#DistractinglySexist exhibit challenges gender discrimination in Canada’s tech triangle

WATERLOO – The Wilfrid Laurier University Library and Laurier’s Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) are pleased to announce the official opening of #DistractinglySexist: Confronting Sexism in Canada’s Tech Triangle, a new photography exhibit by Eden Hennessey, Laurier’s graduate student Researcher of the Year.

The opening reception takes place Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m. on the main floor of Laurier’s Waterloo campus Library. The exhibit runs from Sept. 1-22.

Featuring portraits of leading female scientists working in the Waterloo Region, the exhibit documents their experiences as women in a male-dominated field and creates a space for discussion around gender and science, tech, engineering and math (STEM).

“I’m honoured to be a part of this project,” said Dinah Davis, a women-in-tech advocate, girls-in-STEM evangelist, director of R&D at Arctic Wolf Networks, and one of the subjects of the exhibit. “The Waterloo Region desperately needs more women in tech and science, and this exhibit is helping to tell the story.”

In creative collaboration with local photographer Hilary Gauld, #DistractinglySexist features portraits of nine established female scientists who’ve faced sexism in their careers. (The exhibit also features an aspiring scientist named Kate, aged 10, who is fascinated by forensic science and DNA profiling techniques.)

“The Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge region has been simultaneously designated both as ‘Canada’s Silicon Valley’ and ‘Canada’s Worst City for Women,’” said Hennessey. “It is essential we understand how to attract and retain female STEM talent in order to foster optimal social, economic and cultural well-being.”

The #DistractinglySexist title refers to recent controversial remarks in which British Nobel laureate Tim Hunt referred to females in the lab as ‘distractingly sexy.’ Hunt later distanced himself from the remarks, but the phrase has become a rallying cry in the battle for gender parity in STEM.

The exhibit is the second-annual show in an ongoing collaboration between the Library and the GSA designed to highlight the work of Laurier graduate students through compelling exhibitions that promote the work to non-academic audiences.

“We are working to position the Library as the cultural and intellectual heart of Laurier, the place where the university community comes together to access and interact with information and people, generate new ideas, and engage with the great questions of our time,” said Gohar Ashoughian, Laurier’s university librarian. “This exhibit, and the larger culture series it is a part of, exemplify this vision.”

Ian Muller, president of the GSA, was equally enthusiastic about the collaboration.

“It’s a unique partnership and we’re very proud of it,” he said. “Laurier’s graduate students are doing amazing, innovative and provocative work, and an important part of our mandate is to get the word out about their world-changing research. The gender issue is an important one for our students, and Eden’s work makes a powerful statement.”

Eden Hennessey is completing a PhD in Social Psychology with Mindi Foster. Her recent research focuses on female Laurier STEM students and their experiences with stereotyping. Eden's dissertation assesses whether female confronters of sexism in STEM perceive and incur greater consequences than other women. In addition, she explores how virtual mentors and strong scientific identities impact the consequences of confronting sexism in STEM.

The Library and GSA would like to gratefully acknowledge the Laurier Centre for Women in Science’s generous sponsorship of the exhibit.