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CSPS Virtual Café Series: Talking to Women in STEM, with Mona Nemer and Sarah Paquet (TRN5-V21)


This event recording features a conversation with Mona Nemer, Ph.D., and Sarah Paquet on their careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as well as the importance of women role models and why increased diversity in STEM fields is essential for innovation and for Canada's economic well-being.

Duration: 01:06:34
Published: February 9, 2022
Type: Video

Event: CSPS Virtual Café Series: Talking to Women in STEM, with Mona Nemer and Sarah Paquet

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CSPS Virtual Café Series: Talking to Women in STEM with Mona Nemer and Sarah Paquet

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Transcript: CSPS Virtual Café Series: Talking to Women in STEM with Mona Nemer and Sarah Paquet

[The animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background. Its pages turn, opening it like a book. A maple leaf appears in the middle of the book that also resembles a flag with curvy lines beneath. Text is beside it reads: "Webcast | Webdiffusion." It fades away to a video chat panel. A woman with glasses and hair pulled back wears an pink shirt. She sits in a grey room. Behind her a few small sculptures sit on shelves. A purple title card pops up in the bottom corner for a moment, identifying her as Margaret Meroni, Vice President of Learning Programs at the Canada School of Public Service.]

Margaret Meroni: Hi. My name is Margaret Meroni and I'd like to welcome you virtually to the Canada School of Public Service. I'm Vice-President of Learning Programs at the School. It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today as moderator of this event. The discussions will take place in French, but simultaneous interpretation is available to those who require it. Instructions on how to use the simultaneous interpretation feature can be found in the confirmation email you received. Before we begin, I would like to point out that the land that many of the participants are on is the traditional, unceded territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin people. I encourage you to take a few moments to acknowledge the territory under your feet. I would also like to remind you that to enhance your experience, we recommend that you disconnect from the VPN if possible and then reconnect to the Virtual Café. So, without further ado, I invite you to this new episode of the School's Virtual Café series, which focuses on women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Over the next hour, I will be moderating a discussion with two outstanding federal public service leaders.

[A second chat panel slides in on the left, showing a woman with a highlighted brown bob, Dr. Mona Nemer. She wears a black suede jacket, floral patterned shirt and teardrop necklace.]

The first is Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada's Chief Science Advisor. Prior to taking up this position, Dr. Nemer was Professor and Vice-President of Research at the University of Ottawa and Director of the University's Molecular Genetics and Cardiac Regeneration Laboratory. She has a PhD in chemistry and has completed postdoctoral studies in molecular biology.

[A third chat panel slides into the bottom left corner, shrinking Mona's panel to the top left corner. In the new panel a woman with a blond bob, Sarah Paquet, wears a silver blazer.]

Our second guest is Sarah Paquet, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, or, if you prefer, FINTRAC. Sarah is a lawyer by training. She began her career in the public service at the Department of Justice and has held various leadership positions at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC). Both of our guests advocate for the interests of women in STEM, devoting time and energy to highlighting the barriers women face in STEM and supporting initiatives to increase the participation of women in this field. Before giving the floor to each of our guests, I would just like to say a few words to put today's discussion in context.

The under-representation of women in the various STEM fields has long been recognized and is a source of concern for many countries around the world. Indeed, there is a growing recognition that gender diversity is essential in all fields, including STEM. Women bring unique and interesting perspectives, and as the demand for skilled workers in STEM fields continues to grow, we cannot afford to overlook the incredible potential of this large segment of the population, i.e., those who identify as women. Although the representation of women in STEM has been increasing over the years, there is still a huge gap. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that fewer women than men are graduating from STEM-related programs, and those who do tend to leave these fields to pursue their careers in other non-STEM fields at a much higher rate than men. If we delve deeper into this issue, we see that women who identify as black, Indigenous or having a disability face even greater challenges, because they have to deal with many kinds of prejudice and discrimination. This is a very unfortunate situation, and we know that these problems begin at a young age, when girls have already begun to assimilate the messages of society, despite the fact that, in general, boys and girls achieve the same standardized math and science scores in elementary school. Every year, the number of girls who are interested in STEM declines, and even those who are doing well in math and high school science are less likely than boys to enrol in post-secondary STEM programs. That's why it's so important to have this kind of discussion. It's a great opportunity to raise awareness and to change our thinking and the language we use to combat these harmful stereotypes.

