Breaking Barriers: Women in STEM

The representation of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has been a pivotal subject of societal discourse in recent decades. Despite some noteworthy advancements, gender disparity within the STEM fields persists, particularly in Canada.

Persistence and Representation of Women in STEM Programs

According to a study by Statistics Canada in 2019, tracking a cohort of STEM students from 2010, women made up 44% of first-year STEM students. They, however, had a higher tendency than men to transfer from a STEM to a non-STEM program, though this did not significantly impact the overall proportion of women in STEM programs, which remained around 43% by 2015.

Women’s persistence varies across different STEM programs, with higher retention in fields such as engineering. Additionally, women were observed to graduate faster than men from STEM programs, regardless of the field of study.

Women in STEM Careers – Current Scenario in 2023

Today, women constitute about 47% of the total workforce, but remain underrepresented in STEM, making up less than 25% of people employed in STEM careers in Canada. Within specific sectors, such as nuclear, the disparity is even more pronounced. Women make up less that one fifth of the nuclear sector’s workforce, pointing to a large untapped resource.

Greater diversity in the STEM workforce offers significant benefits to Canadians, addressing skills shortages, increasing innovation and capacity and providing a greater return on human resources investments.

The scenario is similar in the United States, where women represent about 27% of STEM workers. In the European Union, however, women constitute 43% of STEM employees, signifying strides in the right direction.

Despite the increase in the number of women enrolling in STEM programs and taking on executive roles, a significant gender imbalance persists. The United Nations points to continued disparities, with women constituting less than 30% of the world’s researchers and occupying only 15% of management roles in science, engineering and technology.

Barriers and Challenges

Several key factors perpetuate gender STEM gaps:

Gender Stereotypes

STEM fields are often perceived as masculine domains, a stereotype that has profound effects starting from early education. This belief can lead teachers and parents to underestimate women’s mathematical abilities, even as young as preschool. The stereotype further manifests in higher education and professional settings, often leading to biased judgements and expectations.

Male-Dominated Cultures

With fewer women studying and working in STEM, these fields tend to maintain male-dominated cultures that can be exclusionary and unsupportive of women. This often translates into a workplace environment that lacks flexibility, support networks or an atmosphere where women feel included. The culture can be a major barrier for women to enter or persist in STEM careers.

Fewer Role Models

The scarcity of female role models in STEM isn’t just a statistical fact; it’s a substantial barrier. Women have fewer examples to inspire their interest, and this lack of representation extends into books, media and popular culture. Black women role models are even scarcer in math and science, leaving a significant gap in inspiration and guidance.

Rapid Technological Changes

The STEM fields are known for their dynamic and ever-evolving nature. The swift pace of technological advancements requires professionals to engage in continuous learning and skill development. Keeping abreast of the latest tools, technologies and methodologies can be both challenging and demanding. Those unable to keep pace may find themselves at a disadvantage, regardless of gender.

In addition to these challenges, economic disparities play a role in perpetuating the gender gap in STEM. Men in STEM earn nearly $15,000 higher per year than women, and Latina and Black women earn even less. Such disparities extend into different sectors, from healthcare to engineering, reflecting a broader issue that requires continued attention and targeted action.

The pursuit of gender equality with the STEM fields has undeniably gained momentum in recent years, particularly in Canada. Organizations are taking steps to improve representation, and the increased visibility of women in prominent roles within STEM is beginning to influence future generations.

Ongoing Initiatives and Perspectives in Advancing Women in STEM

In lieu of traditional remedies to the gender disparity within STEM, several ongoing initiatives and programs are actively promoting women’s participation. These include mentorship programs, targeted scholarships and increased visibility of female role models within the field.

A noteworthy example is the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) which contributes to the development of women in STEM careers, making the pursuit of these careers more equitable and achievable. Championed by CNSC President Rumina Velshi, the Women in STEM initiative was launched in 2019 to support women in STEM careers at the CNSC and elsewhere, raising awareness in collaboration with partners such as government, industry and academia.

CNSC President Rumina Velshi eloquently sums up the approach to gender balance by stating, “Gender balance isn’t about making room for women by squeezing men out. It’s about making space for everyone by increasing the size of the room.”

On to global front, areas such as the European Union are taking more substantial strides for women to be represented in STEM, with over 6.3 million women scientists and engineers. Meanwhile, Canada and the US continue to reflect a need for more significant improvements.

Furthermore, researchers are delving into the nuanced factors that influence women’s decisions to remain in or leave STEM, including the relationships between initial majors and subsequent career choices. For instance, women who transferred from a STEM to a non-STEM program often choose fields related to their initial STEM major, a pattern that may hold keys to improving retention within STEM fields.

Interested in a career in STEM?

GUS Canada institutions are poised to equip you with the skills necessary for success in the dynamic fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Canadian College of Technology and Business (CCTB) offers exciting programs such as Cybersecurity Risk Management with Co-op, Full-Stack Web Development with Co-op and Software Quality Assurance Engineering with Practicum. These programs are meticulously crated to provide you with hands-on experience and comprehensive knowledge in today’s technological landscape.

Trebas Institute’s campuses in Montreal and Toronto have specialized programs such as Analytics, Big Data and Business Intelligence and Cybersecurity Specialist Co-op. These are tailored for those aspiring to merge technological prowess with analytical skills, leading to innovative solutions in an ever-evolving digital world.

For those looking into data science or biomedical fields, University of Niagara Falls Canada (UNF) is introducing a Master of Data Analytics and an Honours Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences. These programs are set to align with the cutting-edge advancements in data-driven decision-making and healthcare innovations.

These STEM-focused programs offer a diverse and robust educational pathway for individuals eager to explore, innovate and contribute to these sectors. Whether it’s cybersecurity, data analytics or biomedical sciences, these opportunities reflect Canada’s and GUS Canada’s commitment to empowering a new generation of STEM professionals, embracing diversity and achieving gender equity within these fields.

Share our post