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Women in STEM: the ongoing struggle against inequality

Click to play video 'Women in STEM: the ongoing struggle against inequality' Women in STEM: the ongoing struggle against inequality
Feb. 11 is celebrated as International Day of Women & Girls in Science. As Tiffany Lizée reports, it helps shine light on a workforce where there are still far more men than women.

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is celebrated annually on Feb. 11 and helps shine light on a workforce where there are still far more men than women.

Courtesy: United Nations
Courtesy: United Nations. Courtesy: United Nations

Madison Marriott is an engineering student at the University of Calgary and president of a student-run organization called WISE.

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The group offers support, a chance to network and other opportunities for women in science and engineering and currently has over 1,300 members.

WISE is one of the largest student-run organizations at the University of Calgary.
WISE is one of the largest student-run organizations at the University of Calgary. Courtesy: WISE

Marriott joined the group three years ago and said it has helped her find her confidence.

“I’m a better leader, I’m a better talker, I’m much more comfortable interacting with my professors, with potential employers — like, I’ve just been made a better overall student by being involved with WISE,” Marriott said.

According to Statistics Canada research, only one-third of Canadians with a STEM degree are women and they make up less than one-quarter of all Canadians employed in science and technology. GRAPHIC BY: Cody Coates/Global News
According to Statistics Canada research, only one-third of Canadians with a STEM degree are women and they make up less than one-quarter of all Canadians employed in science and technology. GRAPHIC BY: Cody Coates/Global News. Cody Coates/Global News
“Think back 100 years ago, these classes were 100 per cent male, and we’re never going to get to the place where they’re 100 per cent female, but we’re not even at 50 [per cent ] yet so there’s still a lot of places to go,” Marriott said.
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The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA) is trying to tip the scales.

More women are becoming interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, but there are still challenges for women in the male-dominated STEM industry.

Sonja Schwake with APEGA is working on identifying those barriers and found one of the big issues is the impact on career that maternity leave has for women.

She said another major challenge for women is the male-dominated culture, with men in the workplace joining sporting leagues together or doing other extra-curricular activities.

“They may not have the either knowledge or interest to take part in these things, which would be fine, except there is a perception that important business decisions get made in these venues,” Schwake said.

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Getty
Getty. Getty

A decade ago, APEGA found only 15 per cent of its engineers were women and the regulator decided to set a goal to double that by the year 2030.

“Thirty per cent isn’t just a random number… that 30 per cent is an actual tipping point for when women start to feel comfortable because there’s enough women in the workforce,” Schwake said.

In order to reach its target, APEGA is collecting feedback from its members and building mentorship and leadership programs for women.