We all have a role to play in making sure that girls and women, from a young age, are informed of the opportunities available to them in STEM fields and are encouraged to consider all their options so they can realize their full potential. Now I'm going to turn things over to our guests. If you could please take a few moments to introduce yourselves and tell us what you think about women in STEM and why these conversations are so important. I'll start with you, Dr. Nemer. Mona, it's all yours.

Mona Nemer: Thank you very much and good morning, good afternoon to everyone, wherever you are.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen. A purple title card pops up in the bottom corner for a moment, identifying her as Mona Nemer, Chief Science Advisor, Government of Canada.]

It's a real pleasure for me to be here and to actually be part of this very important discussion that we're having. I can't say I'm thrilled that we're still having it, and that progress is slow in coming or, at best, the pace of progress is not really up to expectations, but still, I think we need to keep talking about it. We must keep making sure that women, and men as well, are aware of the importance of this issue, and that society as a whole, men and women, participate fully in these fields that are so important, both now and in the future. In my case, I've had the privilege of being involved in the field of science for my entire life.

As you just heard, I did my PhD in chemistry at McGill at a time when women accounted for 5% to 10%, at most, of all PhD students in chemistry. Things are better now, but we still have a long way to go. I was also lucky enough to be able to go on to complete my studies in a field where there were more women; however, I also saw that there were more women at certain levels in biology and life sciences. There were a lot of women in university undergraduate programs. Even now, women still make up the majority, but the proportion decreases as you go up the career ladder, and this is something very important that needs to be addressed. I've also had the privilege of being involved in academic administration where, once again, women are in the minority, and there's no reason, really, why this should be so. We have some extraordinary leaders. Maybe we need to give them a place, make room for them, encourage them to take on these leadership roles. And, of course, over the past few years, I've been in government, where I've truly seen the importance of the diversity of training for various government positions. Scientists can make a contribution just about anywhere, even in departments that are not science-based, and it's always good to have diversity in terms of training, disciplines, etc. So, I'm looking forward to having an actual conversation about the nitty-gritty of this issue.

We really need to… if we want to make much faster progress, we're going to have to focus on where the problems are—and the problems are in various places, depending on the STEM field concerned. The problem in engineering is getting women to study engineering; in biology and the life sciences, the problem is having women pursue careers and get promotions in these fields. The pace of progress is also very important. Recently, there was a study that showed that, in some fields, particularly computer science, at the rate we've been going for the last 20 years, it'll take us 280 years before we achieve parity in publications from female and male authors in these fields. Even in biology, where—and I've been saying this for a few minutes now—the situation is much better, it'll still take 28 years to reach this parity. So, think about it… we're not even talking 20 years here, we're talking 25 years. It's the same thing as the climate change issue. Imagine! So, I'm really looking forward to discussing all this. I thank you again for having me, and I hope that you all feel engaged by this issue in our society.

[Margaret's panel joins Mona's.]

Margaret Meroni: Great. Thank you, Mona. And now, I'll give the floor to Sarah. Thank you and welcome.

[Sarah's panel returns, filling the screen. A purple title card pops up in the bottom corner for a moment, identifying her as Sarah Paquet, Director and Chief Executive Officer, Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada.]

Sarah Paquet: Thank you. Hi everyone! It's a pleasure for me to join Margaret and Mona today for this discussion. My experience is different from Mona's in that I studied science at CEGEP. I loved science. At the time, it was known as "universal science." The program allowed you to choose any science courses and add them to your curriculum. Despite my experience, and the fact that I loved science, I actually attended an all-boys school. When I got to college level, the teachers didn't appreciate having women in their classes along with the young boys they had been teaching over the past five years. The teachers were the same ones that taught high school. Because I was a girl, I was a nuisance. And, despite my good grades, I was completely ignored. Ignored from start to finish. My friends were very nice; we did our labs together, and the teacher always gave feedback to the boys, and I wasn't included in these discussions. So, today I still wonder if the fact that I didn't go into science was a result of all this, or because I became interested in something else. It's a question that has stayed with me.

