By Jesse Stilwell, Nov. 2 2017 —
Since 1991, female students have constituted the majority of student populations on Canadian universities. The change in the gender demographics on campuses does not change the fact that some programs are still dominated by one gender. STEM — defined as science, technology, engineering and math — fields are still majority male while nursing and education are made up primarily of female students. Some of the social sciences also display gender imbalances. It’s unlikely that institutions or individuals are at fault for this phenomenon. Rather, gender stereotypes entrenched in society are still manifesting themselves in our universities.
We shouldn’t passively accept this imbalance. The benefits of increased diversity and inclusion within organizations have been proven repeatedly. Businesses that prioritize including diverse perspectives increase their productivity, avoid excluding potential customers and have higher rates of employee retention. Having more diverse industries will also decrease the gender wage gap, which would improve the economy in a meaningful way.
Creating diverse workplaces starts in universities. If an engineering firm wants to hire more female employees, more women need to enrol into engineering programs. Similarly, if schools need male teachers so that young men feel supported early in their academic careers, it’s imperative that male teachers are being trained.
While affirmative action policies can help encourage diverse groups to enter universities, it’s then difficult to incentivize entering a program that is also unfamiliar and potentially unwelcoming when others aren’t like this. The onus is still on students to enter into these programs despite gender imbalances that make pursuing a topic they are passionate about less appealing. It’s intimidating to be the only man or woman working on a group project or to give a presentation in front of people who might not take you seriously. Those who defy gender norms need support from their peers and professors so that social pressures don’t cause them to fail. It shouldn’t be surprising to see a man working through a nursing practicum or a woman presenting an interesting engineering capstone project. As a campus community we should celebrate having our unconscious biases challenged and encourage everyone to pursue their passions regardless of what they are.
Challenging gender stereotypes is never easy but it’s always important. The only way we can make progress towards becoming a more equitable society is by tackling barriers head-on. If a student is passionate about a certain topic, nothing should stand in their way — especially not outdated stereotypes.