March 7, UAlberta Law Visiting Assistant Professor Ireh Iyioha was one of four panellists who participated in Gender in the Workplace, an on-campus speaker series organized by
the University of
Alberta Career Centre intended
to teach students and
alumni about the complex relationship between gender and career.
was joined by Lynne-Marie Postovit, Associate Professor of Oncology with the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Keith King, Accreditation Advisor with Alberta Health Services, and Claire Edwards,
fYrefly Program Coordinator for Edmonton.
each panellist brought a unique background and diverse perspective to the event,
some major themes arose during the conversation, including: mentorship,
advocacy in the workplace, work-life balance, knowing one’s values, and finally,
the belief that change in regards to gender equity can start with just one
each speaker’s initial presentation, there was a question-and-answer session
and time for networking. Here is what Iyioha had to say.
In one minute
or less, introduce yourself.
I am a Visiting
Assistant Professor at UAlberta Law and an Assistant Adjunct Professor at the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre at the
Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry. I have held the latter position since July
I have an LL.B., a BL.,
an LL.M. from the University of Toronto and a PhD from the University of British
Columbia (UBC). I
completed a Post-doctoral Fellowship at Western University. I have held teaching
positions at Western University and UBC, as well as policy positions with the
governments of Ontario and Alberta.
My current role involves
teaching and research. I teach a first-year course (Tort Law 1 and 2), as well
as a combined seminar and lecture course on women’s health and the law. Outside
the university environment, I do professional creative writing and have been published
by several publishing bodies and institutions, including by Harvard
University’s Transition Magazine at the Hutchins Center for African &
African American Research. I earned a special mention from the 2016
judges of the prestigious Caine
Prize in London for a creative work that appeared in Harvard’s Transition. The work addresses an aspect
of Canada’s immigration policy and provides an insight into how
bureaucratic decisions borne out of societal definitions of self and other can
have profound ramifications on people’s lives.
When not writing,
teaching, or researching, I mentor undergraduates and graduate students, as
well as those starting new professions. I realize the goals of mentorship
through an international initiative I established to mentor socially-conscious
individuals who are themselves supporting vulnerable children in their
has gender impacted you both professionally and personally? Do you feel that
gender has played a significant role in your career journey (e.g., caused
barriers, etc.)? …
Gender definitely has an impact on a
woman’s career and in different ways. I have personally been impacted by it. … Being
a woman has implications for decision making in our professions. Being a
mother, with the attendant maternity leave, has an impact on career. Academic
positions are not 9-5 jobs. The workload is significant and the expectations
are high. Kids also have high expectations and are a lot of (delightful though
tasking) work. Place the family and professional responsibilities together and
it’s like always being on call. And working women who choose to have families
must juggle these different, but very important responsibilities. Being a woman/mother
in the workplace means that you have two full-time jobs and are constantly
thinking of these responsibilities/expectations. At another level, women are
susceptible to discriminatory practices because of their gender, and I have in a
number of occasions over the course of my work life been impacted by that … The
fact that women are rights-holding members of society and should not be subjected
to discriminatory practices based on their gender is often of little
significance when faced with the probable consequences of speaking out. So,
yes, being a woman has implications for our careers.
With regards to
career selection, what advice do you have for students? How do you see values
come into play?
It is important to figure out your
passion and values when making a decision on where to work. Being passionate
about what you do and choosing a career path that reflects your values would help
lighten the burdens as you progress along your professional journey. Look at
who you will be working for or with, and know what values they have. If the
opportunities aren’t there as a young graduate fresh out of college, you may be
compelled to take what you can get even if it’s not 100% something you want to
do. But it’s always crucial, when you can, to address your passion and values.
What kind of
experiences do you suggest for students to make the transition into the
As a woman, it is important to realize
the implications and consequences and burdens that are associated with your
career choice. This will help avoid surprises and navigate difficulties. Being
aware is important – prepare yourself for the barriers, especially those that
affect women in that particular field or area of work. Know your rights,
values, what matters to you, and who you are as a person. Foster
self-confidence. All of these can help keep you grounded when it matters most.
Have you ever
found that you always had to say yes when starting your career to prove
yourself, be there, etc.?
We often assume that if we take on all
the extra responsibility, it might be beneficial to us at some point in our
careers, etc. But, when warranted, we need to learn to say no for our health
and in order to meet deadlines – in the interest of completing the work to
which we’ve already committed ourselves.
What is your
opinion on joining groups that promote equality/work with gender, and what
place do these have on your CV?
Social justice work around gender issues
is critical, very important work. I now include such information in my CV. While
it can be difficult to judge with certainty the value a prospective employer
would put on it, because it is a personal passion, my social justice
initiatives now have a place in my CV. These initiatives are a critical part of
how I define my diverse and integrated work life and what a successful work
life is for me at a personal level. For example, I am truly happy to see
advancement in my mentees and every achievement of a mentee is an occasion to
celebrate. And in the particular case of the mentorship that I am involved
with, for every mentee my team and I work with, a child whose life is disrupted
by war or poverty or bereavement/abandonment is fed, clothed, or educated at
some level. So, if it is fulfilling, it should find its way into your CV.
do you have on how to develop mentorship roles/relationships?
Talk to people, meet with them. Have
coffee or lunch with those who might be great mentors for you. It takes time to
find the right mentor. In the case of being a mentor, mentoring others allows
you meet outstanding human beings. Even as a mentor, you meet people you learn
from. Find someone you connect with and can work with. If you find it is not a
good fit between mentor-mentee, then find someone who is a good fit, because
you want to have a good match. Time is sometimes a factor for people – both in
terms of finding the right mentor and in the context of the work involved in
mentorship, but you work hard to bridge the gap.
Can you provide
some insight into future sustainable plans to address gender inequality in the
disadvantages is important. As a woman – depending on a number of factors
(social/sexual/racial) – you may be at the intersection of different biases. Having
a leader who understands this, as well as the subtle ways that gender
discrimination can manifest, is crucial. Effective leadership in your chosen
workplace matters and can ensure a safe space for work. Having legislation that
has teeth and that is actually effective in protecting women from being penalized
when they speak up about oppressive situations is crucial.
Any final words of advice?
Look at courageous pioneers. Be inspired
by them. Courage is required to bring change. Be confident about the value you
bring to your job and workplace. Know that you are an important member of the