Non-Linear Paths of Women in STEM: The Barriers in the Current System of Professional Training

Mature women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and trades are increasingly present but face many challenges.

This reflection paper originates from discussions and questioning at the Gender Summit 11 in Montréal, in November 2017. It first briefly describes the current situation of women who are not taking the usual linear path from high school to university and professional life. It examines how the current system may overlook their capabilities and highlights the potential that they have to significantly contribute to the Canadian job market and economy. It summarizes the challenges they face and proposes potential avenues for solutions and strategies that may help improve their chances of contributing to Canadian innovation.

The data show that mature students are becoming a large part of Canadian higher education institutions and in general have a better graduation rate than students coming directly from high school, or cégep, in Québec. Barriers can be numerous for mature women who are interested in returning to higher education, and include entry requirements and admission criteria, lack or limited support (e.g. financial, childcare, etc.), and marginalisation and negative perceptions. Establishment of networks or support groups for mature women in STEM and trades, as well as changing institutional culture, are among some of the strategies that were put forward in the three round tables that were organized to discuss the issue.

It is expected that this reflection/policy paper will help funding agencies, governments and institutions such as colleges and universities to develop solutions for the better inclusion of people (especially women) not following the usual path from high school, or cégep, and universities to careers in STEM.

Download and read the full reflection paper here.

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