Visiting speaker will address women in STEM

UBC’s Elizabeth Croft will speak at TRU on March 8. (UBC)

TRUSU’s Equity Committee is hosting their annual International Women’s Day event on March 8. This year, Elizabeth Croft, associate dean of education and professional development for the faculty of applied science at UBC, will be speaking about the issues and barriers that women face in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Sierra Rae, TRUSU women’s representative, said this year’s particular focus on STEM fields came from wanting to stress how these fields are still overwhelmingly dominated by men.

“STEM fields are an important and growing part of our economy, working towards gender equality will open up a whole range of possibilities and jobs for women.”

Some women at TRU working in the sciences could personally relate. Cynthia Ross Friedman addressed the issue of finding the balance between equal treatment versus the same treatment.

“One of the biggest problems is when women say ‘there is no issue, we are treated the same.’ We’re not the same. I am not a man, I am a woman. There are things that I do that are feminine and that should not be considered a weakness.”

Friedman said that having true equality for women in STEM fields is a complicated issue that goes beyond hiring more women or viewing them as being the same as their male colleagues.

“It’s about finding the differences in an equal way and perceiving them as strengths on their own,” she said.

Naowarat Cheeptham also believes the issues behind gender equality are complicated, stating that the problems arise from deeply-rooted cultural beliefs and practices that start the day we are born. Having experienced issues regarding gender bias here in Canada and abroad, Cheeptham said the world has a long way to go in order to solve these issues.

“It’s more complicated than blanketing the problem as just a gender issue. As women, we know we have social and gender role expectations from society, which affects how we are perceived,” she said.

Cheeptham said that one of the issues that stems from these social expectations is a women’s appearance.

“Women are judged on how they dress, [and] perceived to be less intelligent when they take more time on their physical appearance. This is a double standard men don’t even have to think about.”

Cheeptham said that women don’t need to conform to these stereotypes, and that, “I don’t have to change and be more like a man in order to be respected.”

Cheeptham also addressed the dramatic drop that occurs in the amount of females in the workplace compared to the high number of female students.

“There are issues in workplace dynamic and workplace culture. For reduction of mistreatment within organizations we need to have a clear policy. The leadership within needs to be the one to set the tone and state that these kinds of mistreatments will not be tolerated,” she said.

Both professors stressed the importance of having female role models in the STEM community for future generations to look up to.

“The more awareness that we have, the more we are given the ability to tackle these issues skillfully, which is necessary in order to create change,” Cheeptham said.

As for advice, both professors encouraged female students to reach out to women in the STEM fields.

“Have confidence. Be aware of these issues. There will be hardship, but be confident in who you are and use your passion to shine through. Don’t conform,” Cheeptham said.

Elizabeth Croft will speak in the TRUSU Lecture Hall at 5 p.m. on March 8.