This International Women’s Day, Dr. Naznin Virji-Babul, Senior Advisor on Women and Gender-diverse Faculty, and Academic Co-Director of the Academic Leadership Development Program (ALDP) shares perspectives on a more equitable and inclusive future at UBC.
What are some of the key initiatives that you are currently working on?
There are two initiatives that I would like to highlight – Maximizing Impact and Envisioning Equality.
The Maximizing Impact program was developed and created as a direct response to help mitigate the pandemic-induced challenges that impacted the ability of early career researchers (ECRs) to do research, teach and contribute to service. Importantly, we know that these negative effects were significantly compounded by the intersection of gender, disability status, ethnicity, and childcare responsibilities.
The program provides networking opportunities, lunchtime talks by senior faculty members from across campus and one-on-one coaching. Over the past three years, over 50 diverse, early career researchers from across the university have joined this program. Senior faculty and emeriti faculty across campus stepped up to support and mentor the junior faculty. In addition, a dedicated team of coaches volunteered their time and expertise to work with the junior faculty. These coaches help faculty to focus their vision, set clear objectives and goals and act as thought partners as ECRs started to navigate their leadership journey at UBC.
The second initiative is called Envisioning Equality Awards. When I was first appointed as Senior Advisor to the Provost in 2020 at UBC I went on a listening tour to hear about the experiences of women faculty (both cis and transgender) across campus. As I was going into many different buildings and I saw many portraits and paintings – mostly of white men I thought where are the women? Where are the racialized faculty? I saw that the contributions and impact made by women, racialized faculty and staff have often not been highlighted – or worse that they have been dismissed or overlooked.
With support from the Provost’s Office, the Equity & Inclusion Office, as well as UBC faculty and alumni, I was able to raise funds to create a new award to celebrate ten women and gender-diverse faculty and staff. These awards will take the form of printed banners featuring images of the women being honoured.
The banners will be displayed later this spring and I hope will catalyze conversations about the accomplishments and impact that women and gender-diverse faculty and staff have made and continue to make at UBC – and to question traditional cultural and gender stereotypes. I also hope that will inspire UBC to invest in creating more public art to reflect the diversity of the UBC community
What is the one thing/norm/idea you want to challenge this IWD?
Historic structural inequalities are deeply embedded within academia and have led to profound gender and racial/ethnic disparities. I have hope that all the justice, equity, decolonization, Indigenization, and inclusion (JEDII) based initiatives that are taking place across UBC will start to shift mindsets and spark culture change to value and engage with the rich diversity of all students, staff and faculty in a way that shows that UBC truly values inclusive excellence.
What’s one self-care/destress tip that has worked for you?
I make sure to exercise regularly by walking, bicycling and playing pickleball. I also love to sculpt in clay. I created this sculpture below recently at a portrait workshop that I attended at the Florence Academy of Art. It was a fantastic experience to be sculpting in a city where I was surrounded by beautiful, inspiring sculptures!