Work in progress

July 17, 2018

As the role of human resources shifts, MacEwan professor receives major grant to help oil and gas companies attract and retain female talent.


Creating diverse, equitable work environments requires more than an open mind and good intentions. It takes a nuanced understanding of the social, cultural and corporate factors that help – or hinder – an employee’s success in certain jobs, companies or industries, and a strategic approach to removing barriers. Human resources professionals lead the way in addressing these challenges.

But that’s not how it always was. When Dr. Dianna Dempsey first began her career in human resources 15 years ago, “The role was primarily administrative, and highly reactive,” she says. “It was filling out paperwork and dealing with problems as they happened. We weren’t very involved in strategic planning. As much as I loved HR as a practice, I was drawn back to the academic side of things because I wanted to investigate those big questions – what motivates a person to choose a certain career? What holds them back?”

Now an assistant professor in MacEwan’s Bachelor of Commerce program, Dianna is pleased to see how the profession has evolved over the years. “It’s almost done a complete turnaround in the last decade or two,” she says. “It has transformed into a much more strategic function, and that has given us a seat at the executive table. We’re part of those bigger organizational conversations now.”

We have decades of research showing us that women are underrepresented in science, trades and technology, but not a lot has actually changed in workplaces.
—Dr. Dianna Dempsey

Dianna is now tackling those big questions that intrigued her early in her career. She is working with the Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology (WinSETT Centre) on a three-year project to address gender bias and stereotypes affecting women in the science, engineering, trades and technology sectors. As part of the project team, Dianna consults with participating companies to help identify the barriers women face in those sectors, and develop a strategy to address them. In 2017, the project received a $354,128 grant from the Government of Canada.

“We have decades of research showing us that women are underrepresented in science, trades and technology, but not a lot has actually changed in workplaces,” says Dianna. “This grant was created to bridge that gap between research and practice. We’ve partnered with three major oil and gas companies here in Alberta to assess where they’re at with respect to gender equity, and we’ll use all of that research to help them develop a real strategy for making their workplaces more inclusive to women.”

In addition to helping companies improve conditions for women, Dianna also sees how her work with WinSETT Centre benefits her students. Sharing actual accounts of hiring and retention gaps – and what the solutions have been – puts classroom lessons into a real-world context, prepares students for some of the scenarios they may encounter as HR professionals, and, perhaps most importantly, paints a picture of just how vital HR practitioners are to an organization’s identity and success.

“Students majoring in HR already have a good idea of what it’s all about. But students who are taking one of my classes as an elective can be skeptical at first because they think HR is all about paperwork,” she says. “But once they see how important this field really is, they get excited about it. It’s really eye-opening for them.” 

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