International Women’s Day luncheon aims to educate and advance women in STEAM

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Photo by Halyley McGoldrick

On Friday, Mar. 8, the second annual International Women’s Day luncheon, entitled “Advancing Women in STEAM,” was held by Laurier Alumni in partnership with the International Women’s Forum at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Kitchener.

Laurier President Deborah MacLatchy gave a keynote address at the luncheon and was followed by a speaker panel, moderated by Ginny Dybenko, former dean of the Lazaridis School of Business & Economics; panelists Arjumand Ateeq, who graduated from Laurier with a computer science BSc in 2005; Nancy Tout, who graduated from Laurier with a biology BSc in 1991; and Sarah Shortreed, who recently completed a term on the Board of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

The panelists were all chosen due to their backgrounds as women in science, technology, arts, engineering and math (STEAM), and they spoke about their trials and triumphs as women in a very male-dominated field and how they came out successfully in their respective careers.

“I think it’s really important because women have traditionally been so underrepresented in the science, technologies and engineering fields and coming together to talk about the challenges as well as the opportunities,” MacLatchy said.

“It provides great mentorship opportunities, great role models and really the important thing is looking at the generation of students we have now and the girls in high school and elementary school to open the doors so they can fulfill their full potential.”

The luncheon also featured an exhibit from Laurier social psychology PhD graduate Eden Hennessey, entitled “#DistractinglySexist and #DistractinglyHonest,” which combined arts and science in photos, featuring women in science balancing science with their other responsibilities, such as being a mother, wife or academic, and still upholding a standard of beauty.

“The Centre for Women in Science is a great way for students to get involved and to interact with faculty and staff, as well as graduate and undergraduate students who are all interested in science and technology — so that’s a great way to get seen,” Maclatchy said.

“Reaching out to find those role models and mentors is another way. My experience has been that, when I was a student and reached out to either a male or female faculty member, I always got such a positive response back that was supportive in something I could do to learn.”

“I think that it’s very exciting where we are; there is a big opportunity for women and girls to reshape how we see careers in this industry ,” Ateeq said.

Many of the panelists also credited men for their success.

Though the luncheon was about advancing women as well as celebrating women, they all agreed that strong male figures who helped them pursue their dreams — and never doubted them based on gender — were also critical to the roles they currently have.

“In technology, the fact is that it is a very male dominated industry. So because there are so many men in the room, in any conversation that you have it becomes very hard to be heard as a woman,” said Arjumand Ateeq, one of the panelists for the afternoon.

“That’s why the [main] challenge for women right now is to be in the space but to be authentic: which really means don’t try to be the same as men, because we bring a different perspective to the world and we need to [work to] maintain that.”

The panelists were asked about how they got their start in STEAM, the struggles of being a woman in these fields, as well as questions like how they handle being a mother with such strenuous careers in demanding fields.

“It is becoming more prevalent. I have gone to Fierce Founders, which is a completely women-focused boot camp at Communitech; I’m [also] a businessperson in Laurier Launchpad, [where] more than 50 per cent of them are women. So it is definitely popping up more and as I go to events I see more of them,” Ateeq said.

“I think talking about it has really helped. There are a lot of men who have also helped make it happen. It is very much happening, but I’m just hoping it isn’t a bubble where I’m only seeing people come to these events and in reality that’s still not reflected.”

Though only the second annual event of the luncheon and panel, Laurier is continually looking to help women in STEAM education.

This will bean even more important focus in the future while they work towards still building the Laurier Milton campus that focuses on STEAM.

“I think that it’s very exciting where we are; there is a big opportunity for women and girls to reshape how we see careers in this industry ,” Ateeq said.

“Jobs are now being redefined, so this is that chance to say we are going to be at the table this time — we are going to be an equal part in all the conversations and all the jobs that get created.”

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