My involvement in the cause of women in science began when I joined Shared Services Canada in 2017. I was the only woman on the management committee, and the fact that I was a woman had definitely been one of the selection criteria, because the management committee had realized that they needed to have at least one woman on the management committee. I was well received. I had good support. My colleagues were very co-operative. However, I quickly realized that this was not the case for all women in the organization, and that the fact that I was giving them hope that it was now possible for them was not enough. I had to do more for these women. So, I started talking about it with my colleagues. I think I got some polite nods. I also got some implicit denials that the organization was having problems attracting and retaining women. So, I became increasingly vocal. I started talking about needs. I started creating events, and the response to these events really provided a response to the need. We started with the panel challenge to encourage people to refuse to take part in panels that were not diverse. Once again, we looked at the management committee to see who had embraced the challenge and who had not implicitly signed on and collaborated. Then we conducted campaigns to promote 20 women in 20 days in 2020. A number of organizations did the same thing. Then I realized that the problem was not just in the public sector—the same issue existed in the private sector, educational institutions and NPOs. So, I started inviting them to my events, and I got the same response.

Women needed to get together, needed to share, needed to create networks to address this issue. I also noticed that men did not participate in these events. They wouldn't come on their own. And when I personally invited them and asked them to play a role, the response was lukewarm at best. However, the reason it was like this was because they felt uncomfortable. So, I learn from one event to the next, and I'm still learning, and the men who join us, who participate in our discussions, also learn and become ambassadors. I've met some fantastic men along this journey, men who are true allies, who speak out, who create events on their own. We need to continue this. The pandemic did not help. We've made very slow progress, as you heard from Mona, in getting more women into science. Women were harder hit by the pandemic, and so we stepped back for a bit. We need to work even harder now to bring these women back into the marketplace, back into the world of science, because there's so much more to do. So, I'm really pleased to be part of today's conversation, because we need to be part of history so that history reflects us and meets our needs. Otherwise, the coming generations will still live in a world created by men, for men. Thank you.

[All three panels return.]

Margaret Meroni: Great. Thank you. Thank you both. You've presented this issue in a very interesting way. Now I'd like to follow up by asking a few questions and getting you to expand on some of the topics you talked about, and some others that we haven't yet touched on. I alluded to it in my opening statement, but I'd like to go back to the importance of encouraging young women to develop an interest in STEM from a very young age. As two exceptional women who have worked in STEM fields and who advocate for other women in these fields, can you talk a little bit about the importance of getting young women interested in STEM from a young age? Sarah, you already touched on this topic, but perhaps you could add a few more thoughts?

[Sarah's panel fills the screen.]

Sarah Paquet: I think it's important to realize that if you ask kids in elementary school to draw a scientist, they're going to draw a man with gray hair, glasses and a white coat. We're a long way from princesses… and perhaps we need scientist princesses, but that's another matter. I think that, in general, when a woman applies for a position, she'll wait until she meets all the requirements before applying, whereas a man will just apply right away. The same thing happens with our young women. Our young women in high school don't have anything with which to identify themselves. We do have female role models, but we don't promote them enough.

A girl with 87 average thinks she's good. If her average is below 87, she doesn't think she's good enough to go into science. A boy with 78 average thinks he's really good. He goes into science. We have stereotypes that are in place. There is a lack of role models, but I would go even further and say that the promotion of our role models is lacking, which means that our young women do not associate themselves with science. We have a lot of young women who want to go into the medical field, because we have a lot of young women who would be interested in creating prosthetics for children who have lost a limb. But they don't necessarily associate mechanical engineering with the prosthetic and the child. So how can we help our society define our scientific issues in a way that is more appealing to young women? We have issues to solve in the arts. We have environmental issues to solve. We have societal issues that our young women would like to become involved with, but when we define scientific occupations, it's not the pictures that they see in their heads. I think we have a lot of work to do in terms of stereotypes, and it starts within families, at school, with the presentation of science, with encouragement… we have a lot of work to do because all the important decisions that we'll be making as a society over the next 10 years will have a scientific basis. And if we don't manage to bring women to these tables, they won't be part of these important decisions.

[All three panels return for a moment before Dr. Mona's fills the screen.]

