Lethbridge organization receives $1.68M to help women pursue careers in male-dominated professions

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Women looking to make their mark on certain industries in southern Alberta are getting more than $1 million to help, thanks to new funding received by Economic Development Lethbridge's Tecconnect. Demi Knight reports – Jul 26, 2019

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are professional fields that one southern Alberta professional says have for years been dominated by men.

However, thanks to $1.68 million in new funding, Tecconnect is hoping to change that.

“With this funding, we’re going to continue the training and development of these young women,” said Renae Barlow, vice-president of entrepreneurship and innovation with Economic Development Lethbridge and Tecconnect.

“They can then serve as mentors for other young women in the community to show them what can be done.”

READ MORE: ‘The battle starts at the top’: How Canadian companies can close the gender pay gap

Tecconnect is an initiative developed by Economic Development Lethbridge and was awarded the three-year funding through the federal government’s first-ever Women’s Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES).

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Barlow said the funding will go towards the STEM program at Tecconnect, where new training, mentoring and support programs will be developed for women.

“We’ll be able to offer more concentrated programs, business advice and all around supports for these women entrepreneurs to be successful in these sectors that traditionally have a really low representation of women,” she said.

It’s a program that one software engineer said is much needed in Lethbridge, as STEM industries, especially her own, have seen decreasing numbers of women in recent years.

“We’ve experienced a dramatic drop in participation in software engineering,” said Lori Olson, owner of the WNDX Group Inc.

“When I graduated, there was something like 40 per cent women in the class… I think we’ve bottomed out at around 10 [per-cent].”

Watch below: (June, 2019) The future of women at work in Canada

Click to play video: 'The future of women at work in Canada' The future of women at work in Canada
The future of women at work in Canada – Jun 4, 2019

The WES is a $2-billion investment that plans to double the number of women-owned businesses in Canada by the year 2025.

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The funding allocated to the Lethbridge business was announced on July 22, by Mary Ng, the minister of small business and export promotion, .

Barlow said applying for the grant was a long process, but now that it has been received, it will help better position women in Lethbridge to become successful members of the workforce, or even their own bosses.

“Women entrepreneurs in STEM are in a particular geographical disadvantage here. We don’t have those ready accesses that Calgary and Edmonton do,” Barlow said. “So now, with this funding, we can actually level the playing field. So if you’re here and you have these ambitions, you can actually realize them.”

READ MORE: Federal budget 2018 aims to increase workforce participation of women

The funding also complements the Government of Canada’s efforts to advance gender equality in the country by empowering women like Olson and Barlow to learn, grow and create a more diverse workplace.

“It’s a great program to have the federal government behind this,” Barlow said. “We need more participation, women is important, but really, diversity in general is just as important.”

The new STEM programs for women are set to roll out at Tecconnect this fall.

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