Break the Bias: Faculty, staff, and students share reflections on International Women’s Day

On International Women’s Day (IWD) we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and tremendous impact of women globally and reflect on how we can advocate for gender equality (#BreakTheBias). In recognition of this special day, members of our UBC Pharm Sci community share their reflections and advice below.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

“For me, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to look back and look forward. It helps us reflect on what we have collectively accomplished and celebrate all the incredible women who are role models to future generations, while still acknowledging that there is always more we can do. It gives us the occasion to celebrate the many inspiring stories which empower all of us to achieve our full potential. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias and for that we should be reflecting and learning about the impacts of our unconscious biases, which can make it very difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that it exists is not enough; action at every level is needed to combat its negative impacts, while supporting equity and opportunity. International Women’s Day is also a time to be hopeful and look towards what we all can and should do to support a path forward, a trail blazed, or a positive change made for ourselves and others.”

Dr. Sandra Jarvis-Selinger, Professor and Associate Dean, Academic

“International Women’s Day is a special day to commemorate and celebrate the historic achievements of women from around the world. It’s a day to bring attention to the past and current issues women face. Global gender equality has still not been achieved and in fact, is actively being challenged by individuals and certain groups. It’s also a day to respect and honour the women who have and are still being mistreated and denied basic human rights.”
Vivian Phan, Entry-to-Practice Doctor of Pharmacy Student (Class of 2022)

"'Hey, there is chocolate in the kitchen.' 'Special occasion?' 'It’s IWD today!' This small gesture means a lot to all of us in the office; it shows that people remember this special day and recognize its importance! IWD means a lot to me and reminds me of the value that women bring to both the workplace and home.”

Ying Gu, Senior Program Assistant, Canadian Pharmacy Practice Program, Division of Continuing Pharmacy Professional Development (CPPD) 

“IWD is a day devoted to celebrating the power of women. It is a powerful platform that drives global action for gender parity and spotlights many inspirational, supportive and motivational stories that ultimately empowers women and girls to achieve their full potential.”
Clara Ng, Assistant Dean, Operations & Strategic Initiatives

“It is a special day for me. IWD is when I think of all the women in my life, personal and professional, and reflect on how each of us has access to power or not; and where our society is now compared to our grandmothers and great-grandmothers.”

Dr. Annalijn Conklin, Assistant Professor 

“Personally, I find it is an opportunity to reflect on my accomplishments and goals for the year ahead. I also make time to intentionally celebrate my three young nieces – one small step to help them grow into confident, strong women.”

Jennifer Dunkin, Quality Care Pharmacist, Pharmacists in PCN Program 

Image: Incoming students at the 2019 White Coat Ceremony. Justin Ohata, UBC Pharm Sci.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing women of your generation today?

“I believe that some of the biggest issues facing women of our generation today are access to education and reproductive health rights.”

Clara Ng

“Apathy towards women’s rights, and a general misconception that we have achieved equality between women and men, which is far from reality. A key example is the persistent wage gap in Canada and many other countries which can limit access to resources and contribute to poor health.”

Dr. Annalijn Conklin

“Societal pressure and expectations of what women should do with their personal and professional lives.”

Dr. Arwa Nemir, Evaluation Coordinator, Pharmacists in PCN Program 

How important is it for women to lift each other up, and how do you personally approach this?

“I think it is very important for women to lift each other up. There is certainly a perception that if you try hard enough, you will be able to overcome all challenges and be successful and if the previous generation made it, the next generation should go through the same processes and prove themselves. I believe that it is survival bias. Instead of asking the next generation to go through what we experienced, we should try to take down barriers and make ways to welcome and allow more girls and women to enter career paths and to succeed. In addition, I have found that having a group of peers who share with me my (and their) struggles, our viewpoints and our successes has been critical. So, to me, the first step is to show empathy and be a friend who listens and supports others. Next is to advocate and take action to identify and remove barriers.”

Dr. Ly Vu, Assistant Professor 

“I would say it is very important for women to empower each other. I personally approach this by providing support through simple words of encouragement or going the extra mile (within my capacity and position) by advocating for other’s rights when needed.”

Dr. Arwa Nemir

Image: UBC Pharm Sci assistant professor, Dr. Annalijn Conklin. Justin Ohata, UBC Pharm Sci.

Who has inspired you most in your professional life?