Mona Nemer: Sarah touched on two points that for me are very, very important. The first is really the weight of society, the culture, the stereotypes that are always with us, and it's a problem that is even more important in certain environments. We talked about the scarcity of Indigenous women going into science studies, women of colour, especially black women who come from backgrounds where there is really no encouragement, no sensitivity to the importance of science. So, the stereotypes are unfortunately still with us, and those who we call role models, the examples that we have to put in front of girls and boys, by the way, is really very important. I would say, when a female scientist is portrayed,

[All three panels return as Dr. Mona speaks.]

it's always someone with retro glasses, with a ponytail . . . that's not cool. You know, that's not cool. So, I think that's something that's important. Just look at the TV show The Big Bang Theory, look at Sheldon's girlfriend; not all women are necessarily going to identify with that kind of image of a woman. So that's an important point.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

The second point is the environment as well. I mean, I'm saddened, but I'm not surprised, unfortunately, to hear that Sarah's experience in secondary school, in CEGEP, was not a positive one. There are studies that show that in classes where there are hidden cameras, you can see in math and science classes that the teachers, and the male teachers, in particular, but also the female teachers, they were much more concerned with the boys than the girls. But that continues. You know, the environment . . . it's how supportive the environment ultimately is of girls and women. It's not just a women's issue, it's also the environment itself. Is it an environment that is hostile? Is it an environment that is welcoming and supportive and perhaps recognizes the different needs of girls as well?

Perhaps the last point I would add is the way that careers in science are described. So, we always think that someone who has been in science is going to have a lab coat, always be in a lab and in the corner all alone, whereas that is not at all the reality of scientific research. It is an extraordinary team effort, but we also need scientists everywhere. The law needs scientists. I have judges in the Supreme Court of Canada who have already discussed with me how we are going to ensure that our judges, our lawyers, have more scientific knowledge, because there are many cases that are now coming in with a lot of science in them. So, I think that's also important. The same thing with engineering; it's always described as maybe an engineer on a job site with a hard hat, but engineers are not just on job sites and, for that matter, if you look at the field of engineering where there are the most women in relation to engineering, for example, electrical, mechanical, civil, etc., it's clear that, as a society, as an educational institution, whether it's universities, colleges or schools, we need to do a better job of explaining what careers you can expect to have with an education in science.

[Margaret's panel rejoins, taking up the right half of the screen.]

Margaret Meroni: Great. Thank you. So, Mona, I'd love to know where your interest in STEM originated. You've seen the obvious under-representation of women. Do you think that influenced your own experience?

Mona Nemer: Look, I think my interest in science was really an interest in discovery, in the new, what, the adventure to some extent because that's what science is also about.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

It's to understand this universe that surrounds us. So, that's part of it when I think about when I was still at school, but actually, at one point, I was at a girl's school where we didn't have the option of a science curriculum. And then I thought it wasn't fair, that women should have the same opportunities—as girls, in this case—as boys. So, I got involved in getting this changed to have a curriculum for girls and I think that victory ultimately impacted me, impacted me a lot. It was both a personal interest in science, as well as an interest in making sure that just because you're a girl, there aren't certain doors that are going to be closed to you, like automatically. So, it was small and bigger battles for science, but I mean, personally, I've gotten a lot of satisfaction from a science career involving various jobs, and I think that's absolutely compatible with being a woman, a normal woman with a family and everything. So, I would like to offer that opportunity to everybody, to all young women.

[All three panels return.]

Margaret Meroni: Great. Thank you. Sarah, you mentioned the experience where there was a lack of commitment from men. So, were there any particular barriers that you had to overcome because of your gender?

[Sarah's panel fills the screen.]

Sarah Paquet: Oh, absolutely. And it's even difficult to admit it to myself. As I became more involved in supporting the cause of women, I realized the barriers I had overcome over the years. I think there was a part of me that refused to see it, but there was also a part of me that dealt with it by refusing to see it. So, there were a lot of things that happened to me on a daily basis that I blocked out so that I wouldn't have to address it and I could keep going and not let it discourage me. So, at a very young age, when I became a manager . . . very early in my career, I would be in rooms, I would give my opinion, people would repeat my ideas, would reiterate my points, and then completely ignore the fact that I was in the room. At the time, I thought it was because I was 15 years younger than everyone else at the table. But as I continued, I realized that it wasn't just about age.

