One-on-One is an ongoing series aimed at getting ‘behind the scenes’ with senior leadership at UBC.
Learn More About UBC
Dr. Sara-Jane Finlay joined UBC in March as the new Associate Vice-President, Equity and Inclusion.
From Toronto originally, she earned her two undergraduate degrees in Ontario before hopping over the pond to Loughborough University in the UK, where she completed her Masters in Women’s Studies and her PhD in Communication and Media. She lectured in Media and Sociology and then Media and Cultural Studies, with a focus on gender, race, class, culture and identity, before returning home to assume an administrative role in the Office of the Vice President and Provost at the University of Toronto.
In her new role, Sara-Jane is charged with bringing to life UBC’s commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion and mutual respect on both campuses.
What quality do you most admire in a leader?
SJF: Integrity and empathy, because good leaders often have to make difficult decisions, and they need to be aware of the impact those decisions have on the people they work with.
What makes you laugh?
SJF: My children, because of the silly things they do and the antics they get up to. It’s an especially exciting time right now because they’re really developing their sense of humour. Although it can be a bit painful, because when my eight-year old son learns a joke, he tells it over and over again! The current joke is: why do whales swim in salt water? Because pepper water makes them sneeze…
Who inspires you, and why?
SJF: When thinking about what it means to be inspired, I think of what drives me forward and gives me aim. Without trying to sound too egotistical, I’m inspired by my younger self, and mistakes I made in the past — even as recent as yesterday. I’m given aim by trying not to make the same mistakes again.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
SJF: Life is not fair, so suck it up, buttercup! This is a lesson I’m trying to teach my children at the moment.
What song did you used to sing out loud to as a teenager?
SJF: My favourite song to sing when I was younger was Paradise by the Dashboard Light, by Meatloaf (it was a badge of pride to be able to do the baseball intro at the beginning!). And Gloria, by Laura Branigan, which I used to sing at the top of my lungs with my sister. In fact, I sang that song out loud just the other day in my kitchen. I’m always singing… My kids think I sing beautifully (although no one else seems to agree with them!).
How do you like to recharge?
SJF: Knitting takes me to my Zen place. If I’m upset or anxious, knitting makes me feel calm and relaxed. As a family, we’re quite outdoorsy, so I also like to cycle and go for long walks with them. I’m looking forward to discovering the great hikes in and around Vancouver.
For you, what makes UBC different?
SJF: One of the reasons I came to UBC is because it looked like the university was on an upward trajectory, going from strength to strength with a willingness to take risks and try things that were different and innovative.
I’m also really impressed by UBC’s commitment to equity. It’s imbedded in the formal documentation of the institution, and is also part of the way people operate. It’s not just words - people are actually working hard here to build a respectful and inclusive environment.
What is the best advice you were ever given?
SJF: My dad would say to me, “be the better person”. I know it may sound sanctimonious or self-serving, but it’s incredibly helpful advice when having to make difficult decisions… It’s not about doing what is best for you, but doing what is best in the circumstances and sometimes that means making personal sacrifices. In the work I’ve done, this advice has served me well. That’s not to say I always follow it!
What do you value in your colleagues?
SJF: I really value colleagues who have a sense of humour and the ability to see the lighter side of what we do.
I appreciate the ability to value and work with a range of different opinions and perspectives. I also value insightfulness and the capacity for creative problem solving.
Who are your favourite writers?
SJF: I always have a couple of books on the go. I really love gory, bloody, murder mysteries and get my fix from writers like Elizabeth George, Mo Hayder, Peter Robinson and Lisa Marklund. I like to balance that with something more inspiring, so right now I’m reading Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda (although that at times is as gory as the murder mysteries!). I also really enjoy reading books by David Bergen and Camilla Gibb, who have written about Vietnam, which is where my son is from.
What would you like to be remembered for?
SJF: I don’t want to be remembered for anything, but I hope to be remembered by someone. It would be great if those ‘someones’ were my family and friends!
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
SJF: Time travel. Then I could finish work at 5pm and be back in Toronto by 5:01pm to spend the night with my children and partner (who are still living there, until they move over to Vancouver in the summer). Maybe when my family is here, I’d use the time travel super power for something more interesting!
What is your vision for Equity and Inclusion at UBC?
SJF: Our central priority is to further the university’s commitment to excellence, equity and mutual respect
By offering carefully analyzed data, research and resources — such as tailor-made workshops, programs like the Positive Space campaign, and events like Rule out Racism — our office will help support the creation of flourishing and sustainable communities where human rights, equity and inclusion is imbedded in all areas of our academics, work and campus life.
While the values of equity, inclusion and diversity underlie and inform the university’s broader strategic vision, I believe it’s the responsibility of all of us to ensure these values are being lived - wherever in the university we sit. I’m really excited to lead the university in this process.