Carleton seeks to help 'level the playing field' for women in STEM with new mentoring program

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Carleton University is partnering with some of Ottawa’s leading tech firms on a new initiative aimed at closing the gender gap in fields such as science, technology, engineering and math.

The Women in Engineering and Information Technology program launches this month. It does not involve academic course work – rather, it is meant to provide a forum for women in the university’s STEM programs to learn from established female tech leaders through virtual offerings that will include industry talks, networking sessions and candid conversations.

Carleton dean of engineering Larry Kostiuk said women “don’t always view a career in STEM as an option,” adding the new program is meant to “level the playing field” by giving female students an opportunity to showcase their skills.

“In a nutshell, the message we want to emphasize is, ‘If you can see her, you can be her,’” Kostiuk said in an email to OBJ this week.  

“We hope that by introducing women students at Carleton to leaders in engineering and IT, they will be able to develop and grow their networks early on and have access to informal mentorship opportunities, thereby building a clear path for women students to follow from university into the workforce.”

The program’s flagship event will be a once-a-year industry “speed networking” session, where students will get a chance to quiz local industry partners such as EllisDon, Ericsson, Lockheed Martin, Ross Video, Solace, Trend Micro and others about what it takes to succeed in the tech sector.

"We’re in a male-dominated industry, and collectively all the companies have a lot of room for improvement here."

In addition, women tech executives will host “candid conversations” in which they will speak freely about their experiences in the workforce.

The tech industry still has a long way to go to achieve gender equality, noted Carleton alumnus Adam Boyle, vice-president of hybrid cloud security at lead program sponsor Trend Micro. 

A 2020 report from HR software company Humi, for example, said women comprised just 30 per cent of Canada’s tech workforce. While total female enrolment in Carleton’s engineering and information technology programs has risen 34 per cent over the last five years, less than one quarter of the 6,400 students in those programs are women.

“We’re in a male-dominated industry, and collectively all the companies have a lot of room for improvement here,” said Boyle, who estimated about 25 per cent of his team’s 350 software developers and product managers are female. 

“It’s not something that can be done overnight. I have a lot of job openings, and we unfortunately have a very low number of women applying. We hope at a minimum, we see a better ratio of women in technology leadership positions.”

The new initiative will run throughout the fall and winter semesters. All women students in Carleton’s engineering and IT programs, as well as applicable science programs, are eligible to take part.

The university did not specify the total cost of the program, which is being subsidized by corporate and government partners.