Not-so-fun fact: in 2016, Canadian women made up only 23% of all science and technology workers. Additionally, the percentage of women working in engineering actually dropped between 1990 and 2019.
Lacking numbers of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) has been relevant in Western society for a long time now. Rooted in outdated ideas and patriarchal values, the idea that women cannot or should not take up space in male-dominated fields appears to slowly be on the decline. However, there is still a huge gap for improvement.
At Riverside, some STEM classes, such as certain sciences and math, are not optiona or required to certain post-secondary programs. Due to this, numbers in these classes are balanced for the most part. The disparity begins in STEM electives. School statistics show that girls make up as little as 12% of students, with the absolute highest participation percent in an elective STEM class being 36%.
This data drew forth questions that were taken to Riverside’s administration. Principal Jon Bruneau spoke on the school-provided data. “[The data] might suggest that girls make different kinds of prerequisite choices in reference to post-secondary. Maybe also the girls are choosing the general subject areas for STEM (Science, Math) and not so much the specific areas of Technology and Engineering.” Bruneau’s explanation of the data is a reasonable one; however, it does not explain the actual reasons girls stray away from Technology and Engineering electives.
Vice Principal Jason Giles shared his thoughts on the matter and stated that the largest deterrent may be what lies beyond high school with many STEM fields and programs being male-dominated. When asked what specifically was being done at Riverside to bridge the gender gap, Bruneau challenged the idea of the existence of a significant gender gap in STEM. He explained that core sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) may have a higher female involvement and could be considered electives as they are not all required for graduation. Both Bruneau and Giles said that counselors will not deter students from selecting courses they are passionate about and that STEM integration is being implemented into all classes as a way to immerse everyone in STEM.
If counselors aren’t deterring girls from STEM electives why are there still such low numbers? Stella Maltcheva, a grade 11 student currently involved in a girl’s app development competition, had some interesting thoughts on what the reason for the lack of female participation in STEM electives might be. “Society’s expectations of different genders until recently, believing there are supposed to be specific professions for the different genders and most people believing males are naturally better at stem-related jobs may be [the detterent].”
Could the false idea of women’s inability to succeed in STEM be an external issue or should the school take a more active role? Can the gender gap really be bridged by simply incorporating STEM-based learning into all regular coursework, as per the Riverside administration’s own ‘solution’?
These questions are just the beginning of what Riverside should be asking to tackle systemic issues that influence the school and help students to reach their fullest potential without the burden of societal and cultural gender bias.