Closing the gender gap: How Girls & STEAM are stepping up
By Teresa Virani, Chief Experience & Marketing Officer at Science World
Our world is facing some difficult challenges, and we at Science World believe girls and women have a crucial role to play in solving them. That’s why we created Girls & STEAM, a year-round virtual event series that includes workshops, hands-on activities, panel discussions, and an interactive industry showcase where girls can connect with mentors in each of these fields. This series gives girls the space to learn about a variety of topics and careers from experts and mentors in science, technology, engineering, arts and design and math.
What started as an annual in-person event in 2018 with just 300 girls under the geodesic dome now reaches over 3,000 girls virtually. These programs have attracted many talented young women and connected them with some of our most influential BC role models in STEAM careers, including Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Provincial Health Officer.
These events show all girls, especially those in underrepresented groups, that they too can succeed in STEAM careers because they can see something of themselves in these diverse female mentors. Today in Canada, just 18% of licensed engineers are women and less than 1/3 of all people in technology fields are women. Coupled with the fact that women working in STEM jobs are paid $0.76 to every $1.00 earned by men in the same job, well, we have work to do.
There is a high dropout rate of women in STEAM careers, likely to do the industry’s real or perceived male-dominated culture and unfriendliness towards women. However, according to a study by Microsoft, Girls who know a woman in STEAM are “substantially more likely to feel powerful when they do STEAM activities than those who don’t.”
When I was a young girl, I never saw myself in the sciences because I didn’t think my brain worked that way, nor did I have any role models in this industry. Today I have daughters of my own and I don’t want them to view STEAM careers as something unattainable, because they are girls.
Some inspirational, local champions of girls in STEAM
Girls who know women in STEAM fields are more likely to pursue these careers. That’s why Science World brings in such strong women mentors, including Dr. Bonnie Henry, a past keynote speaker for the event and passionate supporter:
“What I know without a doubt is having girls and women active in STEAM careers makes our world a better place. I hope you’ll find inspiration in each other today. Though you may not have a clear path, you’ll find it by following your instincts, following your dreams and making sure that you continue to keep learning and supporting each other.”
Another amazing local supporter of women in the tech sector is the BC Parliamentary Secretary for Technology and Innovation, the Honourable Brenda Bailey. In her words:
“By 2029, the tech sector in BC will grow by 75,000 jobs. But with less than 1/3 of people in technology and tech-enabled jobs self-identifying as women, we have a lot of work to do. I’m so grateful that Science World has stepped up to address the gap in Canada’s STEAM workforce by hosting events for girls.”
What girls are saying about STEAM careers and events
Girls are not sitting silently anymore. They’re listening, participating, and making a difference.
“I really liked that there was an arts & design aspect to the event,” said past Girls & STEAM participant Alexa Bailey (16-years old). “Many events are very STEM-focused, but I believe that creativity has a very big role in science.”
Alexa went on to create her own STEM organization, Girls to the Power of Math, to inspire her peers and the generation behind her after discovering gender disparities in confidence in math skills.
Sophie Gandell, a past Girls & STEAM participant and student in Vancouver, has discovered her passion for chemistry and math after attending STEAM events at Science World and in her community, “It’s been nice to see role models in this field....I’ve [always] been interested in science since elementary school but it’s become more interesting as I got older.”
Organizations supporting Girls in STEAM in BC
The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST) often partners with Science World for STEAM events. SCWIST offers online and in-person youth engagement programs and they co-host the annual Wonder Women networking event with Science World in March. It connects women already in STEM careers with aspiring STEM students.
Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science, and Technology (WWest) co-hosts several STEAM events with Science World. One of these events, the “In Plain Sight” photography exhibition, was displayed in the Science World Lobby. WWest passionately supports gender diversity in STEM fields through whitepapers and events.
Encourage girls to learn more about STEAM careers
We believe that now, more than ever, the world needs people who care about science. Girls have the power to unlock a new future for innovation and science. Without the many generous sponsors and partners like SAP and our mentor and presenter volunteers, these programs couldn’t exist.
If you know a young girl interested in these important careers, invite them to an upcoming Girls in STEAM event.