Then I realized that men, not always consciously, are very comfortable with themselves. It's natural for them to support each other, and, as a result, they will always make more room at the table to ask for someone else's opinion, to support someone else's opinion. As women, in general, we think more, we get more in our heads before we speak. It is so much easier to cut us off because the men are always faster, because they just react, whereas we think and then we try to find our place. Then, after doing some research, I realized that men would interrupt a woman three times more than another man. It doesn't make sense, but it's the reality. It's been documented. When I was talking to my colleagues about it, they would say, "Sarah, I never noticed, but now that you're telling me . . ." Now they notice and now they're going to pay attention. So, women face micro aggressions every day. Every day. Whether it's something as simple as ignoring a woman in a room or just taking up all the space at the table, leaving her hardly any room to sit. Whether it's talking about her hair or clothes or just the language used is different when describing assertive female behaviour versus assertive male behaviour. So being aware of that helps us to one, talk about it, and two, react and stop accepting it.

I experienced an incident that was very decisive in my career where I was having a rather active discussion with a supervisor in a room where there were almost only men. Then, at one point during the discussion, he said to me, "Ah, I'm tired of arguing with you! It's like arguing with my wife." Totally inappropriate. Did any of my 25 colleagues around the table say anything? No. Did I say anything? No. I just kept going. When I walked out of the room, there was a woman who came up to me, and she said, "Sarah, that doesn't make sense. He would never do that to one of your colleagues." I said, "No, no. Other people don't argue. I'm persistent. That's why it's harder." Then at that moment I realized that I was blocking out those attacks. By blocking them out, I was not addressing them. And by not addressing them, I was part of the problem.

[All three panels return to the screen. Margaret gives a little nod.]

So, you really have to be aware of that. Then, from that moment on, I decided that I would never again let myself be treated like that or let a colleague be treated like that. And never again would I walk out of a room without sharing what I had to say, even if they interrupted me, even if they didn't listen to me, even if they didn't make room to hear me. I had made a decision that I would no longer leave the room without saying what I had to say. And I tell all the young women around me that, but you have to be aware of it because you have survival mechanisms in a world like that. If we're not aware of our unconscious mechanisms, we can't address them.

Margaret Meroni: Great. Mona, anything to add or can I go on?

Mona Nemer: Ah, listen, I have many stories, funny anecdotes that maybe are not necessarily funny to tell, but I will say that, when I was . . .

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

Like I told you, I was always among the female minority, and we were not taken seriously. They thought we were . . . that I was the boss's secretary. Or when I went to scientific conferences, I was finally . . . it was my spouse who was there, that I was the companion. So, well. At first you take it with a grain of salt, but after a while, it's more problematic. The times when it started to be very significant, the men's attitude towards me, in my environment, is, of course, when I climbed up the ladder. And that's when I started to say to myself, "Well, why do I have to be twice as good as them, but have to speak, say what I have to say, four times before I'm heard?" etc. There was a kind of refusal to accept my presence, not my authority, but ultimately my role and responsibilities as someone who was, for example, on the executive committee, who was in management positions. So, I would say that I still experience some. It hasn't disappeared yet. Sometimes I wonder with some colleagues if the fact that I have to repeat the same thing or that the person is not listening to me but is listening to someone else who has just said the same thing, is not because I am a woman. It hurts, but you have to keep going. You have to be determined and then keep going. It doesn't make the job any easier, does it?

[All three panels return.]

Margaret Meroni: Absolutely. Well done, both of you. So, we've already covered several barriers. Really, there are barriers that women, in general, must overcome in STEM.

[Margaret's panel fills the screen.]

There are many reasons women choose not to go into STEM study programs or careers, including a lack of understanding or awareness of career paths, issues related to conscious and unconscious biases, and concerns about limited opportunities for career advancement. There are considerations for problems balancing work and family obligations, or other personal priorities. So, Mona, I would like to ask you . . . the data indicates that women are under-represented in STEM fields in general, but in your experience, are there specific fields where this is more pronounced than others?

[All three panels return.]

Even in fields where women may face fewer barriers at the entry level, do you see that once they reach a management position, they hit a glass ceiling? Can you tell us what this looks like in government?

Mona Nemer: Well, I don't have a lot of experience in government. Sarah may be better equipped than I am, but I can tell you that around the table, for example, of deputy ministers of science departments, assistant deputy ministers of science, women are a minority.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen, and her purple title card returns for a moment.]

