Updated: Feb 3, 2020
Mary Chapman is a Professor of English and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at the University of British Columbia. She graduated with her Ph.D from Cornell University and specializes in American literature and transnational American studies. She was awarded the 2018 Ed Wickberg Book Prize in Chinese Canadian History for her publication, Becoming “Sui Sin Far”: The Uncollected Fiction, Journalism, and Traveling Writing of Edith Maude Eaton.
Who are your role models?
I have always been impressed by women leaders who work for the team and I have been fortunate as a professor to work in departments that have often been chaired by women. When I moved to UBC, I was hired by Sherrill Grace. Sherill was passionate not only about her own research in 20th-century Canadian literature and culture but also about celebrating the achievements of everyone in the department and I found that very inspiring.
What is the best book that you’ve read this year?
I like reading biographies, poetry, and history. Furious Hoursby Casey Cep combines all three. Her book is a true-crime thriller about a man from rural Alabama accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s but it is also poetic examination of storytelling itself.
What would be your advice for young women who are building careers?
As a young woman, I was taught to celebrate my youth and encouraged to think of myself as being a part of the generation that would revise the conservative ways of the older generation. For years, I adhered to this mentality. However, I was oblivious to the fact that there was a generation of women ahead of me that had all along been mentoring me, protecting me, and making opportunities happen for me. My advice for young women is to look around, recognize, and celebrate the women who are silently and modestly helping to pave the way for you.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I hesitate to generalize about gender. However, I have found that many women make decisions differently from men. They lead differently too, often in ways that are less easily recognized. This can lead to our not being credited for our accomplishments and can hinder us from advancing into higher roles.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
Strategically using social media. While social media have truly accomplished some amazing things in terms of consolidating support for causes such as the #MeToo movement, it remains a double-edged sword. The call out culture of social media, for example, can also be very destructive.