Feb. 10, 2021Print | PDF
As we celebrate the International Day for Women and Girls in Science on Feb 11 in the midst of a global pandemic, the conversation around equity gaps in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is now more important than ever.
On one hand, the last year has raised the profile of women in STEM in Canada as women public health leaders across the country took on greater status. As a scientist, I was confident watching the likes of Drs. Theresa Tam, Deena Hinshaw, and Bonnie Henry make evidence-based recommendations and demonstrate leadership during a time of great uncertainty. No doubt they have inspired many girls and young women in Canada to pursue careers in the health sciences.
This is significant because we know women are underrepresented in many scientific fields, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) women even more so. In engineering, for example, women account for only 22 per cent of graduates from university programs and just 13 per cent of licensed engineers in Canada are women. When a large proportion of the population isn’t fully represented, we miss out on valuable insights and perspectives that could lead to new discoveries and innovation. It will be critical to assess and address the impacts on scientists of the COVID-19 pandemic, acknowledging the effects of the pandemic on job recovery is greater on women.
Wilfrid Laurier University recognizes the significant contributions that women and girls can make in the STEM fields. Our Laurier Centre for Women in Science (WinS) provides informal networking, research, workshops, academic supports, and outreach to elementary and secondary schools. WinS connects social scientists and STEM researchers to better understand the relevant social and cultural factors that support the recruitment and retention of women in science and technology fields. Researchers at the Centre have helped inform policy and legislation and have offered consulting services to the federal government and UNESCO. We are incredibly fortunate to have Laurier professor Dr. Shohini Ghose as the director of the Centre. Dr. Ghose is the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Ontario Chair for Women in Science and Engineering and a past president of the Canadian Association of Physicists.
Laurier is one of only 17 post-secondary institutions across Canada participating in a pilot program to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion in research. The Dimensions Pilot Program is now underway at Laurier as we embark on a thorough self-assessment – backed up by research and data – to remove obstacles and inequities in the entire ecosystem.
It is through such conscious efforts that more young women will enter the STEM fields and stay in the STEM fields. Research demonstrates that female role models and mentorship are critical to having girls become interested in STEM careers and feel empowered to pursue them.
It can be difficult to push for change. However, I am encouraged by the increasing number of women in STEM, including our own Laurier faculty, staff and students, who inspire and challenge assumptions. On this day, while it is important to draw attention to the continued inequities in STEM fields, especially for BlPOC women, it is also important to acknowledge and celebrate the continuing strides we are making toward achieving equity in the sciences.
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