Conference highlights diversity in STEM

February 10, 2020  -  BrainsCAN Communications

IDSTEM Conference 2018

Speaker panel at the Inspiring Young Women in STEM conference 2018

“Math and coding were something I really avoided; I had a fear of it.”

Kaitlyn Parks isn’t alone, but as Co-Chair of the Inspiring Diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) conference and a doctoral student in psychology at Western University, she knows the importance of getting women and girls engaged in math, coding and more generally, STEM.

Globally, only 30 per cent of female students select STEM-related fields in higher education – fields like information technology, engineering and computer science. When it comes to academia, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women

In Canada, the numbers aren’t much better. According to the Centre for Education Statistics at Statistics Canada, women accounted for 43.6 per cent of those enrolled in first year STEM programs, with the majority enrolled in biological sciences; only 19 per cent chose engineering, while 27.6 per cent enrolled in mathematics and computer sciences.

For those who establish a career in research, women are also underrepresented in research recognition, comprising only 10.2 per cent of the senior Tier 1 Canada Research Chair positions at universities.

“Inequities, many of which may seem not too bad individually, accumulate over time. This leads to a lack of diversity in STEM, especially at professorial or senior leadership levels,” said Lisa Saksida, BrainsCAN Co-Scientific Director and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry neuroscientist.

Kaitlyn Parks

Kaitlyn Parks

Co-Chair, Inspiring Diversity in STEM

Claire Tully

Claire Tully

Co-Chair, Inspiring Diversity in STEM

To engage, inspire and empower women in STEM, the grassroots initiative, Inspiring Young Women in STEM was developed in 2015 by a group of graduate students at Western. It was recently rebranded Inspiring Diversity in STEM in recognition of the difficulties or roadblocks all underrepresented groups face, and to be more inclusive of people from various backgrounds, including race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, age, socioeconomic status, national origin, sexual orientation, ability and religion. Supported by BrainsCAN, the group will hold its third biennial conference focusing on diversity in STEM from March 21-22.

“The conference is an opportunity for [people of all backgrounds] to showcase their work,” said Parks, one of the Co-Chairs of Inspiring Diversity in STEM. “It also connects inspiring keynote speakers to undergraduate and graduate students who might not have as much exposure to women who are in different STEM fields.”

This year’s conference features a number of keynote speakers including Jessica Perritt, Manager of Indigenous Knowledge and Reconciliation at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, and Dr. Parshati Patel, Educational Outreach and Communications Specialist at Western’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration. 

“What we really like to highlight are the roadblocks and the real lived experiences of the keynote speakers,” said Nicolette Armstrong, one of the founders of Inspiring Diversity in STEM. “It showcases that not every path is linear – not everything is necessarily easy.”

“When you see people who went through the same struggles, and how they have been successful with those struggles, that is what encourages people,” said Claire Tully, Co-Chair of Inspiring Diversity in STEM and a doctoral student in chemistry at Western.

New to the 2020 conference are skill-developing breakout sessions including workshops on abstract writing, coding and open science.

“Attendees are leaving with skills they can apply, regardless of whether they end up in academia or not,” added Parks. “We also have our Industry and Graduate Expo so attendees are going to be exposed to all of these different roles they may not have thought about.”

 “This conference is for undergraduates, graduates, faculty and industry representatives,” said Tully. “When everyone is part of the conversation, that’s how you get true diversity.”

NOTE: The Inspiring Diversity in STEM Conference was scheduled to take place March 21-22. Stay tuned to the website for more information on a revised date.