Gender Equality in STEM isn’t a Women's Issue – it’s an Everyone Issue

July 27, 2016


According to a new Statistics Canada report “Women in scientific occupations in Canada,” women continue to be underrepresented in natural and applied science occupations despite progress in education and labour force participation. This is bad news for women's equality in the workforce as these occupations pay relatively higher wages and have better employment conditions. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers are some of the fastest growing fields, with 71% of North American jobs expected to require STEM skills.

Not only does STEM benefit women, but women are good for STEM. People from diverse backgrounds bring different ideas to the table, which is vital to a field that requires innovation. Research has consistently proven that diversity boosts both productivity and creativity.

Much like feminism, which has extended a formal invitation to men through the HeForShe movement, it is also important to include men in the pursuit of STEM gender equality. A term for this that is growing in popularity is STEMinism, a combination of STEM and feminism.

As men make up the majority of STEM professionals and leaders, they play a large role in making STEM careers and education programs more welcoming to women. Men need to be engaged in the process of increasing gender equality in STEM, because through their numbers and positions of leadership, men hold the power to enact change through policies and individual action. It's not just about supporting and encouraging women, but being conscious of the barriers of entry women face that men do not, and working to break them down.

One of the biggest factors causing the low participation of women in STEM and leadership positions is a lack of work flexibility. If women take leave to raise a family they often give up salary and wage growth at a crucial moment in their career. Instituting family-friendly workplace policies doesn’t just benefit women though. For example, paid leave also covers paternity leave and leave for those facing chronic health conditions. Additionally, with an aging population more people will require flexible work arrangements to take care of aging parents. Yet, those that take paid leave are often seen as less valuable to the company and lose out on pay, leadership opportunities and even access to professional networks. According to Statistics Canada more than half of fathers take leave from their job around the time of their child’s birth, yet only one in five of these fathers claim paternal leave benefits, the rest use vacation pay or take unpaid leave. Men continue to take unpaid leave throughout their child’s life. The average number of days fathers miss from work for family responsibilities is nearly 6 times more now than in 1997. When men who did not take parental leave were were asked why they didn't , the most common response was that it was impossible to take time off from work (22%). 

Introducing more flexible work arrangements and better paid leave programs, like Quebec’s Parental Insurance Plan, will allow fathers to take a larger role in their family without facing stigma and will allow women to achieve greater workplace equality. Even companies will see benefits from instituting flexible work arrangements. A survey from FlexJobs found that 82% of respondents claimed that they would be more loyal to their organization if they were given flexible work options. 

Dr. Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space, also believes that men need to be a part of the gender equality picture. In an interview with Canadian Geographic, Bondar said, “I look at myself as a cheerleader for women and a role model for men. Men need to see women not only as equals, but also as role models.” 

Tips for how men can champion gender equality in STEM:
· Networking – share your contacts or introduce women to other industry professionals
· Mentorship - offer to mentor a young up-and-coming woman
· Speak up – for women who face discrimination, harassment, exclusion etc.
· Refuse – to speak on panels that do not include women
· Parent – daughters and sons need to be taught that gender doesn’t make anyone any less capable of doing something

In an interview with VOX, Prime Minister Trudeau discussed how it’s just as important to teach our sons about women’s rights as it is to teach our daughters.

“My wife, Sophie, continues to challenge me. … We were having a conversation at one point, and I said, “I talk to our daughter, Ella … all the time about how she can do anything she wants and she’s just as good as any man, and she’s better than any man because she’s brilliant and she’s wonderful and everything.” Sophie is like, “Good. That’s great, but how are you saying that to our sons as well? How are you training your sons to be focused on women’s rights and women’s opportunities the way you’re focused on telling your daughter that she can be anything?”

When men and women work together in solidarity it creates a bigger, more visible movement toward gender equality. For more details on why gender diversity matters and how to improve diversity check out our Gender Diversity in STEM Executive Summary. Fathers, encourage your daughters to learn more about STEM through our collection of fun activities, events and other K-12 Youth Resources

Watch Justin Trudeau's full interview with Vox below.