STEM is one of Canada’s fastest-growing and most promising fields, but not everyone has a seat at the table. Though educated, qualified and skilled, women make up only 20 percent of the country’s tech workforce and continue to be paid less than their male counterparts.
And the pandemic hasn’t helped matters. Women accounted for more than 50 percent of overall job losses as of May 2020 and many experts are worried about a protracted she-cession. While the tech sector has proven more resilient to COVID-19 than other industries, inequalities are now exacerbated in the recovery process.
There are a number of leaders across Toronto, however, who are actively working to address these inequities as well as the new challenges presented by COVID-19. Here are five organizations that help support women and girls in STEM.
How She Hustles
What it does: How She Hustles is a Toronto-based collective that works to amplify the voices of underrepresented women creators and entrepreneurs across Canada. The organization works to reach wide audiences through hosting speaker series, pop-up shops, workshops and other events.
Why it was founded: Founded at a brunch in Toronto back in 2010 by CEO Emily Mills, How She Hustles was originally meant to be a smaller-scale networking community to connect women of colour in the corporate scene across the city. Noticing there was no established group with this purpose and many willing people wanting to fill the gap, she took the initiative to start her own. “Over the last decade, How She Hustles has been at the forefront of networking events — especially for young women of colour to watch — and build a strong digital following with reach across Canada, the U.S., Africa, the Caribbean and beyond,” says Mills.
Who it’s best for: How She Hustles places a priority on amplifying and networking with entrepreneurial-minded BIPOC women across Canada. If you’re looking for new opportunities, have a story to tell or want to join a community of driven women looking to make an impact, consider looking into their events and programs. “I think more women need to stop thinking if they haven’t created an app or worked in AI, that they can’t play in the world of tech,” says Mills. Her organization recently hosted the second annual Startup & Slay event series, which featured talks focusing on pandemic-related work issues and entrepreneurship challenges.
Girls in Tech Toronto
What it does: Working to eliminate the gender gap in tech, Girls in Tech Toronto works with young women across the city to help them excel in their careers. It holds virtual mentorship sessions, skill-building workshops, personal and professional development webinars and hackathons.
Why it was founded: Having immigrated to Canada just last year, Shriya Gupta, who is the Volunteer Managing Director of Girls in Tech, saw a need for an inclusive community for women in tech. Started in March 2020, their programs are already seeing major demand. “One of my main motivations to start Girls in Tech Toronto was the desire to give back and share my learnings with other women who are passionate about technology,” says Gupta.
Who it’s best for: Women who are currently completing a university degree or are in a mid-level position in a tech-focused career. Gupta says that when it comes to new grads, mentorship is especially important to ensure a strong support network. Since COVID-19 hit, their team has connected more than 50 mentees and mentors. “Our mentorship program has been a huge success in connecting young women with experienced industry leaders and providing much-needed guidance, encouragement and support,” says Gupta. Due to high demand for this program, Girls in Tech plans to run their virtual mentorship program twice a year coming into 2021.
What it does: hEr VOLUTION looks to create opportunities for the next generation of women in STEM connecting them with leaders in the industry for career support. Their organization has a number of programs to help young women excel in their fields, including STEM education programs for teens as well as ambassador programs, which get students involved in strategic partnerships. It also has a youth committee to help women in their early STEM career address issues they are facing at work.
Why it was founded: Running as a charitable organization since 2013 under the leadership of a former social worker, hEr VOLUTION aims to close the gender gap in STEM and bring resources and job opportunities to women. Doina Oncel, founder and CEO, says that she knows firsthand the difficulties of breaking into STEM as a woman, especially as an immigrant, single mother and coming from a low-income household. “After contemplating the idea of ‘someone should create an organization that will make STEM more diverse and inclusive’ I realized that that ‘someone’ is me because I understand barriers from personal experience,” says Oncel.
Who it’s best for: Programs are geared toward girls and women aged 13 to 29 from underserved communities in Toronto with an interest in STEM. “Young women are always looking to learn more from industry professionals and having someone that they can count on beyond programs,” says Oncel. “It would be great to know that there is more action behind the scenes where women and our allies support each other at work — where and when it matters most.” Oncel says that she is continuing to make the programs accessible to as many girls as possible through subsidies, as the cost of personal devices and home internet isn’t attainable in every household.
What it does: Through a mix of programming, workshops, hackathons and more, Indus Space brings experiential learning about space science to youth in Toronto. Programs focus on a wide range of space-related topics covering everything from comets and galaxies to feeding astronauts and looking for life beyond earth.
Why it was founded: Planetary scientist Bhairavi Shankar founded Indus in 2018 after noticing a lack of knowledge about Canada’s significant contributions to the global space community. With the goal of bringing equitable access to STEM learning and encouraging diversity in a currently underrepresented field, Indus looks to connect its students to educators and space professionals to help build their career paths earlier on in life.
Who it’s best for: Indus focuses their energy on youth programming for kids under the age of 18, but also gears toward partnering with educators who can implement their programs across the city. Shankar says she especially wants young girls to take part in programming. “As a woman of colour in a physical sciences profession where women are already in low numbers, it is very important for me to find ways to introduce youth — especially girls and youth from different ethnic communities — to a diverse set of STEM professionals.”
What it does: Lotus is a not-for-profit networking and leadership program for South Asian women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine (STEMM). Their platform connects women through online discussion groups, conferences, mentorship programs and provides mental health support for international academics as well as research.
Why it was founded: While working on her PhD, founder Roopali Chaudhary didn’t have any female mentors of South Asian descent that she could look to for advice or inspiration. Started as a Twitter account in 2018 and now a fully registered organization serving thousands of women globally, Chaudhary says Lotus is meeting a much-needed demand in this field. Read more about her founding story in her reflection on the first year of business.
Who is it best for: South Asian women working across Canada who are looking for guidance or who may be able to provide mentorship to up-and-comers are encouraged to get involved, especially as COVID-19 affects the workplace for women. “Many women are losing or quitting their jobs as work-life balance has taken a detrimental hit while we learn a ‘new normal,’” says Chaudhary.
Get more business advice, industry updates and success stories from Toronto entrepreneurs on our news page.