So, I think the question that needs to be asked and that right now, for all sorts of reasons about how you collect data, how things are organized, I can tell you that I am determined to get to the bottom of that. It's not clear if women . . . ultimately, if the problem is career advancement or if it's retention. So, therefore, there are a lot of women who are at the lab level, at the development level, maybe the science level. But the question of "Why aren't women moving into higher positions?", I think, is important to address again because, if you have a retention problem, the solutions are different than if you have a promotion problem. They are problems that need to be fixed regardless, but you have to look at it the right way. It varies too, right? Again, on the engineering side, on the life sciences side, it's very different. But the end result is the same, and we have to admit that there is no parity, that women are not even in a third of the management positions.

[All three panels return.]

Now, on the academic side and the industry side, which I may also know a little bit better since I spent more time there, what I notice is that . . . academically, even if you take the life sciences, the percentage of full professors, so the highest you can be, that's 10–12 years as a professor, who are women is less than 20%. Less than 20% of women towards [sic] 21, whereas it's been, I would say, 20 years that at least 50% of the doctoral students in these fields have been young women. So, we have to ask ourselves: what is happening? In this case, we know what's happening. There are many more at the junior level, but those women either disappear or are not promoted.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

There are many who don't come back after, for example, maternity or parental leave. So, we have to look at whether the existing systems are sufficient and determine what more needs to be done. How can governments and institutions, since this is a societal problem, work together to ensure that we do not lose all this talent? The fewer women we have in these positions, the less we send the message to young women that . . . look, these are positions that are also for you.

[All three panels return.]

So, we remain in a kind of vicious circle that we really need to get out of.

Margaret Meroni: Yes. Indeed. Sarah, anything to add before I continue?

Sarah Paquet: Yes, I would also say that in government, we are victims of the same kind of system. As soon as there are more men in high-level positions, there are more men who choose the next people to reach the next level, and then there is a spiral effect. But I've seen it.

[Sarah's panel fills the screen. Her title card pops back in for a moment.]

I've seen young women who want to be executives told, "Why would you want to be an executive? You have three kids, that's where you should invest your time." I've seen women not get selected for development programs because someone said, "Well, she can't be out of the house, she has young children." So, there are unconscious biases that women, first, in order to stay, we have to make an extra effort in those areas to support them so that the environment encourages them to stay, and second, when it comes time to define their career, we need a lot more champions and support to make their voices heard and need to give them the chance because otherwise we end up with a generational hole. When we look at the next leaders, we say, "But they don't have the qualifications," and then we give promotions on merit. But if you don't open the door for women, they will never have the experience. If they don't have the experience, they can't apply for the next position.

[Margaret's panel returns.]

So, there's a lot of work to be done there. We are getting better. Parity is something that we talk about a lot, that we push a lot. But I would say that in the higher positions, there is still a need for a lot more openness.

Margaret Meroni: Yes. So, in your opinion, to what extent have the experiences of women who work in STEM in the government changed over the past 10 or 20 years, despite the challenges they continue to face?

Sarah Paquet: For my part, I believe that a little progress has been made—as we have discussed—but there is a huge amount of work to be done. The pandemic made us take a step back, so we really need to boost our efforts to raise our colleagues' awareness. And they want to be part of the solution, but we need a huge amount of education to counteract the societal stereotypes. They have existed for so many generations that we really need to invest more in correcting those stereotypes. Then there are people who are unhappy when we talk about parity.

[Dr. Mona's panel returns.]

So, we have to help them to understand the contributions that women can make in order to achieve better results for Canadians, and for society as a whole. But as Mona said earlier, if we continue to progress at the same pace, it will take hundreds of years. So, we have to do something. We have to do more.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

Mona Nemer: Maybe I'll add to that because, yes, indeed, there are programs and there are… we have aspirations, right? We encourage parity and targets and all that. But I think that the preparation part and also the part of how you assess the competencies for a position are extremely important. Studies show that women often have unusual career paths. Obviously, if it's usually men, women are going to be a bit unusual. I'm giving you the example of a university, but it could very well apply to government. So, at the university level, for example, to become a dean of a faculty, you must have been a department head and an associate dean. If you have not, you cannot become a dean. To become a university president, you have to have been a dean or vice-president. So, if we look at it that way, it will indeed take 100 years before we make any progress. But what is important is not the positions you have held, it's the competencies you have and the skills you have demonstrated in the positions you have held.

