We Need to Put More Players On the Field

Researcher in laboratory setting

I was raised by three women and I will spend the rest of my life with three women. This is a phrase I’ve repeated on numerous occasions. It references the fact that I was raised by my mother and two older sisters, and how my family is composed of my wife and two daughters. (Even the cat I rescued turned out to be female!). 

What does that have to do with a professional blog? As NDRIO’s CEO, I have the privilege to perform my role as a servant leader to Canada’s researchers. I’ve been given the responsibility and a pulpit to support change not only in Digital Research Infrastructure (DRI), but broadly as well. And that means supporting females in the DRI space. 

A blog post entitled Positive Trends for Women in STEM” by the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology states: We are seeing an increase of girls and women interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), an abundance of women-centred STEM programs, and a greater number of women mentors who promote and encourage women to persist and develop the skills required to succeed.” 

This is great news – but more can be done, and we have to be the catalysts for the change we want to see. During the 2014 White House Science Fair, President Barack Obama used a sports metaphor to explain why we must address the shortage of women in STEM, particularly in the engineering and computing fields: We’ve got half the field – or half our team we’re not even putting on the field. We’ve got to change those numbers. These are the fields of the future.” 

The Importance of EDI Principles in STEM Fields

As the CEO of NDRIO, one of my ambitions for our organization is to propel Canada onto the global stage of the knowledge economy. From that perspective, I would argue that engineering and computing are too important for women to be less than fully represented. Diversity in these fields can contribute to productivity and, ultimately, to greater innovation – the prerequisites to launch ourselves firmly into positions of global leadership. 

On January 20, 2021 Joseph R. Biden was sworn in as the President of the United States alongside Vice President Kamala Harris. There was a palpable cheer globally as advocates for women’s equity celebrated the rich diversity of Vice President Harris’ achievement. More than ever before in history, girls are studying and excelling in politics, science and mathematics – fields largely dominated by white men. Yet the dramatic increase in girls’ educational achievements in scientific and mathematical subjects has not been matched by similar increases in the representation of women working as engineers and computing professionals in Canada, the United States or globally. 

The above are not new assertions. Indeed, sociologists and educational policy makers have sounded the alarm over these discrepancies for over five decades now, and while some progress has been achieved, so much more is needed. 

I am sharing these perspectives because it is my sincere hope that through the design of Canada’s new National Service Delivery and Funding Models, issues of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) will figure prominently. While this blog focused on gender parity, bold strides are also needed around issues of representation in race, Indigenous and marginalized populations. Be bold Canada! Let’s make progress not only in how we design this model, but in whom will be called upon to execute it.