According to a recent survey commissioned by DeVry Institute of Technology, seven in 10 Calgarians perceive a gender gap in the science, technology and engineering employment sectors. The same gap is also perceived in the post-secondary programs providing training for these careers.
Various statistics at the national and provincial levels support these local opinions. According to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, women make up 58% of the total students enrolled in Canadian universities at the bachelor’s level, but only 37% of the total students enrolled in science and engineering programs are women. (Source: Women in Science and Engineering in Canada (November 2010); Corporate Planning and Policy Directorate, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Ottawa)
Despite the gender gap—both perceived and real—57% of Calgarians believe post-secondary institutions are doing enough to promote science, technology and engineering careers among young women.
“While Calgarians generally believe post-secondary institutions are doing enough to encourage women to enter these fields, the fact that a gender gap exists shows that we have further work to do,” says Anila Umar, director of career services for DeVry Institute of Technology. “HerWorld is our effort to encourage girls to foster an interest in the sciences at a time when they are beginning to decide their future career paths.”
HerWorld is an inaugural event held today in Calgary, bringing more than one hundred high school girls to TELUS Spark, the new Science Centre. The program will feature workshops and professional speakers to promote girls’ interest in science, technology and engineering careers.
“HerWorld is showing the girls at our school that science, technology and engineering degrees and professions are not just for boys,” explains Linda Driedger, math teacher at Alternative High School. “It gives girls hands-on experience with the different careers and showcases female role models in the sector.”
According to the survey, social influence and gender stereotypes are seen as the main factors that prevent women from entering science, technology and engineering fields. Fifty-four per cent of Calgarians believe these influences and stereotypes act as detriments. Fifty per cent also believe that a lack of female role models deters women from entering these fields.
“We’ve designed HerWorld to inspire young women to pursue what they are passionate about and look past the idea that these fields are a ‘boys only club,'” Umar says. “The speakers at the workshop show that women can succeed in a wide variety of science, technology and engineering careers.”
The HerWorld activities include discussions with successful women from the science, technology and engineering fields. Speakers include Lori Stewart, a life-long technical business woman specializing in changing the e-commerce landscape at companies like eBay Canada and eThor, and Lt.-Col. Maryse Carmichael, the first female commander of Canadian Forces’ Snowbirds. The girls will also build an LED circuit board.
The survey found that Calgarians believe women are most likely to pursue only two careers in science fields: medicine at 55% and biology at 28%. Fields such as computer science, information technology, geology, engineering and mathematics each received less than five per cent of the responses.
“Events like HerWorld are critical to addressing the long-standing trend of women being under-represented in the sciences,” states Driedger. “I hope we see more like it in the future.”
First held in 1997, HerWorld expects to host more than 7,500 high school girls at nearly 30 events in the United States and Canada this March during HerWorld Month.
Leger Marketing conducted the online survey of 500 Calgarians aged 18 years and older in January 2012. DeVry Institute of Technology commissions quarterly career and higher education-related surveys to provide the Calgary community with insight into trends that impact local and provincial economies.