Nearly 100 faculty members at the University of British Columbia and other universities across the country are pressing the head of the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa to take swifter action in addressing the lack of female nominees to the hall of fame it hosts.
The issue was first reported in The Globe and Mail last month after Judy Illes and Catherine Anderson, both UBC faculty members, resigned from the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame's selection committee because no women had been nominated for the second year running and the museum had declined to reopen nominations.
In an April 14 letter and petition to Alex Benay, the museum's CEO, 92 signatories applauded the actions of Drs. Illes and Anderson and urged the museum to "develop a robust and focused campaign" to ensure that women who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering in Canada are nominated.
On Wednesday, Mr. Benay told The Globe and Mail he has heard the group's concerns and the museum is still seeking creative input on how to revise its nomination process.
Margot Young, a law professor at UBC who helped organize the petition, said the museum should have been taking steps to address the disparity in nominations well before now, rather than wait for a public controversy to erupt.
"It's not enough at this stage," she said. "Nobody who works in science and engineering can credibly say that they're unaware of the absence of proportionate representation of women in that area."
Under the current format, a selection committee made up of individuals from outside the museum chooses up to three individuals per year for induction into the hall of fame based on the nominations the museum receives from the public. Only four nominations were received in 2014 for the current year's round of inductions. All were male.
Elizabeth Croft, an associate dean of mechanical engineering at UBC who holds one of five federally funded chairs aimed at increasing the presence of Canadian women in science and engineering, said that neither she nor the other chair holders had ever been approached by the museum about how to increase the number of eligible female nominees to the hall of fame.
"If you do the same things you've always done, you get the same results," she said. "You do need to be proactive to make a change."
Mr. Benay said the nomination process has now been suspended while the museum is engaged in consultations on whether and how it should be changed. He was looking at a "summer time frame" to complete those consultations and determine the appropriate course of action. He added he also wanted to ensure that the museum's actions were respectful to those who have been nominated for this year, whatever the outcome.
"We're taking this seriously and we want to do this well," he said, adding that a revised plan for the hall of fame should include ways to make Canadians more aware of its existence and make better use of technology to facilitate nominations.
The hall of fame has been closed, along with the rest of the museum, since last fall due to a mould problem. The building has now been emptied of its artifacts and displays and is scheduled to reopen in November, 2107.
Only 11 of the 60 inductees into the hall of fame are women, a disparity that is due in part to the low number of women working in scientific and engineering fields in Canada until the 1960s. While the gender makeup of the scientific community has changed dramatically in recent decades, the naming of women to the hall of fame has lagged.
Lara Boyd, a neuroscientist at UBC who was among those who signed the petitions, said a hall of fame focused on researchers who are no longer working, and often no longer alive, may be part of the problem.
"Perhaps we need to reconceptualize the whole process and say we're just going to celebrate outstanding scientists – and they could be scientists who are making their discoveries right now," she said.