ESS Newsletter: December 2020

Welcome from ESS Director

Welcome to the Winter 2020 installment of the Engendering Success in STEM Newsletter. The past six months have been eventful as all of us have tried to adjust our lives and work during the global pandemic. Given these unusual challenges, I am especially grateful for and inspired by the work done by our dedicated students, trainees, staff, researchers, and partnering organizations. We are excited to share several updates about the activities and accomplishments of the ESS Consortium. We want to take this opportunity to showcase how each project has adapted to the new COVID-19 protocols, the highlights from the November 2020 ESS Annual Meeting, and two new graduate training initiatives being spearheaded by the ESS Consortium and its members. In addition, we recently submitted our SSHRC Partnership Grant Midterm Report where we had the pleasure of highlighting all the achievements of the consortium over the last three and half years. I am incredibly proud of what we have collectively accomplished since ESS was formed in 2017 and look forward to seeing future accomplishments. We hope you and your families are and continue to be safe and healthy during these uncertain times. 

    Toni Schmader

  Project CLIMB

  Project PRISM

  Project SINC

  Project RISE

Consortium Member Feature: Dr. Sonia Kang

What was the path that led you to be interested in and to study Social Psychology/Organizational Behaviour?

My interest in identity, inequality, and injustice was awakened by growing up as a bicultural Indo-Canadian girl with three sisters in a predominately White community. I noticed prejudice and inequality everywhere, and have been interested in social justice and inclusion from a young age. I was and still am highly sensitive to seeing people be disrespected, excluded, or undermined because of their identity, whether because of their age, race, gender, social class, or anything else. My interest in many of the concepts I study now are rooted in these early experiences as part of a family with four daughters sandwiched between two cultures that devalues girls and women, one more explicitly and the other in a more hidden but equally pernicious way. These early experiences sparked a desire to understand and transcend what I perceived as barriers to my own and others’ self-expression and accomplishment, and ultimately lead me to pursue graduate studies in social psychology. I am still driven by many of the same questions that emerged in my childhood. Why do people think boys and men are better than girls and women? Why do people care so much about gender anyway? How can people from diverse backgrounds live and work together happily and productively? How can people best manage the multiplicity and intersections of their various social identity groups? How can environments be set up so that everyone feels valued and included? Questions like these, coupled with the desire to contribute in some small way to a society in which everyone feels valued and included, continue to invigorate my interest in identity, diversity, and inclusion.       


You were appointed as a Canadian Research Chair in Identity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the University of Toronto Mississauga earlier this year. Can you tell us a little bit about your research?

My research explores the challenges and opportunities of identity, diversity, and inclusion. Rather than focusing on changing individual’s attitudes, I try to take a novel approach to these issues by harnessing the power of behavioral insights and organizational design to disrupt systems, processes, and structures that block the path toward diversity and inclusion for individuals, organizations, and society. I firmly believe that systemic problems require systemic solutions, and I work with organizations to identify and leverage opportunities for innovation in the diversity and inclusion space.  


Some recent and ongoing themes investigated in my research include diversity and inclusion in STEM and medicine; using choice architecture to eliminate the gender gap in competition; disclosure of designated group status under the Canadian Employment Equity Act; the effects of high and low power on performance; the interpretation of equality rights under the Canadian Constitution; the effectiveness of pro-diversity statements; designing gender inclusive job advertisements; and the decision to reveal or conceal race and gender cues when navigating the labor market. My research on “resume whitening” won two best paper awards and was recently ranked #3 on Financial Times’ global top 100 list of “business school research with social impact” (!).


In partnership with Rogers, you have created a podcast called “For the Love of Work.” Could you share some information about the podcast and the topic(s) it addresses?

For the Love of Work is an exciting new podcast that explores the modern employee experience. We start from the premise that it’s possible to find fulfilment in your career and truly love what you do, and we explore ways to connect people back to the passion and love that brought them to their work in the first place. Everyone feels stuck at some point in their careers, and we designed the podcast to help people get “unstuck” by working through common workplace challenges and presenting practical solutions. The podcast covers universal themes that have become all the more relevant now as we learn to adapt and redefine what work looks like during a pandemic. Many things about work life are just not working anymore, and we have the opportunity now to build everything back better, which means putting the needs of employees first. The first season has seven episodes focused on how to stand out while working virtually; how to be resilient in times of change; how to connect to your values and have social impact in the workplace; how to deal with feedback and foster psychological safety; how to develop and grow your career; how to create inclusive workplace cultures; and how to find the right company for you. You can learn more about For the Love of Work and find episodes at, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Like, subscribe, and tell all of your friends 🙂


What are you currently working on within the ESS research team?

