Missing Numbers – Missing Voices: Closing the Gender Gap in STEM

Published On: October 2017Categories: Canadian Science Policy Conference 2017, Editorials


Dr. Betsy McGregor

SHAD Programs

Leadership Instructor

Betsy McGregor

Missing Numbers – Missing Voices: Closing the Gender Gap in STEM

“Oh, that’s the spouse’s club.” replied the person next to me at the back of the room in the Opening Plenary of the World Congress. She stood out like a punctuation mark: the only woman on a lengthy panel of dignitaries in dark suits.

Within hours, I reserved a room, ordered coffee and put an ad in the Congress daily news inviting women veterinarians to a brainstorming session. Seventeen women from around the world arrived. We founded the ‘World Women’s Veterinary Association’ (an early pre-cursor to Veterinarians sans Frontiere).

Swiftly, an agenda for collaboration took shape from research proposals, to grass-roots projects and policy proposals supporting women in agriculture. We asked obvious questions. If 80% of agriculture in Africa is performed by women – why are so few women are Board Members, CEOs or at decision-tables? Where are the girls in schools? Women policy makers?

Over the next five years, WWVA published 5 Guidebooks with the UN Agencies: Women in Science and Technology; Women and Microenterprise; Women’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems; Women in Agriculture; Women and the Environment. In 1995, CIDA supported a WWVA delegation to the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing where we gave voice to rural women’s issues and indigenous knowledge systems.

Also on track to Beijing, the UN Commission on Science and Technology ‘Gender Working Group’ consulted women from multiple sectors internationally including the Third World Organization for Women in Science (TWOWS). Their ‘The Universal Declaration of Intent’ was endorsed by ECOSOC. Canada’s IDRC published ‘Missing Links’ describing the process and policy recommendations addressing the differential impact of science and technology on the lives of women and men.

In 1998, UNESCO’s World Science Report initiated a specific section on ‘The Gender Dimension of Science and Technology’. More than ‘just the numbers’, it examined why it mattered to support diversity and inclusivity in science. How do the questions being asked, the policies being passed and the funding of programs change when critical numbers of women are ‘added in’? The Commonwealth Secretariat commissioned a ‘Guidebook to Mainstreaming Gender in Ministries of Science and Industry.’

On so many fronts, it has been an honour to be a part of several ground-breaking studies. Canada’s former Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dr. Arthur Carty moderated Four Roundtables entitled ‘Missing Numbers’– examining the causes and cost of marginalizing girls and women in STEM. Senator Lillian Dyck and MP Carolyn Bennett helped champion this lens with CIHR, Industry Canada and research agency colleagues. Dr. Nancy Hopkins (Study on Women Faculty at MIT) and Dr. Nancy Lane (Cambridge University and ‘The Rising Tide’ UK Report) explored international models and the impact of women who helped shaped science.

Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring launched the environment into our global consciousness. Marilyn Warring challenged and changed global statistical data collection with her critique “If Women Counted”. Jane Goodale and Jane Fossey saw the animal world differently and opened our eyes. Hollywood shocked our sensibility by unveiling race and gender bias in space science filming ‘Hidden Figures’. Roadmaps, reports and recommendations abound. So why the persisting gender gap?

Be inspired Canada’s new Science Advisor is a woman. Be proud our new Governor General is a woman astronaut. Be uplifted our Science Minister is a Nobel winning woman in science. Be encouraged CIHR has a ‘Gender Institute’ and our National Research Agencies have sponsored Chairs on Gender. Be sure there has never been a better time to be a girl in science.

Attend the 2017 CSPC Panel ‘Missing Numbers’ and meet eight remarkable ‘Pathmakers’ and ‘Trailblazers’ reflecting on how they broke through the gender barriers they faced – why much ground remains to close the gender gap – and policy ideas on how to take action.

SHAD, one of Canada’s premier programs incubating the best and brightest youth in science invites you to help map the path ahead to a more inclusive and equitable STEM in Canada.

Dr. Betsy McGregor is a leadership instructor at SHAD programs across Canada, has served on APEC Women Leader’s Network, Harvard Women’s Leadership Board and was a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School. She has contributed to multiple studies on the gender dimension of science and technology for the UN and in Canada.