Ingrid Makus, Dean of Brock’s Faculty of Social Sciences, was honoured last week with the Angela Hildyard Recognition Award for Influential Leaders.
The award is given annually by Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada (SWAAC) to one of their members in recognition of continual demonstration of innovative leadership in advancing the mission of, and achieving outstanding contributions to, the recipient’s home institution. It was announced at the SWAAC yearly conference, which was virtually hosted by McGill University on May 13 and 14.
Makus says she was taken aback, but also thrilled, when she learned colleagues whom she values and respects had nominated her for the national honour.
“The award is also a recognition of Brock University and the amazing female leaders, both formal and informal, who have helped build the University community,” Makus says. “Recently, I gave a talk on female leadership in times of crisis, and in it I described research showing that female leaders do better and have more influence if the collective, the structure in which they exist, is supportive of bringing women into those positions. I think we can extrapolate that to Brock, a sign of the multiple ways in which Brock is supporting positive change.”
The theme for this year’s SWAAC conference was Building Trust and Earning Trust — a theme that resonated deeply with Makus.
“Many of the presentations highlighted how recognizing and addressing systemic discriminatory practices was necessary for building and maintaining trust that educational institutions are serious in fulfilling mandates for equity, diversity and inclusion,” she says, adding that particularly in times of uncertainty, communicating openly and honestly is vital to maintaining trust.
Makus, who is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, says she came to her various leadership roles in the University in part because of her area of research and teaching.
“I look for explanations for women’s underrepresentation in political institutions in liberal democracies, so I’m very much interested in how models of political participation may be set up in a way that undercuts equal representation for women,” she says. “It’s a question I’ve explored in my research for a number of years, crossing over theory and practice, and it has not gone away but become even more salient, especially when it comes to racialized women.”
Makus recognized that she not only had a responsibility to step up and perform the service of academic administration, but also an obligation to address issues that her research showed were persistent and detrimental in terms of female representation in leadership.
“Women remain underrepresented not only in political institutions, but also public institutions, including leadership positions at universities, so I was inspired to take on these roles and talk about them in a positive way to try to inspire other women to want to take on roles of their own,” she says. “There are many compelling, dynamic theories about why women engage in leadership positions or why they don’t, suggesting that engagement in the act of leading creates reciprocal, mutual engagement where you learn things about yourself and from others as you go — you bring things to the arena, but the arena also brings things to you.”
One of her top priorities as a leader is encouraging others to explore their own potential and opportunities, both through active one-on-one mentorship and through the Women in Leadership initiative, which was founded by several SWAAC members at Brock to help nurture women who hold or aspire to leadership roles.
“Women in Leadership is a collective and collaborative effort, one of many initiatives at Brock to promote equity, diversity and inclusion, and I think an important one,” Makus says. “It provides a particular space for speakers and presentations, an informal venue to talk about impediments to women — and particularly young women — taking on leadership positions and also a positive space for encouraging mentorship and discussion, and for addressing particular outcomes.”
She says it has been “enormously gratifying” to watch the Women in Leadership initiative thrive, especially in the context of the global pandemic. The transition to online meetings has been met with enthusiastic response, and Makus says that she continues “to be inspired by the variety of presentations by women from all sectors — from the community, students, faculty and staff — to hear about what they’re doing, some of their struggles and the very positive ways they’re addressing challenging situations.”
Makus also plans to direct the monetary portion of her award to an endowment for a student award to be created in the name of Women in Leadership, in the hopes that students both traditional and non-traditional can benefit from the initiative.
It’s part of Makus’s ongoing philosophy of putting theory into practice.
“I realize it is important to set an example — that only by doing it myself and talking about it positively could I encourage especially younger women to take on leadership roles. If I was going to talk about, write about and read about the importance of having better representation, then I should do my part,” Makus says. “When you think about the role of universities as public institutions and the impact they can have on improving and changing people’s lives, I think it’s vital that we do everything we can to promote and encourage representative leadership.”