Diversity. What is Diversity Actually?

Diversity has been the buzzword in the media, at industry events, and in the workplace —especially in STEM fields — with discussion focused mainly on gender diversity. Having enough women in the workforce, especially in male dominated fields, is a great thing but, when it comes to the women that are included in the conversation, it feels like diversity is quite misunderstood.

hEr VOLUTION has been in existence since 2013 and, while emphasizing on getting more youth, with a focus on girls and young women from underserved communities in STEM, finding diverse women to act as role models to the young women we have been working with has been a big challenge. From early on, when hEr VOLUTION was trying to advance its mission of introducing young women to STEM activities, we started with gender diversity at the forefront of our workshops — always looking for women in STEM to help facilitate learnings to diverse groups of girls. Our first encounter with our ignorance came up when a four-year-old attending a workshop expressed her gratitude for its topical richness — while also expressing her concern for a lack of women facilitators that look like her. “Is it because that people who look like me are not smart enough?” she asked. With that in mind, we became aware of the need for diversity, especially when it comes to role models in the workplace; particularly when working with the diverse groups we do at hEr VOLUTION.

According to recent studies , underserved communities are made up of groups with high prevalence of visible minorities. It is crucial to bring forward STEM skills to these neighbourhoods as a way to a better life while closing the gender gap. We focused on doing that by encouraging young women to pursue STEM careers. During our outreach efforts, we were asked numerous times to give concrete examples of women in STEM who have similar backgrounds as the young women we reached out to. We found it quite difficult to pinpoint positive examples of diverse women in STEM fields. Always trying to use research material we found online, it wasn’t enough to suggest that diversity in STEM fields existed to get the young women excited about participating in STEM workshops and seminars.

How can it be possible for us to talk about the opportunities in STEM if we do not have the women who stand behind these possibilities?

This is when, as a long-term strategy, while valuing the importance of leaders and having clear focus on possibilities in STEM, we decided to seek and find Canadian role models in the women that are already making waves in STEM fields. We asked people to nominate their mentors, role models, peers, and women who have made an impact in their lives so that we can have concrete examples of women who are exemplary role models for the next generation to come. Since Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary, we challenged ourselves to find 150 women working in STEM to feature. At first we thought that it may be impossible to reach our goal when we launched the #CanWomenSTEM150  campaign in early February. However, by the end of March we achieved our goal and, because we received so many inquiries about the other women we might potentially miss out on, we decided to continue with the campaign beyond our desired end date, which was July 15, 2017 originally.

The success of this campaign helped us realize the need of diverse women in STEM on the spotlight and how much it means for young women to gain confidence that one day they too can successfully enter STEM related fields. The campaign showed us that diversity in STEM is not only about the women who usually get the spotlight but offering a spot to women who do great work and never get recognized, women who push boundaries, inspire, give back, and change the world because of their work. Women who are just starting their career and women who have started a movement are all diverse and deserve to be seen and appreciated, while inspiring girls and young women who now feel that they can too — no matter where they are presently in life, they can have a meaningful career in the near future.