U of T’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) chapter hosted their inaugural International Women’s Day Gala on March 10 to celebrate women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The gala included a keynote speech and panel discussion by female entrepreneurs in STEM, as well as multiple student performances.
Janelle Hinds was the gala’s keynote speaker. She is a former McMaster University engineering student and founder of Helping Hands, an app that connects high school students with volunteer opportunities.
The gala also featured panel discussion led by Ami Shah, CEO and co-founder of Peekapak, an online education tool used to develop social-emotional learning skills in children, and Jenise Lee, founder and CEO of PurPicks, a review platform for organic beauty and skincare products.
In her keynote speech, Hinds described the constant doubt she receives from men as a female engineer and entrepreneur.
“I was one of the first people on my campus to start making android apps. When I did, I had some guys come up to me… [and say] ‘If you can do it, it must be so easy,’” said Hinds. “It really made me realize why women in science and engineering societies are so important. Throughout our days as women, we’re going to constantly… get guys who don’t recognize the strength and power we have.”
During the panel discussion, Lee spoke on a similar topic, saying that she wished she had learned earlier in life that she was capable of launching her own company.
“When you see a job posting… apply with confidence. If you don’t apply, we won’t see your resume. You don’t know that you’re not better than most of the candidates,” said Lee.
Ami Shah told the women in the room that they should not be afraid of going after opportunities. “If you’re smart and capable and driven, all these companies are looking to make change,” she said. “I think really it’s showing up and showing what you’re capable of and taking those opportunities.”
The gala also featured dance performances from the Vic Dance Team and Ryerson dance students Hannah Stein and Rumi Jeraj. U of T students Victoria Hue and Brian Nghiem gave musical performances, while Sanna Wani, Roya Abedi, and Gabrielle Pearce performed spoken word pieces.
“Events like U of T’s International Women’s Day Gala are incredibly powerful—it is empowering to be surrounded by women who are looking to find ways to make the world a more just place for women,” wrote Lee to The Varsity. She described the gala as “full of strong, vulnerable, smart and capable women who are going to be tomorrow’s leaders.”
Lina Elfaki, WISE Vice-President of Outreach, said that she hopes the gala has inspired people to advocate for women in STEM and helped women realize their own strength.
“International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to not only recognize all the women’s struggles, from gender violence to the wage gap to abuse, but also to celebrate all our accomplishments towards gender equality,” said Elfaki.
Echoing Elfaki’s sentiments, WISE President Syeda Anjum stated that she hopes the event will inspire people to get involved in the WISE community and realize that there is a community out there for them.