My PhD student Joyce He and I are working on several projects relevant to ESS that are focused on aligning gender and professional identities to increase gender diversity and feelings of inclusion in STEM. In one project (profiled here on the ESS website), we worked with a company looking to increase the number of women applying to a traditionally male-dominated job. This was a position that was continually posted by the company and had never been successful in attracting female applicants. We worked with the company to re-write the job advertisement for this position in a more gender-neutral way by replacing agentic/masculine language (e.g., words like entrepreneurial, confident, strong, aggressive) with gender-neutral language (e.g., willing to pursue new and creative ideas, competent, dedicated). After six months of using the new gender-neutral advertisement, the company saw a significant increase in the number of women applying for the position with no impact to the number of men applying for the job. We are also working on a project with other ESS SINC team members Dr. Will Hall and Jacklyn Koyama to examine how engineering students’ conceptualization of engineering identity and their identification with engineering changes and shifts as they progress through university. So far, we find that students come into university with identification with an academic and technical conceptualization of engineering, but receive an identity shock in the first semester of the program, where they encounter very difficult exams and coursework, and are no longer able to easily excel academically and technically. This identity shock leads students to question their sense of belonging and fit with engineering. In response to this shock, we find that students cope through building a “culture of suffering”, or the sense that everybody is going through the same shocks and struggles within the engineering student community, which buffers against this lack of belonging. We also find that students engage in identity deconstruction and reconstruction, by reconstructing engineering identity (i.e., what a successful engineer looks like) to reflect not just technical and academic success but also to include social aspects, which then increases their identification with engineering. In all, the research that I’m conducting within ESS is aimed at better aligning gender and professional identities to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM academic and work environments.  

Partner Spotlight: Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWiE)

Please let us a little bit about the Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWiE).
The Ontario Network of Women in Engineering was formed in 2003 as a collaboration between all the faculties of engineering in Ontario, with a mission to improve the gender diversity in our undergraduate population. We have since expanded across the country, offering free workshops to girls to inspire them to consider engineering as a career.


How do ONWiE’s programs help to advance the goals of gender inclusion and diversity?
We have three flagship programs: Go ENG Girl and Go CODE Girl, which are hands-on workshops that reach approximately 3000 girls from grades 7-10 per year, and Girl Guide Badge Days, which offers an engineering badge to Girl Guides for participating in a hands-on workshop. Importantly, we engage with parents during Go ENG Girl, to enlist them as partners in their daughter’s journey of career discovery. We also hold a bi-annual Summit, which brings together all our partners with experts (including from ESS) to guide our work.


As one of our key data collection partners, can you tell us about your involvement with Project SINC?
We recognize that unless we create a truly inclusive environment for all students, girls will not be attracted to engineering from high school. Thus, we have been working closely with McMaster engineering (ONWiE’s current host institution) on two SINC projects. We have been collaborating with Jacklyn Koyama (Dr. Page-Gould’s lab at UofT) and Emily Cyr (Dr. Bergsieker’s lab at Waterloo) to determine the factors that create inclusive teamwork experiences in our large first-year project-based course, using physiological measures and social network analysis. As the course moved to exclusively online interactions, we also were granted support from McMaster’s COVID-19 fund. We have also been helping Francine Karmali (Dr. Page-Gould’s lab; also with Dr. Hall) collect data on our co-op students’ first work experiences, looking at the importance of interactions with colleagues on stress and productivity.


With the current changes around social and physical distancing, how has programming changed at ONWiE?
With the support of GM Canada, we hired two summer students to develop completely virtual hands-on workshops that our partner institutions could use. We also hosted experts to share their best practices in online engagement with our partners. All our workshops for 2020/2021 have pivoted to online. Incredibly, with the incredible leadership of McMaster Engineering, this move has resulted in engaging with more than ten times the normal amount of Girl Guides (12,000 and counting!). We are looking forward to hosting a virtual Summit to inspire our partners later in 2021.