SCWIST Invited to House of Commons in Ottawa

SCWIST was invited by the House of Commons for the second time to present to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women on April 23, 2015.

 

Sandy excited to present to the Standing Committee

Sandy excited to present to the Standing Committee

Our secretary, Danniele Livengood, and past Director of Outreach, Sandy Eix, traveled to Ottawa to the House of Commons and spoke about positive changes in the representation of women in the traditionally male-dominated STEM fields but more work still needs to be done.  Below are some of the reasons:

  • Women with STEM degrees are more likely to be unemployed or employed in fields which do not require a degree compared to men with similar degrees;
  • Women hold only 15% of full professorships in science overall, and only 8% of full professorships in engineering, as compared to 31% in humanities;
  • Only 3.3 % of the top 25 NSERC grantees (as measured by grant size) involve women;
  • In high tech companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google, 35% of their workforce is women, but women represent only 15-17% of their technical employees and only 20-25% of senior staff.

Danniele and Sandy continued to convince the Standing Committee why gender diversity is key to innovation:

Danniele ready and confident to present

Danniele ready and confident to present

  • Studies by the Conference Board of Canada and Corporate Governance link gender diversity not just to employee satisfaction, but also to improved governance, innovation, and economic benefits for corporations;
  • Collective intelligence rises in a group with more women;
  • The presence of at least 30% women on a board decreases “groupthink”, while women directors improve a firm’s ability to navigate complex strategic issues.

What we can learn from these studies is that a lack of women in STEM leadership isn’t just a problem for ambitious women – it’s a limiting factor in the ability of Canada’s researchers and corporations to thrive and grow. In other words, STEM needs female leaders.

 

To advance women in STEM, we need to address the barriers:

  1. We cannot stop supporting the initiatives that have worked well so far.  This includes support and advocacy networks like SCWIST, DAWEG, WWEST, the NSERC Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering.  It includes mentorship programs for girls and young women like SCWIST’s ms infinity, and our double-X networking evening. It also includes skill-building opportunities like SCWIST’s Immigrating Women in Science, Ladies Learning Code, and science and tech camps for girls.
  2. We must invest in systems to help HR professionals and educators understand and counteract their biases. This will help ensure that unconscious systemic biases against women in STEM will not continue as barriers.
  3. We must recognize and celebrate organizations that are models of diversity  and tell the story of how they have benefited. For example, we know that the Fortune 500 companies with the most women on their boards of directors far outperform the companies with the fewest.
  4. We must work to build, connect and integrate the existing networks of mentorship and peer support for women in STEM. We need to encourage initiatives that bring like-minded organizations together for common goals. For example, Make Possible worked with WWEST to review and publish key findings about women in STEM.

 

Speech Delivered in front of the Standing Committee on Status of Women

by Danniele Livengood & Sandra Eix

Thank-you Madam Chair. My name is Danniele Livengood and this is Sandra Eix.  We are here representing the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology, fondly known as SCWIST.

For more than 30 years, SCWIST has been supporting and advocating for women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.  Over this time, we have seen many positive changes in the representation of women in these traditionally male-dominated fields.

Women now account for 39% of students enrolled in STEM programs, and just this year, the University of British Columbia achieved record numbers for enrolling women in their engineering programs that now boast 29% women up from 19% in 2010. At the faculty level, women are 35% of life sciences researchers and 15% in physical sciences, computer science, engineering, and mathematics.

It would be tempting to congratulate ourselves and to say that, even if women haven’t completely achieved equitable representation in STEM fields, we have at least implemented a key part of the solution: encouraging and supporting young women entering STEM programs.

However, a closer look indicates that there is still work to be done.

For example, Statistics Canada reports that in comparison to men with STEM degrees, women with STEM degrees are more likely to be unemployed or employed in fields which do not require a degree. 2011 US data shows that in the non-academic workforce only 26 % of STEM workers were women. Yet we know that overall women make up around 48% of the workforce.

More significantly there is still an alarming absence of women at the leadership level, both in academic research and in industry.

Statistics from 2013-2014 show that women hold only 15% of full professorships in science overall, and only 8% of full professorships in engineering, as compared to 31% in humanities.

Also, only 3.3 % of the top 25 NSERC grantees (as measured by grant size) involve women.

The story is similar outside academia. Huge tech companies Facebook, LinkedIn and Google show promising diversity statistics – typically around 35% of their workforce is women, but women represent only 15-17% of their technical employees and only 20-25% of senior staff.

Until we understand and act to counter the historical and cultural forces that keep women from STEM leadership, we’ve only solved part of the problem.

In the 21st century and beyond, the challenges that face Canada and the world are not simple, and new kinds of thinking will be required to take them on.  Recognizing this, education systems across Canada are evolving to focus on creativity, innovation, communication, collaboration, problem solving and critical thinking.

Whether addressing climate change, new diseases, management of an information economy or feeding a growing population, we need to think differently.  Leaders who think outside of the historically informed archetype can bring fresh perspectives to solve complex, interconnected problems.

