Celebrating International Women’s Day with McGill’s female Deans

How McGill’s leaders #InspireInclusion

A collage of six of McGill's women deans each forming the #InspireInclusion heart pose with her hands.

Friday, March 8 is International Women’s Day, marking the achievements of women and serving as a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

This year’s theme is Inspire Inclusion – a message exemplified by McGill’s female leaders. At the moment, 10 of McGill’s 14 deans are women; three are the first to ever to lead their Faculty.

Here, they share their thoughts on the women who inspire them, the progress that’s been made, and the barriers that have yet to be broken.

Guylaine Beaudry, Trenholme Dean of Libraries

“On Women’s Day, I first think of the women in my family who have been models for me in multiple ways,” says Dean Beaudry. “One of them is my sister Nathalie Beaudry, a McGill alumna, who 25 years ago founded Les Filles et les Sciences, offering girls events to learn how a career in science can be creative and contribute to the advancement and betterment of our communities. Increasing the presence of women and girls in science is an important question for universities and society.

“I also think of a number of public figures, like the French politician Simone Veil, visual artists Rita Letendre, Marcelle Ferron and Françoise Sullivan, or pianist Martha Argerich,” she says. “Jessye Norman, my preferred singer, is for me a source of inspiration. Listening to her intelligent and powerful interpretations puts me in a mood to give the best of myself. On stage, her capacity to connect with both the musicians and the audience was each time a communication lesson. We are surrounded by inspiring models of women leaders.”

Yolande E. Chan, Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management

Yolande E. Chan, Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management, forming the #InspireInclusion heart pose with her hands.“On International Women’s Day, I am privileged to work alongside several accomplished women deans at our University,” says Dean Chan. “The diverse talents and perspectives of McGill’s women deans are formidable and inspiring. We are individually and collectively strong. My own leadership journey has been influenced by remarkable women, both within academia and business. Their resilience, vision, high standards, and determination have pushed me to strive for excellence.

“At McGill Desautels, we are committed to breaking barriers and creating opportunities for women leaders. We champion initiatives that support the advancement of women through, for example, student clubs, academic research, inclusive pedagogy, the McGill Desautels EDI Initiative, and the Laidley Centre for Ethics and Equity.

“On a personal note, I serve as an advocate for women in academia and business. I mentor women, champion policies that foster equity, and aim to be a role model who inspires others. It is a joy to showcase the remarkable achievements of other women, as we work together to create a future where inclusion is not just a goal but a reality.”

Elham Emami, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences

Elham Emami, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences, and a student both forming the #InspireInclusion heart pose with their hands.“Over a hundred years ago, Indian political leader B. R. Ambedkar wisely noted ‘I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.’ Societies have benefited from the significant contributions of women in various fields of science, research, innovation, education, and politics over time,” says Dean Emami.

« Cependant, célébrer la Journée internationale du droit des femmes ne se limite pas à reconnaître les progrès; c’est aussi embrasser l’esprit infatigable de l’émancipation des femmes. »

“In the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences, we are working on breaking the glass ceiling by promoting gender balance in different aspects of our academic programs and in the composition of faculty members and administration. We recognize female achievements and leadership, and we have implemented diversity initiatives fostering an inclusive culture. We encourage open dialogue on gender equality, provide training, offer mentorship, and support professional networking. This commitment will persist and remains strong! I am also collaborating with a colleague who specializes in public health and conducts research in Kenya to develop a free leadership program for women in developing countries.”

Lesley Fellows, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

Lesley Fellows, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, forming the #InspireInclusion heart pose with her hands.“It’s great to work with such an engaged and collegial decanter of deans – women and men both,” says Dean Fellows. “I’ve benefited from working with many smart, talented women as supervisors, colleagues, students, and friends throughout my academic journey, at McGill and elsewhere. Some were pioneers in neuroscience in the decades (not so long ago) when women were a rarity. Some were ready to share rueful accounts of hammering at glass ceilings; some preferred not to dwell on the sexism they surely encountered, instead just getting on with doing brilliant science. I learned from all of them.

“True inclusion is a challenging, even revolutionary goal: we need to lower barriers, boost confidence, question structures, shake things up, and keep doing that over and over again. I’m proud of all the members of my Faculty: staff and students alike who persist in all kinds of efforts, from small personal gestures to major programs, that strengthen our sense of shared purpose and help us make the most of everyone’s talents. We are definitely making progress!”

Valérie Orsat, Acting Dean, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

Valérie Orsat, Acting Dean, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences“The field and professional practice of agricultural, environmental, and bioresource engineering has been evolving in the past decades and is increasingly attentive to being an inclusive and safe environment for all individuals to flourish in,” says Acting Dean Orsat. “In the past decades an increasing number of women have chosen to study in these fields, but they have not necessarily stayed within these professions due to, at times, unfriendly work environments and a lack of role models supporting their professional paths. This is changing, as women are finding their passion within the practice to discover appropriate solutions to feed the planet while respecting the earth’s boundary conditions.

