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Jennifer Flanagan

President and CEO, Actua

As the CEO of Actua, an organization dedicated to engaging under-represented youth, including girls and young women in STEM, I constantly get asked: “Why is there still a visible absence of women in STEM fields?” Actua works with over 150,000 girls a year across Canada, and I can say with absolute conviction, supported by copious amounts of research, that girls and young women are as curious, innovative and motivated as their male counterparts. The persistent barrier to girls and women pursuing higher education and careers in STEM is not skill or interest, it’s culture.

While we’ve seen steps towards improvement, there still remain prevailing gender stereotypes in mainstream media around “who does STEM.” For instance, marketing of design-and-build toys and video games is still largely male-focused, while arts and music activities continue to be targeted mostly at girls. Parents, the most influential figures in children’s lives, will often tell girls to do “what they’re passionate about” and their boys to do what they’re good at and what will make them money. A survey conducted by Actua in 2018 revealed that among 1,500 respondents, boys were twice as likely as girls to have participated in a coding workshop or camp outside of school and felt twice as confident as girls when it came to producing new technology.

With digital skills and STEM literacy increasingly becoming prerequisites for employment, there has never been a more urgent time to ensure our girls are not left behind. As a society we need to do more to make it the norm for girls to pursue and thrive in these fields.

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