Having more women in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is critical to Canada’s economic future. Ingenium — which oversees three national museums dedicated to telling the stories of those who dared to think differently — is striving to inspire the next generation of innovators and address issues of gender inequality that impact girls and young women in the field through its Women in STEM initiative. “The multi-platform initiative aims to celebrate women's achievements in these fields, foster conversations around gender equity, promote careers for women in STEM, and ultimately, inspire young Canadians,” says Christina Tessier, President and CEO of Ingenium - Canada’s Museums of Science and Innovation.

Sharing inspiring stories

Increasing the number of women in STEM is a goal for a lot of organizations, although few take a creative approach to rolling it into their public programs. “We wanted to explore how we could be a part of the conversations to raise awareness about what’s happening and maybe catalyze actions to effect change,” says Sandra Corbeil, Ingenium’s Director of Strategic Partnerships and Networks.

Ingenium started by reaching out to diverse groups of people to build a catalogue of stories about trailblazers in the field. “We knew we needed to talk not just to women and girls but also to their parents, teachers, and people in their communities,” Corbeil says. These conversations helped to inform how these stories were told. “They’re pretty inspirational stories that highlight the contributions of women in STEM,” she says. The pieces play a dual role, as they also raise awareness of the barriers, biases, and challenges women have faced in contributing to the field.

A key piece of their programming for this initiative features downloadable posters of women who have had a noteworthy impact on the STEM field, designed to serve as easily accessible educational tools for classrooms, community centres, or workplaces. The online poster series will be complemented by a display available to travel later this year, in hopes of engaging with audiences across Canada. The display has been designed to relay more in-depth stories and further showcase how women are, and always have been, important contributors to STEM. “We’re hoping to engage students and their families in thinking about how gender equity benefits us all,” Corbeil says.

A role for all us

Another way Ingenium is sharing the Women in STEM story is through collaboration with community partners. “These partnerships are really key to us being part of the community that cares and wants to make a change,” Corbeil says. A recent example is a fellowship opportunity created with the University of Ottawa for students interested in gender, science, and technology. “For us, it’s an opportunity to bring in dedicated scholars, gain a perspective on the relationship between gender and technology, and address our museums’ research and collecting gaps,” she says. “It also gives students the chance to explore their research area within a collections or museum setting.” Looking to the future, Ingenium plans to promote diversity and equity in STEM through specialized programs and events online and at its three museums.

Ingenium’s future goals are also focused on working with community members to explore ways to add more women to the STEM pipeline. A key challenge to doing so is determining the factors behind higher attrition rates of women in STEM-centric academic programs. “We need to really think about whether we’re creating an open system for STEM contributions or whether there are barriers and biases that discourage these women from going further,” Corbeil says.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an extended community to raise a scientist. Corbeil believes that all of us — parents, extended family, teachers, and friends — can play a role breaking down barriers and eliminating biases.

The Women in STEM initiative is part of Ingenium's ongoing work to preserve and share Canada’s stories of scientific and technological heritage. Celebrating the power of ingenuity, Ingenium encompasses three national institutions: the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Beyond the physical walls of its museums, Ingenium’s engaging digital content and travelling exhibitions serve to educate, entertain, and engage audiences across Canada and around the world.