Building a better community for women in STEM at York

(Courtesy of Riddhi Jani)

Statistics Canada’s most recent study, “Persistence and representation of women in STEM programs”, published in 2019, details the gender gap in STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and illuminates a persistent disparity requiring further attention and correction. 

Compiled from years worth of data starting in 2010, the study presents how women are less likely to enrol (44 per cent vs 56 per cent) and remain in undergraduate STEM programs compared to their male counterparts (66 per cent vs 72 per cent), and are more likely to transfer to a BHASE (business, humanities, arts, social science, education, etc.) program (23 per cent vs 12 per cent).

These disparities are still felt today, with York students being no exception. Maria Sitkovets, a fourth-year computer science student, mentions how women “struggle with finding other women in classes” and that it’s not uncommon for them “to be one of or the only woman in some of their computer science classes. There are more women entering tech right now than there were even 10 years ago, but many of the challenges stay the same and many women drop out of it early on because they don’t feel supported. And when they get to the workplace it doesn’t get any easier. It’s also pretty common to be the only woman on the team or even in the room.”

When contacted about York’s STEM community and their commitment to supporting its female students, Ayana Siddiqui, co-President of Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) and second-year computer science student at York, wrote that there are many elements that go into community-building, including vigilant allies, mentorships, career sponsorships, and inserting frameworks of “equity and ethics into course content” itself. These are all initiatives that WiSE is currently striving to provide, as well counselling and promoting inclusivity by also appointing male ambassadors.

Siddiqui also points out “that race, socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientaion, and so many other factors play a role in forming someone’s individual experience as a student on campus and as a woman in STEM at large. These factors, despite being out of our control, affect how others perceive and treat us and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to address many of the issues women in STEM face.”

That is where student associations and societies play an integral role, Sitkovets mentions how “the way to support women in STEM is to show them that it’s an option earlier on in life and help cultivate their interest in it. I know that York has partnerships with programs for elementary and high school students like Go Code Girl and Go Eng Girl that were what actually showed me how fun computer science and engineering can really be. And through programs like those I was able to meet women who were studying STEM in university and have role models to look up to. 

“The best support system I’ve found is by joining clubs of women in STEM like Technolgap and WiSE because we can relate to each other’s struggles and also help each other with sharing job opportunities or interviewing advice,” Sitkovets continues.

Siddiqui also mentions this when she states that “making sure that mentorships, organizations, and partnerships are supported and accessible to new students is a great next step to building a strong community. Through seemingly small actions like mentioning someone’s name in a room of opportunity, making introductions, sharing job opportunities, and offering referrals, we create space to bring up the next generation of STEM talent.” 

About the Author

By Jeanette Williams

Health Editor

health@excal.on.ca

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