Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Female role models give advice for increasing STEM diversity

It’s in the news everywhere these days: the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields need more women. 

And the programs around the world that have achieved success in inspiring passion for STEM among young women? They’re in the news, too. 

At The University of Toronto, Adriana Diaz Lozano Patino was recently featured in the school’s newsletter after completing an internship in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering’s Water and Energy Research Laboratory.

There, she researched innovative solutions to address global concerns about water and energy supplies. Patino, who grew up in Mexico, focused her research on sustainable sanitation and water desalination in Mexico and Bangladesh.

“Like anything in life, there are always challenges,” Patino said. “But never think that because you’re a girl or you identify as a girl, that you can’t do it. You can do it. 

She continued: “We want to make sure that other girls see that you can go into STEM. It’s not scary, you’re going to be loved, you’re going to have friends and you’re going to have faculty who support you. We’re trying to bring across the message that it’s a pretty awesome field. There’s lots to learn and women sometimes feel like they’re not going to live up to it because they’ve been taught that, but it’s completely not true.

Also in Toronto, Kathryn Lauren Hong, founder and president of the Girls SySTEM Mentorship Program, wrote a column for Toronto.com called out the continued gender disparity in STEM fields, as well as the important work many women are already doing, especially during the pandemic.

“At the heart of the COVID-19 response, we also witnessed millions of healthcare and social workers (70 percent women), who, alongside other female scientists, engineers, and AI technicians revolutionized the way we understand and deliver care,” Hong wrote in the column. “It may be surprising to learn, then, that inequalities continue to persist in a field that has clearly benefited from female talent.”

Women in STEM is a big topic outside of Canada, too. 

In Portland, Oregon, the nonprofit Chicas Youth Development Program, organized through the Adelante Mujeres organization, partners with 26 schools to serve at least 700 students each year.

In this news story, University of Portland professor Stephanie Salomone said STEM careers include many different jobs, including construction and manufacturing.

“I do believe all children should be able to believe they could be a scientist and to see scientists who look like them and to understand what it means to do science and think in a scientifically literate way," Salomone said.

Women can make a big difference by entering STEM fields, but early training and mentorship is critical to ensuring the growth of women in these fields, according to a Forbes column by Kate Cassino, the CEO of Hobsons, an educational technology company creating solutions for educators, administrators, and students.

Cassino wrote: “As a woman in tech, a field in which women are in the minority, I recognize the value of mentorship. If a young woman is considering a career in tech, she may seek a mentor or someone whose career steps she can follow. The underrepresentation of women in leadership across STEM fields is a persistent barrier in trying to bring new, diverse faces into the field. Creating and fostering mentor relationships can change this. And I believe the best way to connect students to their potential mentors is through work-based learning (WBL) opportunities.”

Whether it’s Canada or the USA or even Singapore, women in STEM — and the need to include them in the sciences — will continue to be big news. 

The field is wide open for women and young girls, and represents the marketplace of the future. Though many barriers remain, there are also great opportunities for young women who choose a career in the sciences. 

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