According to Statistics Canada, in 2016 more women graduated with degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) than ever before. In fact, a higher percentage of women are graduating with university degrees than their male counterparts. 67% of women in Canada attain a post-secondary degree compared to 62% of men.
Though more women are accessing higher education, there’s still work to be done. STEM is still a male-dominated area. University-educated women are still less likely to choose a STEM major over other fields such as social science or business. 20% of women who attended a post-secondary program opted for a STEM degree, whereas over 40% of post-secondary men did the same.
STEM careers are a growth market
STEM education and skills are critical to Canada’s ability to innovate and compete on the world stage. They represent some of the largest growth industries and highest salaries in the country, especially in technology fields. Yet, even with Canada’s widening skills gap in the sector women continue to be underrepresented at 22% of the total workforce in STEM fields.
But save the hand-wringing just yet. Canadian women are bringing new, unique and creative approaches to technology careers, and supporting each other while they do so. Despite statistics, the outlook for women in technology is far from grim. As more women enter the field, organizations are pressured to create mentorship programs to encourage and support women in STEM fields.
The most forward-thinking have already changed the way they attract and hire to encourage more gender diversity. Educational institutions are promoting technology as a viable and rewarding career for women, beginning in the primary grades. They’re looking for new and innovative ways to engage female students and keep them from opting out of math and science courses.
what women in tech bring to the table
Women employed in IT have first-hand knowledge and a deep understanding of what it takes to succeed in technology and the enormous value gender diversity brings to the table.
When asked by IT Canada and ITAC (Information Technology Association of Canada) to identify challenges and offer advice to women considering an IT career, Microsoft Canada President Janet Kennedy recalled having to overcome existing stereotypes of women with families. Through her own personal experience, she identified family life as a major obstacle that often holds women back from advancement.
On the positive side, Kennedy noted that women are starting to speak up and ask for what they want. And they’re overcoming the impulse to dim their shine and gaining the confidence needed to speak assuredly and openly about their abilities and accomplishments the way their male counterparts do so naturally.
Like women in other male-dominated fields, women in tech often feel pressured to adopt behaviours that aren’t in their nature. This speaks to how success is defined and how it’s being redefined in a gender-diverse environment. Another critical element in the success of women in tech is the existence of and ability to connect with mentors and sponsors of both genders to help make connections, and build skills and networks.
supporting women in STEM
Women in tech are urging their peers to hang in, hang tough, persevere, go for what they want, and not be discouraged. Canadian women in IT are on the move, changing policies and processes that don’t work and creating them where they don’t yet exist. In the words of Nancy Briglio, IBM Canada’s director of commercial business, “There has never been a better time to be in the technology industry. Technology is transforming and disrupting industries and creating the path for new business models.” Her advice to women considering the field: “Seize the opportunity by moving with speed, embracing change and thinking boldly.” What better time to be a woman in tech?
Canadian women in tech are indeed embracing the ways they stand apart from their male counterparts. Instead of apologizing for their need to alter work schedules to account for parenting responsibilities, they’re embracing that as a positive change. Not just for them, but also for a diverse workforce seeking the same kind of work-life balance. When women benefit, the whole workforce benefits. Their presence in the workplace is a force for positive change regardless of industry; the creativity and problem-solving skills they bring to the world of technology is a welcome and refreshing perspective.
Canadian women in tech are seizing opportunities that emerge from a disruptive industry that’s changing at the speed of light. Watch for them. They’re a force to be reckoned with. They’re inspiring and empowering new generations of young women to take hold of technology and shape Canada’s future.