“I have had many role models throughout my career, including leaders who have shown me what good leadership should look like and the positive impact it can have on others. One mentor in particular has taught me much about leadership, but also about humility and kindness. She has shown me that leaders do well if they lead from behind and make it possible for the people they’re leading to shine.”
Clara Ng

“My mother mostly, but also major women in STEM like Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin and Katalin Kariko, among many others.”

Dr. Annalijn Conklin

“Dr. Connie Eaves has been an inspiring figure for me since the beginning of my career. Dr. Eaves is a world-class scientist, a strong leader, and leading voice of woman in science. Dr. Eaves to me is the proof that women do not have to compromise to pursue a professional career.”

Dr. Ly Vu

“I keep in close contact with an amazing group of women that I completed my pharmacy undergrad with. We’ve known each other for over 25 years and have supported each other through many of life’s phases. These girls tell it like it is and have been so helpful at pushing me to challenge myself professionally, be true to myself and my values, and most importantly, they are always there to tell me how amazing I am!”

Jennifer Dunkin

Image: Dr. Sandra Jarvis-Selinger and graduates at the 2019 Dean's Reception. Justin Ohata, UBC Pharm Sci.

What one piece of advice would you share with women working towards a career in research, teaching, higher education administration, and/or pharmacy practice?

“As a leader in higher education, my advice is ‘Be your own advocate. Let the colleagues and leaders around you know your career aspirations, hopes and dreams.’ What comes along with that advice is ‘Don’t wait to be noticed.’ This may be true for both men and women but in my experiences I have found that women tend to think that if they do really good job, those around them – especially their supervisors – will notice and make sure everything they aspire to will just happen. When I meet with young women beginning their career journeys, I tell them that speaking up about your future goals and dreams doesn’t make you self-centred, egotistical or narcissistic, it just means that you have someone in your corner supporting you. As a leader, I don’t know what I don’t know and I never want to presume what interests or motivates anyone in my organization. For example, I can’t be your advocate if you don’t let me know what you aspire to. You need to help me to help you and I can only keep an eye out for future opportunities if I know what you’re interested in doing and being. It doesn’t mean that it always works out but it has a better chance of happening if you’re clear to others about where you’d like to see yourself in the future. These types of conversations are incredibly important for supporting women’s leadership and career goals in any organization. Think about’re probably a very strong advocate for your colleagues and friends so just use that talent for yourself as well.” 

Dr. Sandra Jarvis-Selinger

“I will share the one piece of advice that really changed how I think and approach my career. For all the women working toward a professional career, be assertive and go get your place at the table – we deserve it!”

Dr. Ly Vu

“Higher Education is critical and advances in education are a prerequisite to the betterment of society. One piece of advice for those in higher education would be to continue to have an insatiable curiosity about the world and to always continue to ask “why” so that we can continue to improve our work and the people/organizations we serve. The wonderful thing about working in a higher education institution such as UBC is being able to pursue such intellectual interests.”

Clara Ng

“Keep trying and one day you will reach your goal.”

Ying Gu

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Asking questions can generate much needed discussion, it can enhance your understanding, it can clarify a plan, and it can save hours of work later on.”

Kate McCammon, Site Coordinator – Team Lead, Pharmacists in PCN Program

“If an opportunity comes across your plate that piques your interest, don’t hesitate to investigate it further. Stifle the voice that tells you that you don’t have enough experience or knowledge to be considered. One of the best jobs I’ve ever had was for a position I almost didn’t apply for because I thought I was under-qualified.”
Jennifer Dunkin

“Follow your passion. The sky is the limit.” 

Dr. Arwa Nemir

Image: Graduates at the 2019 Dean's Reception. Justin Ohata, UBC Pharm Sci.

How can people become better allies to women and other minority groups?

“People can become better allies to women and other minority groups in many ways. It can be overwhelming and daunting but it is okay and completely normal to be uncomfortable in these conversations. A good first step is to listen with an open mind. Listen to the voices of the members of minority groups as it is a learning opportunity to learn the trials and tribulations their communities face. There are resources to turn to including workshops, podcasts, educational videos, books, and even social media. Another way to become a better ally is to reflect on your privilege and try to identify situations in your life where you can recognize it and change your behavior. Lastly, if you are in a social situation where you are witnessing discriminatory behavior, speak up and use that opportunity to educate.”

Vivian Phan

“Treat each other equally and show respect.”

Ying Gu

“By actively listening to women and other minority groups on how they can better support them. By diversifying leaderships roles to better represent women and other minorities.”

Dr. Arwa Nemir

Learn more about International Women's Day here.