STEM fields are male-skewed

Women can help with workplace diversity and should be encouraged to study science, tech

Diana Wong at work in her lab. Photo by Kristian Trevena.
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Reported by Kristian Trevena 

Despite an increase in numbers, women are still underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, according to one UBC professor.

A 2018 study by Randstad Canada found that only 20 per cent of women who attended post-secondary institutions chose a STEM degree. In contrast, 40 per cent of men with post-secondary education opted for a degree in STEM fields.

According to Malabika Pramanik, a math professor at UBC, there is a need for diversity of women in the workplace, in order to prevent feelings of isolation.

“A workplace cannot really have a good record of retention from diverse teams unless the culture and lots of people see people that are successful from (various) backgrounds and ethnicities, races,”  Pramanik said. “There needs to be a critical mass increase in order to be able to attract people from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

She said the number of women can be increased by encouraging students in elementary school, as well as changing societal perceptions.

“We don’t do a good enough job of advocating for [STEM] careers. There’s this perception that only a select few can do it,” Pramanik said.

Each year, Langara hosts the Vancouver District Science Fair. Rachel Leong, a grade 9 participant from David Thompson Secondary School, said that school events like the science fair are a big deal for young students interested in science.

“You can gain recognition and show other young girls that it’s possible,” said Leong, who wants to pursue a career in the medical field.

Nadine Assaf, a Langara science student, said women seem to be taking more of a stand today in STEM fields.

“They’re voicing their opinions more,” she said. “Back then it was just like, okay, he works the same position and he gets higher wages and … you don’t speak of it.

“And now women are more, I guess, empowered by one another just to go speak out.”

Langara has launched the 49 Women in Science project, created to promote women going into STEM fields.

The initiative assists students through education, financial support and encouragement, said Gerda Krause, the dean for Langara’s faculty of science.

“There isn’t a great deal of emphasis on recruiting students because that would go into the high schools,” Krause said. “It’s certainly something we started talking about.

“But this is a very new group, the the intent here rather, is to encourage and support students in the sciences.”

 

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