Repairing the differential impact of COVID-19

Julian Dierkes, Associate Dean
Theresa Rogers, Associate Dean

In the best of times, gender inequalities in academia create additional barriers for women to succeed. Studies now show that COVID-19 has exacerbated these existing inequalities, resulting in adverse effects on women’s research. This impact could have devastating, long-lasting effects for female graduate students, postdocs and young faculty members who are in the early stages of their careers, and who could continue to feel the negative effects of pandemic in the years to come.

Over the past several months, research has emerged demonstrating a disproportionately gendered impact of COVID-19 on academic research productivity across the population (e.g. in the social sciences, in the health sciences, and more broadly). This is most evident in women’s research productivity as measured by publications and grants, which have been on average disproportionately constrained.

Some of these impacts relate to inadequate access to childcare, inequitable division of domestic labour, and ongoing inequalities in care work and service roles, which, in addition to being exacerbated by COVID-19, are reproducing systemic inequities. These barriers are often felt even more keenly by those at the intersection of gender-based and other biases, including women of colour, as well as women belonging to other marginalized groups relating to sexual identity and disability and accessibility (see for instance, recent CIHR message).

The systemic nature of these inequities makes them difficult to address at the level of a single institution given the fluid situation during the pandemic. However, we must endeavour to do more than simply acknowledge the unprecedented challenges in academia during this time. UBC is committed to Inclusive Excellence (Strategy 4 of the UBC Strategic Plan) and, as such, we should be particularly attentive to these impacts, as well as to work to develop strategies for mitigating systemic barriers to all affected groups. Failure to do so may have much longer-term equity-related consequences for the University in the future.

Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who are experiencing differential consequences because of the pandemic should receive special attention. We encourage units to consider ways in which their graduate students and postdoctoral fellows have been impacted by COVID-19, and look to opportunities for mitigating against some of these challenges. Potential areas to be considered are:

  • Supervision: How do we best support and maintain communication with all of our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, with particular attention to those who are differentially impacted? Please see the message sent on March 27 on our page on Supervision during COVID-19 for more information.
  • Academic progress/productivity: How do we continue to encourage progress, completion and research productivity while recognizing differential impacts? For some suggestions see webinar posted on June 5 on our page on Supervision during COVID-19
  • Funding: Are there ways to direct funding at differentially impacted researchers without forcing or expecting self-disclosure from them? Will funding that recognizes delays in program completion support those most heavily impacted?
  • Adjudication and admissions: As we develop ways to combat systemic bias, how can we support a more equitable approach? How will we review admissions applications in coming years to acknowledge the differential impact that the pandemic may have had on different groups of applicants? How do we encourage applicants to self-disclose differential impacts on their research and how to we assist adjudicators in taking such impacts into account?

We welcome your thoughts on supporting our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who are differentially affected by the pandemic in your units. Additionally, we are interested in hearing from you about ways we at the Dean’s Office, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, might ameliorate and address these effects to create and sustain a more equitable campus. Please email Julian Dierkes, Associate Dean, Funding, with your comments and suggestions.