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The Fight for Gender Equality in the Sciences

Female academics say their struggle for inclusion is slowly making progress

Biology students get to work in the biology study room of Building T at Langara College.
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Reported by Lisa Steacy

Although female students are still the minority in science programs at Langara, the gender gap is slowly narrowing with 65 per cent of students in biology being women.

According to the Langara Institutional Research Department, women made up 38 per cent of students in Langara’s university transfer science programs at the start of Fall 2017. Less than 25 per cent of students in physics, engineering and computer science were women. An event held on Feb. 21 by the Biology Club called Women in Science was one way to promote inclusivity and address gender inequality on campus.

Biology students studying in Building T at Langara College.
Persistence is Key in Fight for Equality

Patricia Aroca-Ouellette, chemistry chair at Langara, said at the event she lost a post-doctoral scholarship when she became pregnant and needed maternity leave. Her male colleague, who broke his leg skiing, was given time off and allowed to keep his scholarship. After a yearlong dispute, her scholarship was reinstated and the policy was changed.

“One of the things all of us will probably have in common, even though our stories are very different, is persistence. It’s not about being brilliant. It’s about being persistent,” said Aroca-Ouellette.

The Benefits of Diversity

Marni Mishna, SFU Mathematics professor, said that income inequality, underrepresentation in faculties and bad stereotypes such as “women can’t do science” discourage women’s participation. She said that science would benefit from the different perspectives that women can contribute.

“It might mean changing models and I think it’s worth doing because I think we benefit when we have lots of different perspectives,” said Mishna.

Inclusivity is the Goal

Paul Habbas, Langara bioinformatics student, said that while there are many female biology students, these events are to recognize and try to close the general gender gap in STEM fields.  “It’s to raise awareness about inclusivity and that could be said for a lot of other things in our world and this world is unfortunately not as inclusive as we hope it to be one day,” he said.

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