Humanities and social science research is crucial to our understanding of the changing workplace

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jean-Marc Mangin, Executive Director, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

In her recent op-ed for The Globe and Mail, Federation President and McGill Professor Antonia Maioni rightly asks why women, who have outnumbered men at universities for years, remain underrepresented in leadership positions in the workplace. Behind these numbers, suggests Maioni, is a larger picture of evolving notions of work-life balance spearheaded by women who are successfully negotiating a happier (and healthier) model of work. This allows them to fulfill professional goals while taking personal time for themselves and their families. This reconfiguration of work-life balance avoids the trap of driving more women into male-dominated fields where gender hierarchies are re-enforced and perpetuated.

Original and evidence-based research from the humanities and social sciences can help support this transformation in work culture by exploring and identifying the personal and professional needs and aspirations of women and men. Fortunately, we already have a wealth of resources to mine for guidance. Researchers and educators in Women’s Studies, like those at the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University, are actively engaging in research on the topic of women in the workplace.

There is no shortage of fascinating angles from which to approach this topic. Research papers presented at the Federation’s 2014 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences illustrate the diversity of scholarly engagement with this issue: Jenna Jacobson and Leslie Shade (University of Toronto) highlighted young women's labour in unpaid internships. Their paper, "Hungry for the Job: Unpaid Internships and Gender", is forthcoming in early 2015 in a special issue of Sociological Review Monograph on Gender and Creative Labour. Deborah van den Hoonaard (St. Thomas University) and Marilyn Noble (University of New Brunswick) discussed their research on the experiences of retired baby-boomer women.

These perspectives bring much needed insight and raise new questions into the challenges of transforming the culture and realities of work for all genders.


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