SCWIST to present to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in Ottawa on Nov 18, 2014

Good morning, Honourable Members. My name is Fariba Pacheleh, I am an engineer and the current president of the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology, SCWIST. For the past 30 years, SCWIST has been supporting and empowering women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, “the STEM” fields. We know that for women, changes are needed. As the old Chinese proverb says, “women hold up half the sky”.

The issues of inequity and the reasons for them are well documented in the following articles: The 2010 “Why so Few” report that identifies systemic barriers to women in the scientific workplace; the the BC Women in Engineering and Geoscience Task Force on the continuing gender inequity in the engineering and geoscience professions; the Harvard Business Review of September 2013, on women in general: “Women Rising: The Unseen Barriers.” …and many others.

These describe – WHAT we should change.

There are also studies that suggest that solving these problems may be a good thing, not just a make-work exercise. The DELL study showed that companies with more women on the board of directors outperform those with the fewest by up to 66 %; Deloitte’s “Global Perspective”, states that diversity is a business issue; Spencer Stuart found that diversity in the boardroom “results in increased value for shareholders.”

 The facts are difficult to ignore: diversity, especially gender diversity, is of paramount economic importance.

 Thus it is no longer “just an equity issue” to have women aboard, it is proven to make good economic sense. … and you can’t forget, women are half of your electorate – and they are your mothers, sisters, daughters.

 That is WHY we should change.

 Women want to contribute to the economy, are well-educated and eminently capable, and there are many of them, poised – yet few have breached the practical and cultural barriers that prevent reaching their potential. This is not a minority issue   – women are not a minority – it is a historical, cultural issue.

 Women do not speak with a uniform voice – they are as diverse as Canada itself – so – HOW do we change?

 The usual first step is to identify the problem. We have been doing this for the past 30 years – so I will not list all the things that are not working for women – you all know these. Instead, I will provide you with some solutions, action items or at least ideas to ponder – at a number of levels: the governmental, the corporate, the community, and the personal.

 First are the action steps at the government level:

–       We need a task force to scrutinize all bills and policies to determine their impact on women Canadians; [Thank you, Right Honourable Kim Campbell!]; and one that takes into consideration the solutions and action items of the BC Economic Forum – Women as Catalysts for Growth.

–       We need increased funding for science and scientific research and STEM education – because in a knowledge-based economy, that is the source of future ideas and current highly trained personnel;

–       We need support for specific education of new immigrants to transform their imported cultural biases and histories, to cement Canadian values;

–       We need public policy, as in Europe, that is directed at companies to “comply or explain” the gender distribution of their Boards and “C-Suites” – and we should create relevant awards and pillories;

–       We need government-sponsored round-table events with men leaders of industry and academia, and predominant male participation to prioritize specific strategies for implementation;

–       We need policies to regulate the media, and especially advertising, with respect to their presentation of women as objects: in the face of the US media onslaught, we have achieved Canadian and bilingual content – we can achieve the media’s respect and support of diversity. Here too, there is a need for “comply or explain”;

–       And finally we really need to address the issue of childcare at the public policy level – to facilitate families’ participation in the improving economy.

 At the second, corporation level:

–       There needs to be “comply or explain” –this time to shareholders- if the workplace policies and C-suites are not sufficiently diverse.

–       Those involved in the hiring process, should be required to work through the Harvard Implicit Bias Tests – to identify their biases and mitigate them;

–       We need new hiring policies and practices so that applicants are selected based on skills, from diversity-neutral applications;

–       Corporations need to collaborate with unions to support employees by providing flexibility; and by providing daycare;

–       There is a need for a C-suite well populated by women to provide role-models for other women climbing the corporate ladder;

–       Corporations need succession planning and active sponsorship of women that will enhance diversity;

–       Corporations need to create a work climate that not only hires women, but retains them through clear workplace policies of inclusion and collegiality, work flexibility, active sponsorship and access to role-models and mentors.

 At the third, community, grassroots level we have the following action items:

–       We need programs that create networks, provide role-models and mentorship opportunities such as SCWIST’s MakePossible. This is an online program of skill-based mentoring for women in STEM, funded through Status of Women, Canada (Thank you!!!); [We are proud of this program and invite each of you to participate!]

–       We must create a wide variety of STEM programming that supports children’s education and understanding of a diverse workplace and the subjects that ensure their future.

 At the final, personal level there is a need for:

–       coming to terms with one’s own biases – again, I recommend the Harvard Implicit Bias Test  – because knowing is the surprising first step …

–       we need to scrutinize the personal values and cultural contexts in the home, that prevent progress; review how girls are socialized and how cultural expectations place limitations on them and their futures;

Women know this, Status of Women Canada is tackling this in many ways – but we find ourselves “preaching to the choir”. The moment the word “women” escapes someone’s lips, or appears in a title or discussion – our male colleagues tune out. Did you tune out? This was not a message to the women in the room. This list was for the men. We need “a few good men” – who have the smarts to recognize a good thing when they see it – act upon the economic imperative and thereby create opportunities for all Canadians – because we prosper together.