So, finally, how does being a department chair help you to become a dean? Maybe if you've been in a small institution that's not a university department, you've acquired the same competencies, and it's the same thing in government. So right now, I would say that our criteria and indicators favour people who are career-oriented rather than people who have competencies. And if we continue in this way, once again—I don't want to use stereotypes and say that women are not career-oriented even though, when they are ambitious, they are criticized, whereas for a man, it is seen as extraordinarily positive and means that he will achieve great things—we will have to look at what we establish as a promotion scale, and at specific positions where we want to have more women.

[All three panels return. In her panel, Margaret's title card pops in for a moment.]

Margaret Meroni: Definitely. Great. Thanks. This is really a very interesting discussion. So, we touched briefly on the pandemic. I will ask you about where we are currently. There's no doubt that the pandemic has magnified a lot of the barriers that women face in the STEM fields. But do you think the pandemic has also created opportunities for women? For example, do you think the presence of so many accomplished women in the medical fields on our screens during this crisis will serve as inspiration for a generation of young women? So, Mona, maybe, if you want to start.

[Sarah's panel leaves, making Dr. Mona's take up the left half of the screen.]

Mona Nemer: Yes, I was thinking about your question because, on the one hand, I would say partly yes and then, on the other hand, I would say that maybe the pandemic and working at home didn't necessarily help. Right? I'm sure that you, Sarah, and our colleagues listening to us, have had the experience of a Zoom meeting where a child has appeared on the screen, haven't you? And when it's a woman, she's obviously embarrassed because it's not professional, and it's a mistake.

[Sarah's panel rejoins.]

But when it's a man, the participants say, "Oooh, isn't he charming? He's looking after his children," and so on. So, I believe that, from that point of view, we have to ask ourselves some questions. The fact that women were at home, you know, is that not all women have help at home with their children so that they can perhaps enjoy not having to commute to work for an hour, etc. So, it has made things worse and that's where I would say that the whole issue of daycare and childcare support is important for women's careers.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

Obviously, flexibility, being present in person and perhaps being able to work from home are certainly improvements for women. In science, I've always said, "Look, we finally have a pretty flexible schedule." You must be flexible when you're teaching classes that can't be rearranged, but you finally don't have to take time off if you need to take a child to see the doctor. We can do our work in the evening or at another time. So, I'm not sure what to say. I think the most important thing that this pandemic has shown us is that women have been much more affected. There has been a kind of collective realization that we have taken for granted the fact that women have as much access to the labour market as men do and that, post-pandemic, all that may have to be done over again; so, the battle is not won. The gains are very fragile, and we have to redouble our efforts. So, there you have it.

[All three panels return.]

Margaret Meroni: Yes, no, I totally agree. Sarah, do you have anything to add?

Sarah Paquet: Yes, I'm also ambivalent about this issue because part of me is very proud that we have so many women who are chief public health officers and that they have been at the forefront of the pandemic. At the same time, I'm extremely sad because all the people working in the health field had an extraordinarily difficult year.

[Sarah's panel fills the screen.]

I also think that the pandemic means that women are still doing a lot of work in the home. The sharing of tasks is better than it was in previous decades, but a lot of improvement is still necessary in that area. So, even if there was flexibility, the woman was still the one who was taking care of the elderly family members. She was still the one who was taking care of the children who were experiencing contact anxiety and all that. So that side is negative. But the role model side is positive. Then, when I try to look at the positive side, I say to myself, "We just had a feminist budget," so this is definitely something that will help the next generations.

[All three panels return.]

As long as we live in a virtual world like the one we are in today, I think there are still opportunities for women. It's easier to have access to a mentor or coach when you don't have to travel. The coach just needs to click a link to contribute. It's easier to bring in speakers from all around the world to attend conferences, workshops or training because, once again, costs are lower and the demand on time is less.

[Sarah's panel fills the screen.]

