According to Statistics Canada, just 23 percent of graduates from engineering and 30 percent of graduates from mathematics and computer science programs are women.  This comes at a time when Canada is facing a skills gap in the Information Communications and Technology (ICT) sector, which is predicted to widen. An IDC Canada report released in September, states the ICT skills gap will grow to 71,000 jobs by 2017. Statistics Canada also reports that women make up approximately 22 percent of the total workforce in STEM fields. 

“We’re half the society and we’re not represented in extremely important design and building concepts that we live in, that shape our world,” says Hydro One engineer Lyla Garzouzi. In Canada there are 280,000 professional engineers, but only 12 percent are women.

The help button

When people think of computer scientists, the stereotype that pops to mind is often someone stuck in a cubicle. However, as technology continues to evolve, experts agree that there are more opportunities to work outside that box.
Ryerson University’s Dean of Science, Imogen Coe, says working in these fields can include everything from using modelling and computer simulations to improve how emergency responders help victims of natural disasters, to revamping cybersecurity to protect online finances.

“Statistics Canada also reports that women make up approximately 22 percent of the total workforce in STEM fields."

“There are all sorts of impacts to real world problems and computer science is hugely important in a number of those areas,” Coe says.

Garzouzi agrees and says the same applies in the field of engineering. She explains that people often take reliable electricity, clean water, and transit systems for granted, not realizing that they are the result of engineering.  “To me, engineering has always been the application of science to bettering humankind,” Garzouzi says.

Powering up confidence

Research indicates that a lack of confidence in subjects like mathematics adds up to girls avoiding areas such as computer science and engineering, says Wendy Cukier, vice president of research and innovation at Ryerson University.
Cukier explains how studies show that girls often outperform  boys in mathematics in early years yet they often ‘self-select’ out of mathematics and sciences, core disciplines to these fields, at a young age. As a result, according to Statistics Canada, women are less likely to choose a STEM program, regardless of their mathematic ability.
Hydro One, Motorola Solutions Foundation and the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) recognize the need to support greater female representation and are supporting Ryerson’s innovative women in engineering programming.

“Jobs in the information, communications, and technology sector are the fastest growing, best paid jobs that are available,” says Cukier. “If women are making choices that exclude themselves from these jobs, they are being disadvantaged.”

The limit does not exist

Coe sees recent Ryerson graduate Yomna Aly as an example of what can be achieved when women go into ICT.  
Aly, president of the university’s Women in Computer Science club, completed her undergraduate degree in 2015 and was recognized as being among one of the top Ryerson computer science graduates of the last decade.

She is now working towards a master’s degree in human and computer interaction. Coe hopes that in the future, more women will realize their potential.

“You are worth investing in you,” she tells her students. “We’re investing in you, you need to believe in yourself and you can achieve great things.”