UAlberta leads German-Canadian dialogue on innovation through intersectional gender analysis at Berlin Week of Science

UAlberta has long collaborated closely with institutions all across Europe and particularly in Germany, making it a natural fit to bring research from across Alberta across the Atlantic for an international audience.

18 November 2019

The Berlin Week of Science is one of Europe's most prestigious symposiums to showcase advancements made in all fields of sciences -- healthcare, technology, energy, and more.

The ten-day festival brings together scientists, academics, and researchers from leading global institutions to foster innovative approaches through engagement with local and international partners. As a platform for thought-provoking discussion, the Berlin Week of Science provides a unique environment to cultivate dialogue that spurs collaboration and inspires a deeper scientific understanding of the world.

UAlberta has long collaborated closely with institutions all across Europe and particularly in Germany, making it a natural fit to bring research from across Alberta across the Atlantic for an international audience.

This year, academics from UAlberta attended the Berlin Week of Science and hosted two events at the Canadian Embassy to discuss the role of gender and intersectionality for successful innovation. The events were hosted by Dr. Susanne Luhmann, Associate Professor and Director of Intersections of Gender at the University of Alberta together with Dr. Sabine Hark, Director of the Institute of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies at the TU Berlin.

As Luhmann explains, an intersectional gender approach matters, both in terms of advancing equity and diversity among researchers and for improved research design.

"Facial recognition software fails for Brown and Black faces and often misidentifies gender," explains Luhmann. "Drugs tested only on male subjects risks having different and potentially adverse effects on women."

She points out that innovation and new technologies should enhance social equality and benefit diverse populations. To accomplish this, "research design needs to consider gender together with other diversities from the start, and ensure that new technologies do not reproduce or even amplify gender stereotypes, racial biases, and other inequities."

Alexander Kuznetsov, Regional Manager of Europe with UAlberta International, elaborates on how UAlberta's involvement with Berlin Week of Science offered an incredible opportunity to UAlberta's gender expertise with an international audience. As UAlberta holds close relationships with many institutions across Germany, not only could these events find a captivated audience in discussing intersectional gender research, but the research findings showcased from UAlberta also hold a reputable authority to an international audience.

"Gender and intersectional inclusivity is a major priority for UAlberta as an institution and we're proud to show the major strides we've made in this area to our important international research colleagues," explains Kuznetsov. "By being able to show some of the research taking place here at UAlberta, it further positions UAlberta as a leader not only on this topic of research but as one of the world's leading research institutions."

The events held at the Canadian Embassy in Berlin were centred around the findings from Canadian and German researchers, university senior administrators, and representatives of major research funding agencies in both countries. The first event was an invite-only round-table discussion. Moderated by Luhmann and Hark, the panel discussed institutional strategies for increasing equity, diversity, and inclusion and fostering intersectional gender research across all fields.

The panel featured the following German and Canadian senior research administrators: Dr. Christine Ahrend, Vice President for Research, Appointment Strategy & Transfer, TU Berlin; Dr. Sonja Ochsenfeld-Repp, Head of Equal Opportunities, Research Integrity and Cross-Programme Development, German Research Foundation (DFG); Dr. Matthias Ruth, Vice-President Research and Innovation, University of Alberta; Dr. Geneviève Tanguay, Vice-President, National Research Council (NRC), Canada; and Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, Scientific Director, Institute of Gender and Health, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The second event was open to the general public and featured interdisciplinary research by UAlberta and TU Berlin scholars. Presenters from UAlberta included Dr. Cressida Heyes (Political Science) and Dr. Denise Spitzer (Public Health) as well as Dr. Hannah Fitsch, postdoctoral fellow at the TU Berlin.

The public presentations emphasized how intersectional gender analyses further our understanding of a wide range of relevant issues from sleep, to migration policies, and to the use of algorithms in brain research.

Dr Cressida Heyes, H. M. Tory Chair and professor, felt that the event signified an important step forward. "This was a major coup for the University of Alberta's new signature area in Intersections of Gender, and an important forum for researchers across the humanities and social sciences to connect with a larger audience," explains Heyes. "It was a great pleasure to see a room full of not only academic experts but also policy-makers from university administrations and national granting agencies, as well as interested members of the public (including a great turnout of U of A alumni and other Canadians in Berlin!). Discussion was lively, and attests to the international reputation of UAlberta, as well as widespread interest in thinking practically about how to rework feminist insights for research and policy in the politically challenging contemporary world."

The Honourable Stéphane Dion, Ambassador of Canada to Germany and Special Envoy to the European Union and Europe, delivered concluding remarks at the events. "To avoid spoiling any talent, to break down all these barriers, to allow everyone to bring their full potential to society, for justice and progress, we need to acknowledge and address intersectionality," Dion shared, adding that "to face the tremendous innovation challenges, from the digital revolution to the transition towards a low carbon economy, in our highly competitive world, success can only be achieved by the inclusion of all of the humankind talent pool. This is why innovation and inclusion must go hand in hand."

Looking forward, Luhmann hopes that gender diversity and other identities become standard parameters for research excellence

"Seeing more diverse representations across STEM fields is vital for successful innovation," adds Luhmann. "We're hoping that showing our research to an international audience will further the conversation around socially relevant sciences. I'm incredibly excited that UAlberta has an opportunity to be at the forefront of this discussion on an international stage."