How is Canada addressing gender disparity in STEM?

Today is National STEM Day, an unofficial holiday that celebrates science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). 

While it's a date typically celebrated in the U.S., it presents a great opportunity to talk about the efforts being made in Canada to make STEM fields more diverse. 

"At the end, all team members work towards a common objective that benefits the organization, regardless of where you stand in terms of rank or on the gender spectrum. From personal experience, the more diverse voices at the table in terms of perspectives, better the productivity." - Karimah Es Sabar, Quark Venture LP for Authority Magazine

Diversity in the workforce

When it comes to hiring, there is still evidence of subconscious biases and systemic gender inequality. Initiatives to include more women in leadership roles, however, continue to be supported by regulatory and investor pressures, as well as public opinion. 

Osler’s 2021 Diversity Disclosure Report lists the number of women at TSX-listed life sciences companies holding board seats and, as of mid-year 2021, women now hold 23.4 per cent of seats (clause: This is among TSX-listed companies who disclose the number of women on their board). That's almost two per cent more compared to their numbers from the previous year.

Highlights from the 2021 Diversity Disclosure Report

A focus on women – Canada and the world

The gradual increase in diverse leadership at any level is cause to celebrate - but small changes year to year can still be discouraging. 

Research from the Conference Board of Canada has even questioned whether Canada’s approach to increasing board diversity is effective. The study, which came out in September of last year, examined 36 OECD countries and the efforts to increase the proportion of women in board positions. 

Their results show how representation in countries around the world still varies greatly - as well as the efforts to improve this. Only four OECD countries - Germany, Austria, Italy, and Belgium - used both soft (e.g. limited penalties, voluntary targets) and hard (e.g. binding penalties/legislation) quotas to achieve better representation.

Canada was somewhat unique. We require disclosure regarding the representation of women, but without recommending or mandating a particular target to be achieved. A soft approach like this, where you "comply or explain" encourages companies to be more diverse by being held accountable by the public and stakeholders. Debate on the effectiveness of voluntary, soft targets vs. having strict, hard quotas is ongoing.

Some initiatives in Canada now 

Across Canada, individuals in research and STEM-related fields are working to better understand and improve gender disparity, as well as other diversity gaps in the workforce. So while it may be discouraging to see numbers low, or to know many other issues still exist in plain site, it's important to stay solutions-based. 

In Ontario there are a number of initiatives to check out, including:

Actua’s National Indigenous Youth in STEM (InSTEM) program, a program guided by Indigenous leadership teams each year that engages with over 35,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis (FNIM) youth in over 200 communities nationwide through school workshops (K-12) and summer camp programs for grades 5-8. 

WSTEM TO, a Toronto-based initiative aimed at creating a strong and supportive local community of women leaders in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)  

The Rosie the Riveter-Inspired Initiativeone of the five Initiatives at The Prosperity Project™. The online portal offers online resources for women in STEM, skilled trades, and leadership.

Engineers Canada 30 by 30, a national goal/initiative adopted by Engineers Canada to raise the percentage of newly licensed engineers who are women to 30 per cent by the year 2030.

Canadian Black Scientist Network, a network from The Canadian Black Scientists Network (CBSN) which exists to Elevate, make Visible, Celebrate and Connect Black Canadians in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics & Medicine (STEMM) across sectors.

The Artemis Project, a social enterprise founded on a collective of female entrepreneurs focused on disruptive change in global economic, environmental, and social development in mining. 

Solutions to addressing and advancing diversity in Canada are not one-dimensional. Collection of quantitative and qualitative data is key, but improving options for kids and secondary school students is important too.

Before joining the work force, young women and girls in school will often come face-to-face with the gender disparity gap. It can be as simple as walking into a classroom or competition, which can be intimidating

Celebrate National STEM Day by doing one of the following:

1. Check out one of the organizations we listed above, or share with us one that you love.

2. Share/Tweet/Post someone who has inspired you in STEM. It can be a friend, family member, public figure, grade school teacher, etc.

3. Give some encouragement! What are some advice or words of wisdom to those entering the field? 

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