STEM Stars


BC Business Magazine - - Front Page - by Nick Rockel and Felicity Stone /// por­traits by Adam Blasberg

First, the bad news: women aren’t any­where close to reach­ing gen­der equal­ity in sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, math­e­mat­ics and com­puter sci­ence (also known as STEM).

In 2016, Cana­dian men aged 25 to 34 with a STEM de­gree were twice as likely as their fe­male coun­ter­parts to work in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, Statis­tics Canada re­ports. Part of the ex­pla­na­tion for this dis­par­ity: the women stud­ied dif­fer­ent STEM dis­ci­plines than the men, favour­ing bi­o­log­i­cal sciences over en­gi­neer­ing or com­puter sci­ence. Fe­males still ac­count for fewer than 25 per­cent of STEM jobs in Canada—roughly the same pro­por­tion as 30 years ago.

When it comes to en­trepreneur­ship, things look even worse. Only 5 per­cent of Cana­dian tech com­pa­nies have a solo fe­male founder or a fe­male CEO, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port co-au­thored by Movethe­dial, a na­tional ad­vo­cacy group that aims to boost women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion and lead­er­ship in the sec­tor. At the av­er­age tech firm in this coun­try, women make up just 13 per­cent of the ex­ec­u­tive team and 8 per­cent of di­rec­tors. Fifty-three per­cent of Cana­dian tech com­pa­nies have no fe­male ex­ec­u­tives, and 73 per­cent have no fe­male di­rec­tors.

Why do rel­a­tively few women work in STEM, how can we re­verse this long-stand­ing trend, and who are B.C.’S most in­flu­en­tial fe­male play­ers? For help an­swer­ing those ques­tions, we turned to our ex­pert panel of women—all of them STEM lu­mi­nar­ies in their own right. Over lunch at the Van­cou­ver Club last Novem­ber, pan­el­lists agreed that sex­ism re­mains a huge prob­lem. They also stressed how much girls and young women with STEM am­bi­tions need role mod­els. “When I talk to boys about tech, I talk to them about the stuff,” said en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor El­iz­a­beth Croft. “When I talk to girls, they’re ask­ing me very dif­fer­ent ques­tions. They’re ask­ing me about my kids and my life, and they need to see them­selves.”

Pan­el­list Gerri Sin­clair re­flected on what’s changed since she sold her Van­cou­ver soft­ware firm, Ncom­pass Labs Inc., to Mi­crosoft Corp. in 2001. Back then, there were no fe­male role mod­els in high-tech and no other women on Ncom­pass’s se­nior man­age­ment team or board, Sin­clair re­calls. “We’ve moved the bar a lit­tle, but specif­i­cally the role model piece, I think we need to do a lot more work there.”

The good news: de­spite these ob­sta­cles, B.C. is home to many fe­male in­no­va­tors at var­i­ous stages in their ca­reers who are mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence in STEM fields as di­verse as biotech, ro­bot­ics, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and health care. The list you’ll find here is rep­re­sen­ta­tive, not de­fin­i­tive, and it isn’t a rank­ing. All of these women con­tribute to a brighter fu­ture for our prov­ince—and in­spire oth­ers to fol­low in their foot­steps.

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