Industry: STEM Not-for-Profit
Applicable SDG: SDG 5: Gender Equality
SCWIST (The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology) is a not-for-profit society, founded in 1981, that focuses GENDER EQUALITY by improving the presence and influence of women and girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in Canada. SCWIST promotes participation and advancement through education, networking, mentorship, collaborative partnerships and advocacy. SCWIST envisions an environment without barriers – where girls and women pursue their interests, education and careers in STEM and to advance gender equality in the economic, social and democratic life of the country.
What is the problem we are trying to solve?
With the pandemic, the world is painfully learning that science has to be the foundation of decision-making, and that women trained in the sciences must contribute to those science-based decisions. To address issues such as global health crises, climate change, the information economies, or natural resource management; we need our collective wisdom to bring fresh perspectives to solve complex, globally interconnected problems. In the 21st century and beyond, the challenges that face the world will require diverse strategies of thinking as well as solid foundations in science.
The world MUST invest in its entire, educated human capital! The studies are unanimous – the more women at the leadership level, the greater the success of the organization. There are two necessary components to achieving this: a public education system that values the sciences, and women educated in the sciences to bring the needed diversity to problem solving.
For the past 40 years, SCWIST has been pursuing gender equality to remove barriers from the educational and career paths of women and girls in STEM to prepare them and provide them with support as they achieve access to the decision-making processes.
Our practical goal is to attain, at the level of policy, leadership and the workforce; a demographic representation such that the users, – ‘customers’ – are represented in the decisions made; that the available highly skilled, educated women are fully engaged in the sciences and technologies and can bring their knowledge to the table.
To achieve this, we promote public awareness of opportunities for women in STEM; provide resources to influence public policy; and present positive messages about women’s achievements and potential. We encourage the participation of girls and women in STEM education through programs developed and implemented with community partners. We increase the representation and advancement of women through networks, mentorship and advocacy for flexible workplace policies. SCWIST provides programs and networks at levels ranging from elementary school and university – to corporate boards and governments. We provide STEM education, information and outreach; career advice; mentorship programs; support networks; and job and volunteer opportunities. We unite the voices of women to advocate for equity and access.
Our values drive our mission, programs and the work that we do to achieve our vision. We empower by providing activities, mentorship, and leadership that encourages women and girls to accomplish their dreams. We include so that we remove barriers and raise public awareness by advocating for inclusive policies and equitable practices in education, the workplace, and in government. We inspire innovation and encourage excellence through positive role models and outreach programs. We connect STEM women through professional networks and programs developed in partnership with the community. We sustain women in STEM and boost the participation, retention, and advancement of women in the STEM workplace by facilitating networking, mentoring, and advocating for policies that advance gender equality.
In a global economy, we prosper together if everyone participates. We ignore half of the global population at our peril. So as we address the big issues of climate change, information economies, natural resource management, or the current global health crisis and its sequelae – we hope that the world will resist the voices that say “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!” and remember the ancient proverb that says, “women hold up half the sky”.
We need to achieve gender equality! We need equity, diversity and inclusion – embedded throughout our education systems, industry sectors, corporate worlds, government, community life and society.
So, what does success look like?
Ultimately – our goal is for SCWIST to become redundant. Although we have been around for a long time, sadly, society has not reached a point where we as an organisation are no longer needed.
SCWIST addresses GENDER EQUALITY at the personal, organization/community, and national/international levels.
Personal level: SCWIST’s Board, volunteers, contractors and collaborators complete “Gender Based Analysis +”(GBA+) training by the Federal Government to solidify our understanding of GENDER EQUALITY. SCWIST encompasses all diversities in its diversity statement and anti-racism statements. SCWIST offers diverse opportunities to develop leadership experience on our Board, project teams and volunteer committees. Through the Girls on Boards program we mentor young women on the SCWIST Board.
Organization level: We collaborate with, support, cross-promote programs and formally partner with organizations with shared values: YWCA , Minerva , The Web Alliance, GENC, WWESTT, WINSETT, APEGBC/DAWEG, iWIST, Girl Guides, Science World BC, and educational institutions across Canada – just to name a few.
National/international policy levels: We advocate for gender equality AND we join the voices of others to support equity goals including UN Women, Women Deliver, Generation Equality and UN Beijing +25. Letters to support policy change include COVID advocacy, International Treaty on Violence Against Women, Federal Child Care Strategy, and Consultations with Women’s Rights and Equality Seeking Organizations.