Over 20 years of research tells us that gender diversity is key to this kind of innovation.  Studies by the Conference Board of Canada and Corporate Governance link gender diversity not just to employee satisfaction, but also to improved governance, innovation, and economic benefits for corporations. A study published in The Harvard Business Review illustrated that collective intelligence rises in a group with more women, and studies in the Journal of Business Ethics found that the presence of at least 30% women on a board decreases “groupthink”, while women directors improve a firm’s ability to navigate complex strategic issues.

What we can learn from these studies is that a lack of women in STEM leadership isn’t just a problem for ambitious women – it’s a limiting factor in the ability of Canada’s researchers and corporations to thrive and grow. In other words, STEM needs female leaders.

Although newer institutions and businesses are typically more diverse it is possible for older institutions to change. With solid corporate policies and practices around diversity, the Royal Bank of Canada, the University of British Columbia and many other large institutions have been making huge diversity strides so it can be done.

Women working in STEM identify many barriers to their success.

Some of these are in the form of infrastructure and systems that hold them back.

Some are related to organizational or workplace culture.

Some are related to attitudes about women’s abilities in these fields.

Over time, strong women and their supporters, bolstered by public policy and law, have chipped away significantly at the most obvious of these barriers, to the point that the remaining roadblocks are subtle and sometimes hard to articulate. Breaking down these final barriers requires us to change how we think and requires a level of self-reflection.

Compared to 30 years ago, societal attitudes about who can and should participate in STEM have changed enormously.  It’s well established that there is no innate connection between gender and mathematical or scientific ability. Human rights legislation makes discriminatory hiring practices illegal.

However, most people are not aware of implicit biases which cause them to make small assumptions without realizing it. This is a critical barrier to women advancing in STEM, since even the best-intentioned teachers, guidance counselors, professors and hiring managers have implicit biases. To illustrate the effects of implicit bias on women’s advancement to leadership positions, a study presented a CV to several science professors and asked them to evaluate the candidate for a lab manager position. The male candidate was offered 12% higher salary, more mentorship and was rated more competent and hireable than the female candidate – even though the only difference in their CVs was the name at the top.

Regular and repeated use of instruments like the Harvard Implicit Bias Test can help educators, managers and HR professionals become aware of and combat biases. Being aware is the first step.

The importance of role models in encouraging women as they enter non-traditional fields is widely recognized and is the raison d’être of many successful programs like SCWIST’s Make Possible, and ms infinity programs, as well as Let’s Talk Science, Scientists and Innovators in the Schools, and many more.

However, when women in STEM are recognized and celebrated in the media, the stories often reflect inherent societal stereotypes. Media critical tests like the Bechdel test for movies can help identify the gender biases that we are so used to seeing. An analogous test, the Finkbeiner test, serves to call out representations of women in STEM fields that define their successes in the context of their gender. To pass this test, articles about a woman in STEM must not mention (among other criteria) the fact that she’s a woman, her husband’s job, her child care arrangements or how she’s the “first woman to…” These items may seem normal –even laudable – to include in a story about a successful women in STEM, but we have to ask ourselves: would we say these things about a man in the same field. While we need to see more women in STEM represented in the media it’s essential to be mindful of HOW they are portrayed.

As you can see, the representation of women in STEM is still lacking at the leadership level.  This needs to change, because more diverse models of leadership are what Canada needs to meet 21st century challenges.  Many of the roadblocks to women’s success in STEM have been removed, and some of the barriers that remain are subtle like implicit bias and media representation.  To move forward, we need to continue to support the best practices that have advanced women in STEM thus far, and we also need to address the remaining barriers.

First, we cannot stop supporting the initiatives that have worked well so far.  This includes support and advocacy networks like SCWIST, DAWEG, WWEST, the NSERC Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering.  It includes mentorship programs for girls and young women like SCWIST’s ms infinity, and our double-X networking evening. It also includes skill-building opportunities like SCWIST’s Immigrating Women in Science, Ladies Learning Code, and science and tech camps for girls.

Second, we must invest in systems to help HR professionals and educators understand and counteract their biases. This will help ensure that unconscious systemic biases against women in STEM will not continue as barriers.

Workshops for professionals and academics, supported by the sharing of best practices for combating biases could change the landscape greatly. Promising initiatives in this area include the WinSETT workshop series, Make Possible’s HR Inclusion Workshop, and the HR toolkit on diversity being developed by Digital Nova Scotia

Third, we must recognize and celebrate organizations that are models of diversity  and tell the story of how they have benefited. For example, we know that the Fortune 500 companies with the most women on their boards of directors far outperform the companies with the fewest. Motivating change in well established institutions and corporations will be easier when the business case for diversity is widely understood.

Finally, we must work to build, connect and integrate the existing networks of mentorship and peer support for women in STEM. We need to encourage initiatives that bring like-minded organizations together for common goals. For example, Make Possible worked with WWEST to review and publish key findings about women in STEM.  Creating Connections is a conference in Metro Vancouver where university and college STEM students meet with organizations that support women in STEM to “bring together people of all genders … to discuss issues of personal and professional development, networking, and inspiration.”

Women in STEM and their allies have a lot of work still to do, to provide Canada with the STEM leadership necessary for the 21st century and beyond. The advances we’ve made thus far justify optimism and further support as we take on the next set of challenges.

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