Insights at UBC Sauder

A pioneer in Operations Research

Posted 2018-08-21

Dr. Frieda Granot has been a pioneer in the field of Operations Research, and she recently shared her experiences as a woman in the field at INFORMS’ International Conference.

When Frieda Granot started at UBC Sauder in 1976, she was the only female tenure-track professor for close to 10 years. But what some people may consider to be a challenge Granot saw as an opportunity to excel, as she recently shared at the INFORMS International Conference in Taipei, Taiwan.

“I learned very early on how to compete in a male-dominated environment, and it didn’t deter me. I treated everyone as a colleague and consequently I was treated as an equal myself,” explains Granot, who earned tenure in the Operations and Logistics division in 1981 and full Professor status three years after that – a relatively quick ascent through the academic ranks.

“Our former dean, Peter Lusztig, gave me a wonderful piece of advice when I started: if I conducted strong research and published articles in the top academic journals, regardless of whether I was a man or a woman, or a mathematician in a business school, everything would work out.”

And things did work out for Granot – she was ultimately recognized as an INFORMS Fellow “in acknowledgment of her outstanding contributions, achievements, and service, which have substantially advanced the profession of operations research and the management sciences.” INFORMS is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to and promoting best practices and advances in operations research, operational processes, decision-making and outcomes.

Lessons Learned

Granot was one of three panellists at INFORMS’ Women in Tech Dinner, which brought together women in the tech community to hear the experiences of other pioneering females in the field.

During the panel discussion, Granot offered a number of “lessons learned” during her 40-year career that she hoped to impart on attendees.

“I always refer back to the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. There are often two roads in life you can take, but once you choose one pathway, never look back and think about what could have happened if chose the other road,” she explains. “If you believe in something and it’s important to you, then do it, regardless of what other people say or the challenges you may face along the way.”

Granot’s experiences as the first female Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Interdisciplinary Research perfectly exemplifies this lesson. “In that position I had a lot of ideas but had a very small budget to carry out my vision. Raising money was a necessity, but I didn’t have experience or familiarity with the business community. Regardless, I accepted the challenge and ended up raising approximately $100 million during my term as Dean, which helped me accomplish my vision.” In recognition of her vision and for creating unique and innovative programs at UBC, Granot was awarded the Order of Canada.

She adds, “You never know what you’re good at until you try.”

Her final piece of advice revolved around giving back: “When you get to a point in life when you can give back, then you need to do it. It’s one of the most rewarding things that will give you satisfaction.”

Granot is consequently a champion of the under-represented, and to-date has helped raise millions of dollars to support UBC students with disabilities, Indigenous students and women in science- activities that earned her a YWCA Women of Distinction award and a Top 100 Canada’s Most Powerful Women Award. She has also served as the co-chair of the annual Women in Leadership Forum and the Women’s Leadership Council, and serves on the advisory board of the Young Women in Business Network.

A lack of women in Operations Research

Granot continues to be the only female faculty member in UBC Sauder’s Operations and Logistics division, and believes that one of the greatest challenges facing the field is a lack of women studying math and computer science. According to Statistics Canada, in 2011 only 22.6 per cent of the 132,500 women aged 25 to 34 who studied STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) had a background in Math and Computer Science. In comparison, 51.8 per cent of the 206,600 STEM-educated men had the same background.

“We need to build a pipeline of talented and educated women to study and contribute to these fields,” says Granot. “There simply aren’t enough women in the pipeline, so when a qualified woman in the quantitative method graduates, the top universities snap her up.”

She adds, “We need to encourage young women to study these fields and to realize the potential that exists within Operations Research and Logistics and Analytics. That’s why it’s so important for leaders like myself to reach out and participate in workshops, panel discussions and other events to show young women what their future could be.”