Opinion: We need mentorship to get women and girls into STEAM fields

Feb 11 2022, 5:00 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Teresa Virani, chief experience and marketing officer at Science World


Today is International Day of Girls & Women in Science, a day dedicated by the United Nations General Assembly to achieving full and equal access to and participation in science. It’s also a day focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

I believe in the power of science education. I work towards it every day as Science World’s Chief Experience and Marketing Officer. Science, technology, engineering, arts and design, and math (STEAM) have tremendous potential to change the world.

But unfortunately, not everyone in our province (or the world, for that matter) gets the same opportunities to pursue their scientific talents and goals. Women are critically under-represented in STEM fields, and that’s why getting more girls into STEAM education is one of our priorities at Science World. We include the “A” for arts because we believe it allows for a more inclusive opportunity for all.

Right now, there’s a gender crisis in STEM fields. Women represent just 44% of STEM undergraduates, compared to 64% of students in other fields.

STEAM

Courtesy of Science World

The gap only widens from there. Less than a quarter of all STEM jobs are held by women, and women account for just 18% of all licensed engineers in Canada. Even more troubling, women in STEM earn an average of just $0.76 for every dollar earned by men in the same roles.

As a society, our need for scientific innovation has never been of greater importance. To overcome challenges like climate change, global inequality, and the COVID-19 pandemic, we need all of our most talented, dedicated, and creative minds to work together to find solutions.

What we’re doing at Science World to help change this

With our upcoming virtual event, Girls & STEAM, we’re working to close that gender gap. Girls & STEAM is an ongoing series of events that we offer year-round, from annual signature events with keynote speakers to monthly mentorship events, all virtual and all meant to inspire and nurture interests and talents.

February 22-26 will provide an action-packed week of mentorship, experiments, workshops, panel discussions, and other educational opportunities for girls aged 14–16.

STEAM

Science World CEO Tracy Redies, and last year’s keynote speaker Dr. Bonnie Henry

The gender crisis in STEAM

We’re missing out on how girls could change the world and help us build a better society through tech, science, arts, engineering, and math. But that’s not the only problem — the lack of female representation in STEAM also contributes to the wage gap and gender inequality overall.

While STEM roles tend to be among the highest-paid and fastest-growing job opportunities, when girls don’t pursue their scientific dreams, they’re also lowering their lifetime earning potential.

The answer is mentorship

It takes real-life connections and firsthand experience to inspire people to pursue STEAM fields. Without seeing real examples of women excelling in the sciences and STEAM fields, it’s difficult for young girls to imagine themselves in these disciplines, no matter how talented and interested they are.

That’s why I believe mentorship is the secret ingredient to closing the gender gap in science — and the evidence backs that up.

A 2021 report by Shared Services Canada shows that mentorship is one of the top five most impactful ways we can encourage women to pursue STEAM careers and turn their passions into professions.

By modelling what professional trajectories in STEAM can look like, mentorship nurtures the next generation of female STEAM leaders, offering them a look into the opportunities these disciplines hold.

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