Walking into any mathematics, physics, or computer science class at U of T and looking around converts the often-cited statistics into a visible, concrete reality: there is still a major gender gap in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to Statistics Canada, while women make up just over half of Canadians aged 25 to 64 with a university degree, they account for less than a third of Canadians aged 25 to 64 with a STEM-related degree — and the difference becomes even more pronounced in fields like computer science and mathematics.



Identifying this gap, however, is in itself hardly a solution. Enter the U of T chapter of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). The chapter is part of a nationwide, co-ed organization dedicated to celebrating and inspiring women in STEM fields. Throughout the school year, the group sends ambassadors — all of whom are current undergraduate or graduate STEM students — to high schools across the gta. Through presentations, hands-on activities, and question-and-answer sessions, they aim to challenge conventional stereotypes about STEM careers and raise awareness of the opportunities available for all students in science and engineering. The chapter also hosts regular networking events, social events, and workshops.

Their largest event, however, has become the WISE Annual National Conference. At the inaugural event last year, over 200 delegates from across the country converged on Toronto for a two-day event of networking and learning. Building on the success of that event, this year’s conference will feature a career fair, networking events, workshops, and two major competitions — a Technology Case Competition and a Social Impact Challenge — where teams of two to five delegates can present innovative proposals for a chance to win $1,000.

The conference also boasts a wide variety of prestigious speakers — including Karen Yeates, the co-founder and co-director of the Queen’s University School of Medicine Office of Global Health; Ann Kaplan, the ceo and president of iFinance Canada Incorporated; and Marilyn McHarg, ceo and president of Dignitas International.

The purpose of the conference is three-fold: first of all, the organizers hope to bring together women of all backgrounds to allow for the sharing of experience and expertise. One of the most significant challenges that many women in STEM fields face is the difficulty of finding experienced mentors, but the conference is an opportunity for younger scientists and engineers to learn from successful women in their fields. Secondly, the conference will highlight the continuing challenges faced by women in STEM fields while in school, in work, in social relationships, and in their professional lives. Finally, the conference hopes to encourage and inspire attendees, fostering creativity and innovation in fields where it is certainly most needed.

The WISE National Conference will be held this coming weekend, March 22 and 23, at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, 209 Victoria Street. Substantial subsidies towards the registration cost are available to U of T students in relevant departments.