Senior Account Manager and BC and Yukon Business Development Team Lead, Mitacs
Diversity brings different perspectives, interpretations, and thinking to a challenge and, in STEM fields, this translates to greater innovation.
The importance of gender diversity in the workplace is a well-known topic backed by research, statistics, and social observation. Studies have shown that a diverse team, for example, is likely to outperform a team lacking diversity, even if members of the less-diverse group are individually more highly skilled. Diversity brings different perspectives, creativity, and thinking to a challenge and, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, this translates to greater innovation.
According to a report published in September 2019 by the Government of Canada, A Gender Analysis of the Occupational Pathways of STEM Graduates in Canada, women now account for the majority of overall university graduates. And yet, this same report states “Over one-third of men (37.5 percent) with a bachelor’s degree had studied in a STEM field, compared to 15 percent of women with a bachelor’s degree.”
What, then, can companies do to attract more women to these fields, which offer lucrative careers in high-demand sectors?
Mitacs works with STEM businesses and universities to fill the gap between business innovation and skilled talent. Students are able to apply what they’ve learned to a work setting during their studies. Not only is this an effective way to give women the experience of what it would be like to work in their industry, but we found that these interns tend to stay in the field once they enter the workforce.
Knowing what’s out there
One of the ways organizations are drawing women to STEM is ensuring that they’re aware of the opportunities and supports that are available to them while they pursue their education.
Sherry Zhao is a Senior Account Manager and BC Business Development Team Lead with Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organization that designs and delivers research and training programs focused on innovation with the support of governments, academic institutions, and industry.
“Mitacs works with STEM businesses and universities to fill the gap between business innovation and skilled talent,” said Zhao. “Students are able to apply what they’ve learned to a work setting during their studies. Not only is this an effective way to give women the experience of what it would be like to work in their industry, but we found that these interns tend to stay in the field once they enter the workforce.”
Mitacs’ flagship internship program is called Accelerate. Through the program, businesses are connected with post-secondary institutions and students to develop a research project and apply for the grant. “Students work with a company or community organization to help solve challenges the organization faces,” says Zhao.
Taylor Jamieson-Datzkiw is a Mitacs intern and MD-PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa. She believes that it’s important to receive the kind of on-the-job learning that Mitacs offers. “The internship takes you out of academia,” she says. “As a grad student, you learn through your courses or seminars and through meeting other scientists. But, as an intern, you get to see people in different roles — working full-time jobs in the manufacturing facility — and it shows you where your career could go.”
“The program supports female students by creating alternative pathways to show how and where women can apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to a real-life situation, on a real-life problem. Not only that, but it also demonstrates to potential employers how STEM can be applied in their business,” explains Zhao. “When we work with a company, we translate a business need into an R&D project and, when a woman is on the team, it brings a different perspective to solving that challenge.”
The program supports female students by creating alternative pathways to show how and where women can apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to a real-life situation, on a real-life problem.
Career advice included
Aside from her research project, Jamieson-Datzkiw engaged in workshops offered through Mitacs. “One of the talks I attended was given by a woman who started in the lab and took us through her career trajectory. It was really nice to get tips and tricks from another woman in the field, from networking advice to issues surrounding intellectual property,” she says.
Besides the Accelerate initiative, Mitacs offers additional programming for women in STEM. Elevate, for instance, is an annual competitive initiative that includes a research management training program and a postdoctoral fellowship. The organization also offers a Business Strategy Internship program, a Canadian Science Policy Fellowship, and international opportunities.