Despite living in an age where technology and innovation thrive, the stats for women working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers remain low.
ZerotoStartup is looking to change these numbers.
“I hope to see more women in tech—I want to help make that happen,” said Fahreen Bushra, one of the students who participated in the technology and entrepreneurial program’s first cohort, which had just five females out of 33 students.
The program has made progress, hitting equal representation of males and females for their second cohort.
According to a report by Statistics Canada in 2011, most STEM university graduates aged 25 to 34 were men. Only 39 per cent of 132,500 women graduated with a degree in engineering, math or computer science compared to the 72 per cent of the 206,600 men who graduated from the same fields.
More recently, MacLean’s reported in 2015 that the national enrolment of women in STEM fields was only 19 per cent on average.
Living in the digital age, it’s hard to imagine the reasons why women may not be thriving in STEM fields. Shann McGrail, co-founder of Devreve and former sales director of the Canadian education sector for Microsoft Canada, says that the root of the issue stems from childhood.
With over 20 years of experience in the tech industry, plus being a program director for Women in Communication and Technology, McGrail says she’s seen girls opt out too early.
“Girls as young as ages five and six and seven were already saying that they weren’t good at math and they didn’t want to go into those kinds of fields,” she said.
McGrail learned over the years that young girls’ parents and teachers have to be thoughtful about the messages they’re sending. An example she gave was hearing from teachers about how they didn’t realize that they’d always ask boys to figure out technology in the classroom. Tasks like hooking up the AV or working on the SMART Board were mostly given to male students.
“Staying away from those stereotypical toys or roles for kids at a younger age, I think, is really important,” she explained.
Mcgrail believes that finding ways for girls to explore STEM from a young age will lead to more women in those fields in the future.
ZerotoStartup is doing just that by fostering STEM curiosity in young women. The five young women in the first cohort were empowered by the skills they learned from the program like coding; branding and startup experience and now encourage other girls to explore the STEM fields.
“I never saw myself as an entrepreneur before and I didn’t think I could code a website, but now I know I can,” Yamini Belmonn said of her experience with the program.
McGrail explained how a major misconception of the tech industry is that people are confined to their desks, writing code all day. In reality, she says the industry makes use of many skills, especially communications and leadership abilities.
Kylie Chiu discovered her leadership skills through ZerotoStartup. “I had to step up and be a leader based on the situation of the group and I really liked it,” she said.
Those numbers can only go up from here with programs like ZerotoStartup helping young women realize their potential in STEM careers.
Currently, the program is working with OCAD University to develop a wearable fashion tech program to cater to youth interested in that field.