(5.1) Women in STEM face barriers to access, contribution, recognition, and success throughout their educational and professional journeys. These barriers are well documented by research including unconscious bias (Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test), microaggressions, bullying and sexual harassment.
To address these BARRIERS:
SCWIST empowers youth:
Supports new graduates, newcomers to Canada, and job-seekers:
At the organizational level:
SCWIST strategically collaborates with gender equity organizations in non-profit and corporate sectors to amplify voices, share effort and expand SCWIST’s reach and influence to end gender-based discrimination. The corporate sector is slow to adapt. Data shows that racialized men face the same barriers as women, and that racialized women fare the worst of all. We created MakeDIVERSITYPossible program to bring together men and women in STEM workplaces to collaborate toward diversity and inclusion. It includes: Diversity Awareness Tool to assess corporate culture and levels of unconscious bias; Diversity by Design workshop for diversity awareness and mitigation; Roadmap for Success opportunity analysis created collaboratively for organization-specific changes toward equity targets; and access to the MakePossible mentoring network.
At the national level, SCWIST advocates for gender equality with all government levels:
(5.2) SCWIST aims to ensure that women are not exploited in the workplace by being paid less than their male colleagues, forced to prove themselves in ways their male colleagues do not, or made to work in a hostile culture. SCWIST is partnering with WomenACT to identify, prevent and eliminate sexual harassment in STEM workplaces. SCWIST consistently amplifies voices against all forms of violence against women by writing/signing letters of support to lawmakers. The GENC Strategy to Advance Gender Equality made a strong case against such violence.
(5.4) SCWIST advocates for public services, infrastructure and social protection policies to support an equal distribution of the work at home: this needs a cultural transformation. SCWIST calls for accessible, affordable childcare and men’s parental leave policies – which can close the gender pay gap. We walk the talk: SCWIST events welcome children (with organized childcare, pre-COVID).
(5.5) SCWIST advocates for data-driven, science-based research for policy decisions within Canada: all research must embed GBA+ principles to consider intersectionalities. We campaign for the office of Canada’s Chief Science Advisor; during the pandemic, we amplify the National and Provincial Health Officers’ messages through social media. We routinely advocate for “40/40/20” representation of women.
(5.6b) SCWIST uses a range of technology channels to increase community:
The SCWIST Technology Committee uses data analytics to visualise strategic information to enable the Directors to make data-informed decisions.
We use Zoom to host “Fireside Chats” to connect SCWIST Chapters across Canada, and SCWIST Virtual Job Fair.
SCWIST designed and implemented a free, online mentoring platform www.MakePossible.ca. Members browse mentoring profiles to create their own connections based on skills desired or offered. MakePossible supports diversity awareness, professional growth and skills sharing to connect a STEM community of 1200 internationally.
SCWIST’s technology collaborations:
(5.6c) SCWIST’s WAGE grant to SCALE advocacy and policy recommendations and gender-equality advocacy toolkit.
We measure the direct impacts of SCWIST’s initiatives as well as develop surrogate evidence for our influence to bring about change.
We measure the impact of our programs and work. SCWIST’s website documents our reach over the past year: 11,000+ youth engaged; $11,000+ awarded in youth scholarships; 690+ participants in networking events, workshops and job fair; and over 1200 members registered on MakePossible. Our social media and technology reach is documented in Question 2, above, and is in the thousands across various channels. Since the pandemic began, we have doubled our membership, held 33 virtual events (~500 attendees), 6 SCWIST walks (~30 attendees) and have pivoted to the virtual space to proactively engage our community. We now have weekly workshops and events, discussions, with attendance from across the country, indeed around the world. People are interested in SCWIST and SCWIST’s message, vision and mission to remove barriers for women and girls in STEM and to advance gender equality across all sectors.
Our Make DIVERSITY Possible project impacted ~20,000 participants during 29 events, 155 stakeholder engagement activities, and diversity awareness campaigns and continues to expand its impacts as we SCALE the activities across STEM sectors and geographies. In its first year, SCALE reached over 11,000 women and men during 92 stakeholder and partner engagement activities, as well as 10,000 women and men through social media networks.
