In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared February 11 as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to combat gender bias in STEM fields. Science and gender equality are vital to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a set of 17 Goals that serve as a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and improve the quality of life for everyone, everywhere.
UNESCO research shows that only 30% of female students decide to enter STEM-related fields in post-secondary education. In the engineering, manufacturing, and construction field, female students’ enrolment is only 8%. This is reflected in pop culture, as well. According to the 2015 Gender Bias Without Borders study by the Geena Davis Institute, of all onscreen characters working in a STEM-related job, only 12% were women. To address the current inequality in STEM, it is vital to challenge gender bias, tackle stereotypes, and encourage women and girls in the field.
In celebration of women and girls in science, we interviewed Keanna Tacay-Clarke, a transportation planning co-op student at LEA, to learn about her experience as a woman in STEM. Keanna is currently a fourth-year civil engineering student at the University of Waterloo. Like most young women, Keanna has a wide range of interests, including baking and watching her favourite TV shows. She has a love of travel, having been to nine countries so far in her lifetime, and hopes to continue traveling in the future. Keanna has a strong love of interior design and architecture, which, coupled with her math and science enjoyment, led her to discover and pursue civil engineering.
Being a woman in STEM has not always been easy for Keanna. In the past, she has had experiences in both academic and workplace settings in which her capabilities were doubted. “At a previous co-op job, the other male co-op student would be given more tasks to do, even though I had more experience. I was given simple administration work and had to take it upon myself to display my abilities.” Despite this, Keanna is determined to achieve her goals and follow the path she set out for herself.
In the short term, Keanna plans to obtain her Professional Engineering License and learn as much as possible in the civil engineering field. Overall, she wants to develop a healthy work-life balance while expanding her knowledge.
When asked what advice she has for women and girls interested in science who are hesitant due to biases, Keanna said, “they shouldn’t feel negative about their capabilities to compete in a male-dominated field. There will be times where they will be uncomfortable and feel incapable, but it’s important to try things you have never done before. Everyone has to learn somewhere, and it may even turn out to be something they enjoy. This field is competitive, and gender will be less of an obstacle when you can prove that they can solve problems and add value to a workplace.”