Natalie’s Blog: My experience on GS3NA

LUT1855I’m Natalie and I’m the Co-Chair in Engineering at Carleton University’s student chapter of Women in Science and Engineering, or as we lovingly call it CU-WISE. Rim, my fellow Co-Chair in science, and I have just returned from Washington D.C., where we were part of the Ontario delegation that attended Gender Summit 3: North Ameirca (GS3NA). The summit was a great opportunity to learn and be surrounded by people who are equally as passionate about helping women and girls flourish in STEM careers.

Before I tell you about what has stuck with me from the summit, let’s start with the facts. Fact #1: women are just as good in math as men are; please see a beautiful presentation by Teri Oda here if you don’t believe me, but along the way girls lose interest in math and science. It breaks my heart but it’s a fact, see here.

Now that we have that covered, let’s move on. One of the ideas presented at the summit was that of implicit biases, a term that I had never heard of before. An implicit bias is an idea that lives in our subconscious and may differ from our conscious beliefs. Scary! One study that was referenced showed that by changing the name on a resume from Jason to Jennifer not only decreased the applicant’s chances of being hired but also decreases the applicants starting salary. May I remind you that the resumes were exactly the same!  May I also remind you of Fact #1 (see above) and that most people hold the conscious belief that women are just as competent as men. This was shocking and frankly upsetting to me. But, I’m all about action. So, what can we do about it? Being aware of implicit biases is the first step. The next step is to re-write these implicit biases to be more in line with our actual beliefs and with actual facts. Not an easy task. How do you change a subconscious idea? One method is to increase the visibility of women in STEM career. In other words, look for and talk more about female role models!

One of the things we do well at CU-WISE is outreach activities. We often invite female high school and elementary school students to Carleton for events that allow them opportunities to meet and interact with current female students studying STEM. We’ve always felt that getting girls together increases their confidence and allows the younger girls to see themselves reflected in current university students. This is also a great way to change their ideas, or implicit biases, about what an engineer or a scientist is.

But why stop there!

We also have a history full of strong and interesting females in STEM to be inspired by. This is exactly what Dr. Ruby Heap is doing. She is a historian at the University of Ottawa researching women in STEM from 1970-2000. How cool is that! During her talk she told us about Ursula Franklin, Elsie MacGill and Claudette Makay-Lassonde. All inspirations to a young engineer like myself.

The Gender Summit opened my mind to implicit biases but also inspired me to learn more about the history of women in STEM and to tell others about them. If you are looking to do the same, may I suggest by starting with the Women in IT campaign?!

To learn more about implicit biases you can check out Project Implicit or read more about it in The Blind Spot.

Natalie Linklater is investigating greener disinfectants as part of her PhD degree in Environmental Engineering at Carleton University. When she’s not completing lab work or dreaming up the next CU-WISE event you will most likely find her pulling up the latest crop of veggies at her community garden plot.