As a measure of our impact and influence, we can point to the considerable interest of organizations, governments and corporations that seek us out to collaborate on projects, talk about our work on gender equality, and to support their work and policy petitions. We work with them and provide input, and influence their direction. The primary focus of each of these organizations may be different from ours, but each intersects at some point with SCWIST’s vision, missions and values. These partner organizations mobilize their many people and as a result, we reach into an increasingly wider range of communities, organizations, and interests.
Gender equality and related:
STEM and Trades:
…and we have many more examples of presentations, speaker panels, workshop engagement and networking activities.
What this demonstrates is that we are recognized as the voice of women in STEM. What we say matters.
Our SCWIST history, impact, what we do and how we raise awareness for gender equality are inextricably linked. They work in unison. We run our programs for, with and by our members: we inspire and support them. We empower them and connect them with other organizations, so through our individuals, we reach a vast audience and create a larger impact. Because of our vast audience, we connect with many new organizational partners such that we are at the intersection of many groups of groups, all of which have an interest and/or wish to learn about gender equality- (see headings above).
The questions above provide numbers and outputs. Our influence, and how we build awareness for gender equality is more ephemeral. So allow us to share a story to give you a taste of how SCWIST’s influence works. This exemplifies how one person, in the right context, can build world-wide awareness and gently leverage change. SCWIST provides the context, the resources and the support network.
Fariba Pacheleh, is an immigrant to Canada with a degree in Computer Science and Engineering from Iran. In 2012 she met Gordana Pejic, an engineer and SCWIST member, so Fariba joined the Society. She became a member of the SCWIST Board where she was known and teased for often repeating her favourite saying: “We need more women in leadership positions!!” She was very active in the organization and was elected President for 2014–2015.
At that time, SCWIST was invited to address the Canadian House of Commons’ Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Fariba’s presentation earned SCWIST several subsequent invitations to address the Federal Government of Canada and even to provide input into Canada’s G7 position on gender equality. Later, as Past President, she continued to support and promote SCWIST through the Board and then as Vice-Chair of the WebAlliance. Through Fariba’s involvement, SCWIST partnered with the WebAlliance’s We for She conferences that over several years, until COVID, brought together hundreds of young women with the business community so that they each could see themselves working together in the future. SCWIST’s input into the conferences brought to the attention of the corporate sector the concept of unconscious bias as measured by the Harvard Implicit Bias Test
As a result of these connections, Fariba became a popular speaker on gender equality and was featured on so many expert panels that we have lost track. In 2016, when SCWIST was invited to participate in the Gender Equality Network, Canada (GENC), Fariba was an obvious choice to send as our delegate. She and SCWIST’s other two women leaders, Christin Wiedemann and Anja Lanz, worked tirelessly and diplomatically with the other organizations to craft the Pan-Canadian Strategy to Advance Gender Equality. For this and her other volunteer gender equity work, this summer, Fariba was honoured as one of RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants of 2020.
SCWIST’s abilities to “spread the word” are illustrated by Fariba’s trajectory. Joining SCWIST amplified her voice as, in turn, those she influenced will amplify the voices of others. She brought many individuals and organizations into SCWIST’s orbit – she made crucial connections. Where she goes, SCWIST goes.
Many SCWIST members’ activities parallel Fariba’s journey, her trajectory and her sphere of influence. Because SCWIST is a collection of scientifically trained individuals who are engaged in all aspects of the scientific enterprise from teaching to research to commerce, their advocacy and impact also moves into their spheres of endeavour. Where SCWIST members work, awareness goes: gender equality is always being discussed.
Then, of course – “we grow our own”: our youth programs raise confident young women who wish to take their rightful place in the world of STEM. Every time a young woman says –“I was at a school SCWIST event in my hometown and now I’m taking science at university” – we know that we have empowered another young woman to follow her dream and who will live “gender equality” and not accept anything less.
We campaign, we sign, we leverage, we teach, we influence – we raise AWARENESS:
Our accomplishments are many over our 40-year history, and we paved the way for the current wave of gender equality and diversity organisations. Most importantly, we have a history of shifting paradigms of gender equality in STEM and the curve is exponential:
So if “it takes just one flake to start an avalanche” then imagine a whole, vast connected organization.
STEM-trained women, who understand and work with the data, are the vanguard for gender equality.
SCWIST is committed to achieving gender equality through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic impact and recovery. Strategic plans include short and longer-term actions, and collective action through expanded partnerships.
