The STEM Revolution: Finding Gender Parity
Laleh Behjat, P,Eng., PhD, is working with industry to find better ways to recruit and retain women in engineering and science while preparing them to lead global change.
Over the last 30 years, widespread efforts to increase women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) have ranged from encouraging girls in K-12 to develop an interest in the fields to supporting women beginning careers in STEM.
There has been some improvement—in engineering, the number of female undergraduates in Canada grew from 16 per cent in 1991 to 22 per cent in 2018—but it’s a far cry from gender parity.
“We haven’t seen as much of a return on investment as we would like,” says Dr. Behjat, a diversity advocate and professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering.
In addition to running a successful research program developing faster and more power-efficient computer circuits, Dr. Behjat studies strategies to recruit, retain, and raise the status of women in STEM. This fall, she was named the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada's Chair for Women in Science and Engineering in the Prairie region. She's also a member of the Women in APEGA Advisory Group.
Preparing for tomorrow
Dr. Behjat explains that there are systemic barriers to women’s participation in STEM, and she believes the solution isn’t changing culture—it’s harnessing the massive global transformation to come. Over the next decade, the world will need far more engineers and other STEM professionals to tackle the climate change crisis, the digital revolution, and the growth of biotechnology.
By necessity, women’s role in STEM will grow, she says, and what we do after that change occurs will be critical to equity, diversity, and inclusion going forward. “After these sudden changes, will we move to a system that’s more just and inclusive, or to a system that’s more oppressive and exclusive of under-represented groups?”
The next steps
Dr. Behjat is creating a leadership program for women in science and engineering that focuses on change leadership—that is, envisioning a fairer world for women and other under-represented people, building strategies to achieve it, and implementing and growing those strategies.
To that end, she’s working with industry partners and agencies like the Alberta Women’s Science Network to roll out the program in Alberta workplaces in 2021. Women early in their engineering careers will be nominated by supervisors and colleagues to participate in the program.
The response from industry has been positive, she says. She believes industry support of programs like hers can go a long way towards bolstering diversity, and she challenges companies to scrutinize their internal procedures and policies to see what they might do better to support women and minorities. After all, diversity is in everyone’s best interests—including industry’s.
“We are in a time of change—companies need to be not looking just to the next quarter, but to the next 10 years or beyond.”
Read more about Dr. Laleh Behjat
We featured Dr. Behjat and her important work in diversity on our DiscoverAPEGA website. Check it out!
Learn about APEGA's equity, diversity and inclusion work
Interested in learning more about the work that APEGA does for equity, diversity, and inclusion in the professions? Read more about our current initiatives.
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Laleh Behjat, P.Eng., PhD