As countries around the world begin to ease restrictions and we begin to feel that sense of relief we’ve been so desperately waiting for, I can’t help but reflect on the remarkable leadership and selflessness shown by women over the past two years. From doctors and nurses to researchers, technologists, and policymakers, women have undoubtedly been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their leadership has underscored women’s critical role in STEM.
In Canada, many of the individuals we’ve relied on for critical information and advice throughout this pandemic have been women. Women like Dr. Theresa Tam, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Dina Henshaw have become familiar faces known for making the bold, courageous and admirable decisions that have helped keep this country safe. Internationally, individuals like New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, Finland’s Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, and the former chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel- many of whom have STEM backgrounds – have leveraged innovative, human-centric solutions to lead their countries through a crisis.
While these examples of leadership should be celebrated, we must also acknowledge and address the fact that the pandemic’s social and economic effects have disproportionately impacted women. Women in Canada and abroad have continued to bear the brunt of domestic responsibility throughout the pandemic, often having to juggle family responsibility and work. As a result, many have been forced to make decisions impacting their participation at work. This has included reducing hours, taking leaves of absences to care for family, or leaving the workforce altogether. This is especially true in science and technology, where women remain vastly underrepresented.
So what’s next?
The pandemic has fueled and accelerated transformation across all areas of our lives and has also revealed significant gaps in diversity, equity and inclusion. As we emerge from the pandemic, we must leverage the momentum of innovation created to fight the pandemic to rebuild and redesign our post-pandemic world.
It is critically important that we pay attention to who is designing our post-pandemic systems to ensure we include diverse perspectives to meet the needs of all citizens. We must take active steps toward reengaging women who may have left the workforce during the pandemic by challenging the systemic policies and practices that caused them to leave in the first place. Women have demonstrated the power of their leadership in helping us fight a global crisis, and we must ensure we do not lose any more ground in advancing women in STEM. The stakes of not achieving gender parity in STEM are even more significant for our economy and for future generations of girls.
So this International Women’s Day, I hope you will join me and Actua in applauding the women who continue to show determination and leadership in the face of ever-changing challenges, while thinking critically about how we can ensure more women and young girls have opportunities to lead in the future. As a starting point, I encourage you to read a previous article I wrote in Techcouver – How We Can Choose To Challenge Gender Inequality in Tech this International Women’s Day and Beyond.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Jennifer Flanagan is the CEO and President of Actua, Canada’s largest STEM youth outreach non-profit organization.
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