Laurier supporting women in STEM

Photo by Darien Funk

As the world continues to persevere through a global pandemic, discussion surrounding equity gaps in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields have become more imperative than ever before.  

According to Statistics Canada, “among STEM graduates aged 25 to 34, women accounted for 59 per cent of those in science and technology programs, but accounted for 23 per cent of those who graduated from engineering and 30 per cent of those who graduated from mathematics and computer science programs.”  

Wilfrid Laurier University claims to be committed in addressing these disparities head-on and recognizes the contributions that women, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities can make in STEM fields. 

The Laurier Centre for Women in Science (WinS) provides a number of opportunities and resources that support the recruitment and retention of women in STEM.  

“It’s been here for a number of years and I think a couple of things make it really unique. One is that we really try to incorporate the scientists and the science [and what] they’re doing, but also use social science to understand the state of science and the state of women in science,” Deborah MacLatchy, President and vice-chancellor of Laurier University, said.  

“And [the centre] uses the methodologies of social science [and has them] very integrated into the centre. As well, we also have one of the natural sciences and engineering research council’s women and science engineering chairs as a leader of the centre.”  

In terms of the work that still needs to be done in order to sufficiently address the equity divide that exists in STEM programs and fields, MacLatchy believes it’s necessary to look at the experiences that young girls, teenagers and adults have through their pursuit and passion for science.  

“I think there’s a number [of things that can be done]. It continues to be a leaky pipeline, so that even going back to how excited girls can be from K to 12 about science, into undergraduate and then into graduate … we do lose women through that pipeline. So understanding what those barriers are is critical,” MacLatchy said.  

“We’ve seen some real successes in science, more-so than others. For example, in biology and health sciences, there are many more women now than there were when I was an undergrad in university.” 

“I also think that we have to address the reasons why we don’t see as many BIPOC women in science and that is really for the next generation, or this generation that needs to really be a focus as well,” she said.  

MacLatchy also noted that a large proponent of effectively tackling these issues is improving representation and increasing the access younger people have to diverse role models.  

“There’s been a lot of research done on the systemic barriers. I think it also self-perpetuates that when you don’t have role models, it’s hard for younger women and girls to see themselves in those positions,” MacLatchy said.  

“I think that when we can profile the successes of BIPOC women in science … that having those role models and mentors will very much encourage those women to [pursue] wherever their passions and interests are.”  

As a distinguished woman in STEM herself with an extensive background in biology, research and education, science still plays a large role in MacLatchy’s life.  

“I still enjoy doing science myself, even as President I still continue to have a research laboratory at the university and have some great women graduate students in my lab. It’s been an important part of my career and continues to be,” MacLatchy said.  

With files from Aaron Waitson.  

    Leave a Reply