: March 8, from 12 – 1:30 p.m. 
Where: Online 

Click here to learn more and register 

Dig in! International Women’s Day 

Monique Fry, BA’07, MA’18, is a cultural mediator, executive leader and First Nations woman. Fry works in “two worlds” to bring reconciliation and equity to the forefront of our collective conversations.  

Join us as we "dig in” to Fry’s work, understand the importance of legacy, and learn how we can use Indigenous knowledge and living in a good way to progress all of our futures, together. 

The morning will include a continental breakfast, a fireside chat with Fry, and a question-and-answer period. 

When: March 8, from 7 – 8:15 a.m.
Where: DTC 119C, UCalgary Downtown Campus 
Cost: $15 + GST, free for UCalgary students

Register here

Equitable STEM paint night  

Join the Office of Sustainability's paint night on March 8 to meet influential women in tech from Calgary and explore how STEM fields intersect with education and equity. This event seeks to create a space to understand what it takes to create the feminist future and an inclusive environment. 

When: March 8, from 5 – 7 p.m.
Where: Hunter Student Commons

Register here

Faculty of Social Work annual research symposium

This annual symposium is focused on timely, impactful research conducted by faculty members, students and community partners. This year's theme is Transformative Social Work: Addressing Critical Issues of our Time. The symposium runs over four days with a mix of online and in-person sessions. 

When: March 7, 8, 14, 15
Where: In-person, Online

Learn more and register.

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