“As the acting Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and a Professor of Bioresource Engineering, I take immense pride and joy in the mentoring of students, and this has always proven to be very rewarding to me,” she says. “I can see that my trainees are thankful for the support and patient guidance that I provide. I would also say that the female students I teach to do really appreciate having a woman in a leadership role as a model to confirm their choice of studies.”

Lisa Shapiro, Dean of the Faculty of Arts

Lisa Shapiro, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, forming the #InspireInclusion heart pose with her hands.“This International Women’s Day, I want to recognize the women who have impacted me professionally before I arrived at McGill in Fall 2022,” says Dean Shapiro. “A friend’s mother, Helen Holt, a physicist, inspired me to persevere as the only female physics major in my undergrad year. Tamara Horowitz, and Jennifer Whiting showed me how to press forward in the male-dominated discipline of philosophy as I pursued my PhD, as did my PhD supervisor Annette Baier, who combined pointed criticism with genuine respect and support. At Simon Fraser, I worked with Dean Jane Pulkingham, who demonstrated how to lead a real team, and fellow Associate Dean Catherine Murray, whose advocacy for reconciliation moved the needle.

“I strive to carry forward these attitudes in my work as Dean of Arts at McGill, prioritizing teamwork, collegial governance and respect,” she says. “My research reflects the importance of recognition: Extending New Narratives in the History of Philosophy, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, is recovering the philosophical contributions of women of the past. Here at McGill, I continue to be inspired by our amazing women leaders.”

Victoria Talwar, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Education

Victoria Talwar, Interim Dean of the Faculty of Education“It’s very motivating and moving to see so many women taking on leadership roles within the University,” says Interim Dean Talwar. “I’m both proud and grateful to be mentored by and working alongside eight other women deans. These are truly accomplished and capable women. It is exciting and inspiring to work with such leaders.

“I’m fortunate enough to work side-by-side with women who inspire me, as we have an all-female Deanery. Helping to drive the Faculty of Education’s mandate and projects are my Associate Deans: Caroline Paquette, Marie-Hélène Pennestri, and Sheryl Smith-Gilman. I very much enjoy our collaborations, problem-solving, and driving forward a shared vision. As women leaders, I find we are also committed to fostering a nurturing environment and a sense of community within the Faculty.

Although Education is known for its teaching and learning expertise, many of our instructors and researchers are focused on social change and social justice. The inclusion and the advancement of girls to climb the educational ladder and obtain their full potential is at the heart of what we strive for in Education. Bridging the gender divide, encouraging women in STEM, access to education for girls, and tackling gender-based violence are just some of the areas our academics and students focus on.”

Carola Weil, Dean of the School of Continuing Studies

Carola Weil, Dean of the School of Continuing Studies, forming the #InspireInclusion heart pose with her hands.“It is a still all-too-rare honour to be part of a majority female leadership team at a research-intensive university,” says Dean Weil. “You do not have to be famous, a star, or a heroine to inspire. For example, my sister, who turned multiple roadblocks into an opportunity to pursue her passion as a professional baker, inspires me to face the challenges that come my way.

“At the School of Continuing Studies, women transform their lives and careers in all kinds of fields; our course offerings include Empowering Women Through Career and Leadership Development for the global aviation sector. I advocate for the inclusion of women daily, whether through highlighting works authored by women when teaching, or encouraging fellow women colleagues to pursue leadership roles working side-by-side with others.”

Viviane Yargeau, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering

Viviane Yargeau, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, forming the #InspireInclusion heart pose with her hands.“Happy International Women’s Day! Let us celebrate the remarkable achievements, resilience, and contributions of women worldwide,” says Dean Yargeau. “As Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, I’m proud to stand alongside trailblazing women who break barriers and pave the way for future generations.

“In our Faculty, we are incredibly fortunate to have a community of members advancing gender equity and inclusion,” she says. “The student group, POWE (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Engineering), is dedicated to empowering women and promoting gender diversity in the field, and our E-IDEA (Engineering Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity Advancement) team is committed to creating a more inclusive working and learning environment and helping embed EDI in all that we do. It’s a priority for me to support these initiatives as well as engage in one-on-one mentorship for female students and junior colleagues. My hope is that we continue to amplify diverse voices and support each other in building a more equitable world.”

Editor’s note: Due to an oversight, we were unable to include Josephine Nalbantoglu, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, in this article. A McGill graduate, Nalbantoglu earned her PhD in Biochemistry from McGill in 1984 and returned as a faculty member in 1990 after pursuing research in Montreal, London, and Saitama, Japan. She began her first five-year term as dean on July 1, 2015. We hope to add her story to this article in the coming days.

Hear more from McGill’s female leaders, including Prof. Vicky Kaspi and Anja Geitmann, Interim Vice-President (Global Engagement) – on McGill’s YouTube page.

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Samuel Oyugi
4 months ago

Happy women’s day to them and all other women who are transforming the world to be a better place to live in.

Ben Locke
4 months ago

Sadly though they may no longer have deanships to hold by next year, after the tuition fee increases and French language requirements are imposed by Quebec (and declining student enrollments that started this year go for the plunge next year). Really sad.