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Home » Education » Representation and Role Models Are Key to Promoting Diversity in STEM
Naim Munir

Naima Munir

Director of Youth Engagement at SCWIST

Naima holds a Master’s in Electrical Engineering and is currently pursuing her interest in Data Science.

Heidi Hui

Heidi Hui

Director of Communications at SCWIST

Heidi holds a degree in Chemical Engineering and currently works as an Intellectual Property Analyst at Carbon Engineering Ltd.

In Canada, women make up only 22% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men outnumber women graduating from STEM fields. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering. But diversity is what drives innovation, and progress often results from diverse perspectives. Since 1981, the Society for Canadian Women in Science & Technology (SCWIST) has been promoting diversity and equal access for women and girls in STEM through collaborative partnerships, mentorship, education and advocacy programs.

There are a number of reasons why women are so underrepresented in STEM fields. Systemic barriers, such as the ever-present pay gap, workplace discrimination and a lack of recognition, as well as a lack of female role models and mentors are just a few of the hurdles women face.

For BIPOC and 2LGBTQS+ women, these barriers are exacerbated, especially at the leadership level.

“Being a member of these severely underrepresented groups adds another layer of challenge, as they already face bias in society, but even more so in workplaces where those around them are mostly white males,” explains Heidi Hui, Director of Communications at SCWIST. “This discomfort can lead to hesitancy speaking up, offering new ideas, or even applying for senior positions.

Mentorship is an extremely valuable tool for empowering the BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ community in STEM. Research conducted by Microsoft revealed that role models and mentors have a profound impact on girls and young women in the field.

“Many of us look to a mentor or role model who has found success in a position that we are striving for,” says Hui. “Seeing someone succeed who looks like us, thinks like us, or has a similar cultural background to us makes our goals seem much more attainable.”

Naima Munir, Director of Youth Engagement at SCWIST says employers also carry unconscious biases that impact business decisions: “2SLGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities become victims of biases when it comes to hiring, networking or working in a team,” she says. “It’s critical for companies to overcome these through education, diversity hiring and open discussions.”

Diversity at the heart of SCWIST programs

SCWIST has a number of programs that target diversity and inclusion: Immigrant Women in STEM is a supportive community where newcomers can share their experiences, and MakePossible focuses on 360 degree mentoring to advance gender diversity.

SCWIST also works with the community to offer Quantum Leap Conferences, interactive workshops, scholarships and extensive volunteer opportunities to inspire students to consider STEM careers.

“At a leadership level, SCWIST also actively recruits board members from the BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ community to ensure they are a diverse set of perspectives when it comes to decision-making and implementing strategy,” adds Hui.

While many women are struggling in their respective STEM fields due to systemic inequities, and many are deterred from pursuing STEM in the first place, there are positives strides being made.

In 2010, 44% of first-year women STEM students aged 19 and under were in undergraduate degree programs in Canada, and in the past ten years, the number of women with STEM degrees increased by more than 50,000.

Additionally, greater awareness concerning the lack of women in STEM means organizations are starting to pay attention.

“Many companies are working on strategies to improve gender parity, becoming more inclusive by hiring diverse employees and by celebrating and accepting people coming from all communities,” says Munir.

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