Women in STEM Recap

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While an increasingly larger number of women are choosing to pursue degrees in the traditionally male-dominated STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) the percentage of women actually working in these fields has not changed much in the last three decades. There has been much research into the reasons behind these stagnant numbers, yet many of the forces keeping women from progressing remain invisible from the outside. With the recent rise of movements like #metoo and #timesup, issues of blatant harassment and discrimination have been brought to the media spotlight.  But there are also deeper, more implicit issues embedded within organizations such as gender stereotyping, implicit bias and even women holding themselves back.

As I walked out of the elevators into the beautiful space provided by Telus Digital for the STEM Panel hosted by Young Women in Business, I couldn’t help but wonder: What am I going to learn today that I don’t already know?

After my pre-event duties as part of the organizing committee, I settled into my seat amongst the crowd which, I happily noted, was very diverse. People of all ages, genders and career paths had come out to listen to the wisdom departed by the panelists.

This, to me, was enough evidence these issues we tend to associate with women actually indirectly affect everyone. It speaks to the importance of having colleagues and friends from all walks of life in one’s support system. At the front of the room sat our accomplished, professional panelists – Dr. Ilana MacDonald, Abhilasha Bhatia, Barbara Robinson and Dr. Sarah Mayes-Tang.

Who were the panelists?

Check out these blog posts to learn more about the panelists:

Ruth Fernandez, MAPC
https://ywib.ca/toronto/blog/women-in-stem-ruth-fernandez

Dr. Ilana MacDonald
https://ywib.ca/toronto/blog/women-in-stem-dr-ilana-macdonald

Abhilasha Bhatia
https://ywib.ca/toronto/blog/women-in-stem-abhilasha-bhatia

Barbara A. Robinson, M.A.Sc., P.Eng.,
https://ywib.ca/toronto/blog/women-in-stem-barbara-robinson

Dr. Sarah Mayes-Tang
https://ywib.ca/toronto/blog/women-in-stem-dr-sarah-mayes-tang

The conversation, moderated by Ruth Fernandez, covered a wide range of topics that ranged from anecdotal experiences of discrimination in the workplace, to tips and strategies on how to overcome these obstacles in the workplace. Amidst jokes about sewage systems, Barbara talked about starting off as an engineer and eventually becoming so good at her job she was able to start a company of her own. That, to me, is the definition of perseverance and her passion for her work is something that I strive to have in my own life.

When the impressively-dressed Dr. Sarah Mayes-Tang mentioned she second guesses the way she dresses out of fear that she won’t be taken seriously, I wanted to stand up and say “hey me too”. As ridiculous as it might seem, it made me realize women tend to think about things that wouldn’t even cross a man’s mind! The conversation continued with Dr. Ilana MacDonald confirming that, “No, all astrophysicists do not act or talk like the guys from the Big Bang Theory”.  Dr. MacDonald went on to discuss all the stereotypes she constantly has to dispel around both astrophysics and being a woman in astrophysics.

While I learned something from each panelist, the one thing that resonated with me the most was when Abhilasha Bhatia was asked how she handles being an introvert in a job that requires collaboration. She gracefully replied, “You don’t have to be loud to do your job, right?”  The applause from the audience was awe-inspiring and reaffirmed for me that there is nothing wrong in being yourself, as you are. I think this is something women especially tend to struggle with and will often change how they behave to fit certain expectations in the workplace. In fact, I have even been told to speak up more during meetings at work because “that’s what great leaders do”.

As I walked out of the event that day, I thought to myself, I should have more discussions about these kinds of topics with both male and female colleagues. I might just surprise myself with all there is to learn and how shared our experiences can be.   


Parting thoughts

The panel noted how everyone, even accomplished women, will suffer from imposter syndrome quite often. They said that we all need to tell each other how great we are doing, and the great job we do everyday, and to recognize each other’s efforts as often as possible.

The panel reinforced the need to have a support network. Whether they are your friends, family or like-minded colleagues, they recommended to rely and uplift one another. They noted that there will be difficult times when you’d want to leave the industry altogether, but that having this support system and sounding board will help you persevere in the field you love.


Learning More

YWiB created a handbook with resources to support you, our community, as you continue to forge ahead and take action in your career. The dropbox link is below:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/veynf19oekidx8m/YWiB%20Toronto%27s%20STEM%20Resources%20Handbook.pdf?dl=0

Please also utilize this folder containing resources from Canada Business Ontario.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qwztldaf25srlxb/AAC01k_X63R61VOIgqaQr715a?dl=0

You’re welcome to share this information with anyone.

Reimagining Work Culture: Women’s Empowerment and Female Leadership in the Spotlight

Event attendance is an important facet to career building. Conferences in particular lend a unique opportunity to gain knowledge from leaders and visionaries. Absorb all that you can from the speakers, and take time to network with attendees too. The conference is your icebreaker and silent acknowledgement that there is an alignment already. Use that mutual interest to drive the conversation and dig deeper to fulfill your overall goal for attending.

I spent a day at the Leaders and Icons Conference held into Toronto, which promised to “take [me] on an educational journey, highlighting lessons from those at the forefront of business, politics and innovation.” Through conversation and engagement, it quickly became clear that major topics encompassing women’s empowerment and female leadership have transcended to all industries and sectors. Memorable takeaways were shared by speakers Peter Aceto, Joanne Lipman, and Vicki Saunders.

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Peter Aceto former President and CEO of Tangerine shared the insight and experience of a leader. He spoke of transformative leadership through three areas of thinking in business that need to be transformed: leadership, innovation, and diversity. His focus on diversity stressed the importance of ethnic representation, and female leadership. Presenting statistics and models showcasing the high return that is seen when a female is given leadership opportunity. His talk not only provided tangible evidence but also spoke to the social importance of this change in culture that is seen as long overdue in the business sector. 

Joanne Lipman, author of That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know About Working Together and former Editor-in-Chief of USA Today, was interviewed by gender equity advocate Caroline Codsi. Lipman spoke passionately through her experience and stories shared by other females colleagues in the industry, of the difficulties and barriers of being a female in business. For those interested in reading her book, she presented topics that provide women with skills to navigate in the workforce. It is written as a solution-based tool and expresses the importance that change needs to come from the top. She emphasized that women are already doing plenty to receive recognition, and now it is up to the men to step up. 

Vicki Saunders’ message resonates. She is founder of SheEO, an international non-profit organization that empowers women entrepreneurs and innovators. Her non-profit can be described as a form of ‘radical generosity’ whereby women copower each other by contributing to a pooled fund that is later distributed to start-up companies and female business owners. Saunders expressed that “women are not a niche” and drove home the importance of recognition. SheEO directly contributes to women entrepreneurs of today, while ensuring that the pooled fund is accessible to future generations. SheEO provides mentorship programs, coaching, and other skill development programs. These services are provided not so that others can run your business for you, but to provide women with the tools to be a successful as possible on their own terms.

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After a wonderful day of engaging with the guest speakers, panelists, and those in attendance it was clear that the strive for alternative leadership methods and gender equity is at the forefront of conversation across all industries. Every speaker recommended a diverse work culture that is supportive, motivating, and encouraging of risk-taking -- all of which are similar values, long-term visions, and targeted goals that YWiB Toronto has in place for the community.