By Allison Ridgway
She’s championed Ryerson’s Diversity Institute, riled gun lovers with the Coalition for Gun Control and supported technological advances at Ryerson as vice-president of research and innovation.
Now Wendy Cukier has been named one of this year’s top 25 women of influence by Women of Influence magazine.
Women of Influence is a publication focused on the advancement and mentoring of female professionals.
Each year the Canadian magazine profiles 25 women who have made a significant difference in the private, public and volunteer sectors. This year’s winners will be featured in the magazine’s November issue.
Having taught, researched and administrated technology and business courses at Ryerson for over two decades serving as the associate dean of the Ted Rogers School of Management, Cukier knows the importance of change and innovation. It’s her dedication to changing the face of the workplace environment, however, that she is especially passionate about.
“In my role as vice-president I’ve been given a chance to address some of the systemic issues of sexism and discrimination in business and technology,” Cukier said. “Women still feel held to a higher standard than men and are more likely to be excluded from decision-making. We’re dramatically underrepresented in large organizations and in business and technology sections of the media.”
She saw this sexism first-hand when she began her career as an intern with the Ministry of Transportation and Communication, translating engineering technical jargon for the public.
The male-dominated workplace still had all the trimmings of a 1980s gentlemen’s club: cubicle walls plastered with half-naked “Sunshine Girls,” offensive remarks about her appearance and lunch meetings at a nearby strip club.
“That was my first experience with such overt forms of discrimination,” she said.
Cukier persevered and was eventually promoted to team leader.
She brought this determination to her career at Ryerson, working to make business, technology and science more welcoming fields for women and racial minorities.
She was further spurred by the horrifying 1989 massacre of six female engineering students at L’École Polytechnique by a gunman “fighting feminism.”
“The massacre was what really crystallized my activism,” Cukier said.
Cukier founded Ryerson’s Diversity Institute in 1999, a research organization that promotes participation of underrepresented groups – particularly women and racial minorities – in businesses and other organizations. She is currently the principle investigator of DiversityLeads, a $2.7 million initiative to assess the progress of diversity in leadership. And she still has time to teach and work with Ryerson students. Recently she was approached at a conference by a former student who thanked her for pushing her to succeed, although Cukier said students are often frustrated by how hard she pushes them.
“I want to make sure these young women know what they achieve and don’t accept the barriers they’ll inevitably face,” Cukier said.