Accelerated changes brought on by the pandemic have created unprecedented challenges and opportunities. The challenges faced by women are disproportionate as society reflexively reverts to past behavioural patterns, and hard-fought changes vanish. Child and home care are probably the most immediate and obvious reversions – as the “work from home” world again becomes synonymous with “women’s responsibility”. In North America, outside home, the caring professions and essential workers on the COVID front-lines are the classically lower-paid jobs filled by women, and racialized women and men. Inequities and gaps in our social systems become more evident as the system is stressed.
The world tries to pivot. SCWIST, as many other organizations, was initially taken aback by the abrupt changes around us but we have rebounded and we are learning. Because we are a volunteer organization driven predominantly by women, we were directly caught up in the cultural reversion – we had to fend at home, at work and then pivot the volunteer society. Luckily, STEM women are problem solvers.
SCWIST’s responses in the short-term were our own rapid digital transformation, and adapted support for our community. What we learned here, is now deployed to our partners by reaching out to connect others.
We transformed SCWIST programs and communications to create virtual workshops, panel discussions, networking events and digitally accessible support networks for women.
SCWIST’s FREE workshops increase accessibility, reach and impact to build skills to survive during COVID: mental health, career building tools, effective communication, negotiation skills and panel discussions on coping strategies:
Short-term approaches outward are designed to create awareness of the disproportionate impacts of COVID on women in STEM and all women and advocate for solutions that address the specific challenges. Pandemic Recovery Must Prioritize Equity and Inclusion
SCWIST’s ongoing communication campaigns on all channels promote COVID-19 resources and amplify the voices of others by extending the reach of their messaging of COVID-19 campaigns.
SCWIST’s monthly newsletter provides COVID-19 resources to our community, professional development opportunities and networking events. As well, we highlight the role of women in STEM who create solutions to COVID and drive the economic recovery:
SCWIST’s long-term plans address the need to build wider networks. We envision a future ecosystem of connected organizations that intersect with SCWIST’s mission. STEM literacy and data awareness are crucial assets during this pandemic and will fuel the economic recovery after. To cement gender equality, STEM women’s input and perspectives are essential: pandemic recovery systems cannot be built without women’s input: economically (and ethically) we cannot afford to lose the women through ”the leaky pipeline”.
SCWIST will ensure access to important STEM resources for girls, educators and parents during COVID-19:
SCWIST will continue to promote women’s role in COVID-19 pandemic response:
SCWIST is transforming our Make DIVERSITY Possible program and Diversity Awareness Toolkit into a virtual experience to engage women and men in STEM workplaces to attract diverse talent and ensure inclusive workplace cultures where everyone thrives and prospers. With companies implementing flex work and hybrid work models, this training will connect everyone to collaborate on solutions – and is key to a successful COVID-19 recovery. This is an unexpected positive outcome of the new connectedness.
Longer term plans at SCWIST include integrating the COVID-19 response and recovery into our 5 year strategy planning, as well as our advocacy work.
We will ensure the spotlight is on science, research and data when COVID response decisions are made. This will build on previous advocacy letters to identify new opportunities to advocate for gender equality through the COVID-19 lens. SCWIST will represent the voice of STEM and science-based decisions in a government working group to provide input into the economic recovery plan.
Collaborative partnerships are essential for a successful COVID-19 response and economic recovery.
SCWIST will leverage its SCALE project funding to advance gender equality. We will continue to build organizational capacity, collaborative partnerships and collective advocacy in response to COVID 19 specific impacts. We will expand our scope of work with partners like UN Women, Women Deliver, Empower Women, Generation Equality and Beijing +25 groups.
Our new partnerships with groups like WomenACT address sexual harassment in the workplace. We will expand our collaborative work with our WebAlliance partner Women’s Enterprise Centre to promote entrepreneurial skills and opportunities. We will sign on as a partner in the Government of Canada’s 50-30 Challenge: Your Diversity Advantage to ensure a focus on women and other underrepresented groups including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), LGBTQ community and others that are disaproportionally impacted by COVID-19.
As the world learns the painful lesson that technology intersects with social justice and diversity, we must ensure that gender equality is built into these systems from the get-go.
The only way we can ensure the future for gender equality is to have STEM women involved in ALL aspects of the creation of these systems. SCWIST’s networks ensure that such women are ready.