Decades ago, working in a bank meant Leslie Weir was only allowed to wear skirts.
Before this, she lost the first job she ever applied for when her potential employer found out she was married.
“They told me, ‘we don’t hire women of child bearing age,’” she says. “If you look at the period I have lived, there has been a lot of change.”
Weir went on to become the first female chief librarian at the University of Ottawa Library, with many things changing since her first employment encounters.
Weir’s experience is similar to many women pursuing career paths in science and research, with many persevering to become leaders, making significant contributions to their fields. In honour of these accomplishments, Weir, along with Canadian researchers Julie Carrier and Verena Tunnicliffe, are featured in a podcast series by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation for International Women’s Day.
In 1997, Weir headed a team that received $20 million from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and $50 million from the provincial government and universities to help 64 Canadian university libraries switch from print to digital journals. The change impacted how information was gathered. In 2006, the team received another $48 million to convert social sciences and humanities journals from print to digital.
“It allows researchers to work in a very different way, to be more efficient and have more equitable access to the research,” Weir says.
Tunnicliffe, a biology and ocean science professor and research chair in deep ocean research at the University of Victoria, used to be one of only a few women — and sometimes the only woman — boarding ships to conduct oceanographic study. She faced hostility and opposition, including some men who refused to sail if a woman was on a vessel.
“For a long time, I tried to fit into the habitat and behave less like a woman,” Tunnicliffe says. “I become a person I didn’t want to be. I became the aggressor, and that didn’t work either.”
Tunnicliffe became a lead researcher in the development of the VENUS coastal network, an arrangement of cables and seafloor instruments that deliver real time information from the bottom of the ocean to computers at the University of Victoria.
There are now more women boarding ships, and Tunnicliffe says many would argue there’s a lot more balance to sea life, from aspects like fitness to nutrition. But there’s still work to be done.
“I think it’s still challenging for women to be working in any traditionally male-dominated field,” Tunnicliffe says, adding the scientific research field continues to have some issues. “We still have a long way to go.”