A female friend of mine at Marc Garneau took a technology course and by chance, ended up as the only female in that course. She did not think it would be a big deal; she was surprised when she found out that it was. Sexist remarks started to be thrown at her about how women do not belong in the field of technicians and mechanics. Adults would come in to the class and talk about how they remember days when girls used to sew instead of work with wires. Students would say, “Did cooking run out of spots?” and the teacher would remark, “Maybe someone should help do the lifting instead of her?” She felt that the comments were taking a toll on her enjoyment of the class.
Nevertheless, in recent years, studies have shown that an increasing amount of women are majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields in university. The University of Toronto boasts that 30% of its first year engineering students are women, with the percentage increasing every year. Females make up almost half of the students in STEM fields, a number that has stayed nearly the same since 2002. Obviously, many of these women are trying to get jobs in STEM, yet for some reason they make up only 39% of the workforce.
So what’s going on? Well, going back to the original anecdote, women working in STEM are being marginalized by a male-dominated workforce. According to a recent study by the Center for Talent Innovation, women feel like they are depreciated by “lab-coat, hard-hat, and geek workplace cultures” which often exclude women and show bias against them. They also said that they feel “excluded from the ‘buddy networks’ created by their peers” and that they do not have as many female role models. Despite that the women in this survey said that they love their work and most were eager to do better, almost one-third saying that they did not think they were getting as far as they could in their careers because of sexism. Finally, the study found that women were almost 50 percent more likely to leave the industry than men. This is a huge issue in the coming years, especially as these fields become more and more important in an increasingly electronic world.
This bias against women is also prevalent at Marc Garneau. It’s hard to go a day without hearing a guy telling a “make me a sandwich” or “go back to the kitchen” joke. A constant reassurance that you are not fit to be doing what you are doing can have a large impact on someone. Even if these statements are made as jokes, the veiled meaning that they convey can be taken very seriously by the people they are aimed at. Everything we say can influence others’ feelings, which can affect the decisions they make later in life.
In terms of a school-wide solution, Marc Garneau should follow an approach pioneered by the University of Toronto, with the Girls’ Leadership in Engineering Experience program event. GLEE is an overnight stay at U of T where women going into engineering can talk to women who are already there, and learn about their experiences. MGCI should also take a similarly proactive stance. Programs that teach girls martial arts are made available to MGCI students, so it’s obvious that the school is trying to facilitate programs that help girls in our community. We should also consider programs that encourage girls to take more technology courses. Even a simple one-day event can spark interest and make girls feel more confident when pursuing technology and programming courses at Garneau.
We think of this age as one that is very progressive, one of breaking social barriers and smashing cultural stereotypes. It is ridiculous to insist that only men belong in the STEM workforce, and as a community, we must work to create a place where people, regardless of their sex, can pursue their careers fully, and on even ground.
Op-eds are opinion articles that reflect the views of the author, but not necessarily those of the Editorial Board or of The Reckoner as a whole. Please note this important distinction when reading this article.
United States. United States Census Bureau. U.S. Department of Commerce. Disparities in STEM Employment by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin. By Liana C. Landivar. United States Census Bureau, Sept. 2014. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-24.pdf
Hewitt, Sylvia A., Laura Sherbin, Fabiola Dieudonne, Christina Fargnola, and Catherine Fredman. Athena 2.0: Accelerating Female Talent in Science, Engineering and Technology. Rep. Center for Talent Innovation, 2 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Sept. 2014. http://www.talentinnovation.org/_private/assets/Athena-2-ExecSummFINAL-CTI.pd