STEM POWER

WidgetOur fourth annual celebration of the province’s top female influencers salutes those making an impact in science, technology, engineering and math

 

First, the bad news: women aren’t anywhere close to reaching gender equality in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (also known as STEM).

In 2016, Canadian men aged 25 to 34 with a STEM degree were twice as likely as their female counterparts to work in science and technology, Statistics Canada reports. Part of the explanation for this disparity: the women studied different STEM disciplines than the men, favouring biological sciences over engineering or computer science. Females still account for fewer than 25 percent of STEM jobs in Canada—roughly the same proportion as 30 years ago.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, things look even worse. Only 5 percent of Canadian tech companies have a solo female founder or a female CEO, according to a recent report co-authored by MoveTheDial, a national advocacy group that aims to boost women’s participation and leadership in the sector. At the average tech firm in this country, women make up just 13 percent of the executive team and 8 percent of directors. Fifty-three percent of Canadian tech companies have no female executives, and 73 percent have no female directors.

Why do relatively few women work in STEM, how can we reverse this long-standing trend, and who are B.C.’s most influential female players?

For help answering those questions, we turned to our expert panel of women—all of them STEM luminaries in their own right. Over lunch at the Vancouver Club last November, panellists agreed that sexism remains a huge problem. They also stressed how much girls and young women with STEM ambitions need role models. “When I talk to boys about tech, I talk to them about the stuff,” said engineering professor Elizabeth Croft. “When I talk to girls, they’re asking me very different questions. They’re asking me about my kids and my life, and they need to see themselves.”   

Panellist Gerri Sinclair reflected on what’s changed since she sold her Vancouver software firm, NCompass Labs Inc., to Microsoft Corp. in 2001. Back then, there were no female role models in high-tech and no other women on NCompass’s senior management team or board, Sinclair recalls. “We’ve moved the bar a little, but specifically the role model piece, I think we need to do a lot more work there.”

The good news: despite these obstacles, B.C. is home to many female innovators at various stages in their careers who are making a big difference in STEM fields as diverse as biotech, robotics, telecommunications and health care. The list you’ll find here is representative, not definitive, and it isn’t a ranking. All of these women contribute to a brighter future for our province—and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Panel