Opinion: On this Thursday in particular, we need to recognize that the world needs science, and science needs women and girls

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Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed 2,500 girls across B.C. at Science World’s 2020 Girls and STEAM online event, telling them: ‘Find what you think is interesting and be OK with that.’ (Science World)

Thursday is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The world needs science, and science needs women and girls.

Women have led ground-breaking research into public health, vaccines, treatments and innovative technology. Women have also been on the front lines of COVID-19 response as scientists, health-care workers and more. Yet the gender gap in science and technology continues to be an issue and holds women back from achieving equality in these fields.

Further to this, the mass impact of the pandemic has clearly demonstrated the critical role of women researchers in different stages of the fight against COVID-19.

Women have worked to advance knowledge on the virus, develop techniques for testing and worked tirelessly on a vaccine. At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant negative impact on women scientists, particularly affecting those at the early stages of their career, and thus contributing to widening the existing gender gap in science.

Science World knows that access to mentorship plays a huge role in getting more girls to consider STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and design and math) professions. We also know that early exposure to the sciences increases the likelihood that women stay engaged later in their careers. It is a critical time to get young girls involved because at present, less than 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women. It’s a commitment Science World upholds through Girls and STEAM, an action-packed day of mentorship and workshops that reaches girls in every corner of the province, from rural to Indigenous communities.

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Last year, Science World’s decision to pivot the event to online resulted in expanding it from 300 girls in the geodesic dome to 2,500 girls across B.C. Science World was also able to partner with KidsUpFront to send personal invitations to girls from barriered communities — who might otherwise not have the technological means to take part virtually — to attend the event at the dome in a safe, physically distant capacity.

Over the past 15 years, the global science community has made an inspiring effort to engage women and girls in science. Yet women and girls continue to be excluded from participating fully in science. Full and equal access to, and participation in science, technology and innovation for women and girls of all ages is imperative for achieving gender equality.

Science World’s mission to ignite wonder and empower dreams captures the many brilliant minds of girls and women of this and future generations. As we look to the year ahead and continue our commitment to make science accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, including girls and women, we also hope to celebrate and spotlight the STEAM professionals who make this reality possible.

As the poster child of our viral fundraising campaign The World Needs More Nerds, Dr. Bonnie Henry — B.C.’s provincial health officer and 2020 keynote speaker — needs no introduction. Her remarkable background with not one but three pandemics has shaped her ability to lead the province with calmness and compassion. Dr. Henry took time out of her busy schedule to address 2,500 girls across B.C., telling them: “Find what you think is interesting and be OK with that.”

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Other notable women in science-related fields who have provided mentorship to young girls and women across the province include marine biologist and 2020 keynote speaker Dr. Sarika Cullis-Suzuki; astronaut candidate, science communicator and 2019 keynote speaker Bethany Downer; founder and CEO of Webnames.ca, board member and Girls and STEAM mentor Cybele Negris; surgeon and 2020 keynote speaker for Indigenous and STEAM Dr. Nadine Caron.

Having a role model, or models, in a career will have a lasting and positive impact. This International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I invite you to promote the full and equal participation of women and girls in education, training, employment and decision-making processes in the sciences. Join us in celebrating women and girls who are leading innovation and call for actions to remove all barriers that hold them back. Join the conversation with #WomenInScience, donate to an organization advancing women and girls in science or consider mentoring a young woman or girl interested in a career in science.

Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email vantips@postmedia.com.

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