So, I had a virtual coffee meeting yesterday morning with some friends with whom I had worked more than 10 years ago. It was the first time we all attended one of the activities we try to organize. However, we don't organize more than two a year because there is always someone going to hockey, someone taking care of a sick child and someone who is overworked at the office. But because of the pandemic, because we hold it in the morning, everyone was available, and it was nice to see each other. So, we have to try to find the positive in what we have, in what we have access to, but the big issue is whether the pandemic will have inspired young women. I hope so.

[Margaret's panel returns.]

Margaret Meroni: Me too. Maybe another question now. From your perspective and based on your experience, can you give us a breakdown of where women end up in STEM fields and of what we could do better to support the career paths of women in STEM in the public service? So, maybe Sarah, I'll start with you on that question.

Sarah Paquet: Ah, that's a topic that Mona is much more knowledgeable about than I am, but, generally speaking.

[Sarah's panel fills the screen.]

I would say that attracting women is one thing, retaining them is something else. So, once they've joined our work teams, we have to make sure that the system is there to retain them so that they have good support, that they have career development, that they have a flexible environment, and that we have men who are champions to make sure that their voices are heard and that their opinions are shared and supported. I had the same experience when I spoke to young female university students and to the deans of various engineering and science faculties. If young women at university are not supported in their work teams, they will not finish their university studies in science. So, I think that applies on many levels. Thank you.

[All three panels return.]

Margaret Meroni: Thank you. Mona, do you have anything to add?

Mona Nemer: On that point, I would say that… it may be anecdotal, but it's not because it's in line with the statistics we see for young women in engineering.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

I personally know several who started their career, their studies in engineering, absolutely talented young women who could have had an extraordinary career, but who left after a year or two at the most because the environment was toxic. So, you can imagine, that's at the academic level. It's not even afterwards in terms of work. So, I think there is a lot of introspection to be done and to really remove all the historical aspects. Remember that science started with monks who had time to look at weights and all the genetics, etc. There's still a whole stereotype related to the technology, physics and nuclear fields. It was power and men. It's not something that's necessarily attractive to women.

[All three panels return.]

Now, for the public service, what I would like to do is encourage a lot of recruitment of young women with scientific degrees in fields where we don't necessarily think of science because, again, if we think of the skills… the acquired skills and what that represents, in particular, young women who have done a little bit of research… Look, doing scientific research is ultimately looking at a problem, asking a question, deconstructing to get aspects that you can really address and coming up with hypotheses, establishing a logical path, analyzing data, reaching a conclusion, and then, if the conclusion doesn't fit with the hypothesis, trying something else. So, it's about adapting your thinking, your hypothesis, your technology, etc.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

I think we collectively underestimate what young women who have studied science can contribute both in laboratories and outside laboratories. And I would like to see many more young women recruited and supported in career development so that we can have a pool of women who can move into leadership positions and be part of the country's leadership. It would be quite normal for the leadership of the public service to be representative of the Canadian population we are serving.

[Margaret's panel returns.]

Margaret Meroni: Great. So, we touched on the key players, I would say, that can have the greatest influence on increasing the number of women in STEM fields. We touched on universities, what we're doing in government, employers, etc. Do you think that the media has a role to play? So, Mona, maybe I'll start with you.

Mona Nemer: Absolutely. There's a huge role for the media to play.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

First of all, when they're looking for spokespeople to comment on scientific, medical and other developments, they should try to reach out to women as much as to men. And then, on that point, I think that Sarah is right about the pandemic. We saw a lot more women than usual not only in public health but also in terms of the scientists and physicians who were speaking to the media. I also think the media has a role to play in demystifying what women look like, whether it's in TV shows, series and so on… and also in talking about the importance of the skills that are acquired, the possibilities––the potential, ultimately.

Listen, we're in the process of becoming a society that is absolutely going to depend more and more on computers, that is going to depend more and more on artificial intelligence, quantum technology, new materials, etc.

[All three panels return.]

Those are going to be jobs that will pay off in the future. So, if we really want to have economic parity and really provide opportunities for everyone, women are going to have to be more actively involved in the scientific disciplines, and the media has a role to play in that as well. I think governments are playing a good role that is increasingly proactive, but I think that we have to keep the pedal to the metal because there's still a lot to do.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

But governments… look, when they require that––in order to give grants, for example, to institutions, to groups, to scientific conferences––when they say that they require parity, I can assure you that it will happen. We've seen it in the very recent past, whether it's Canada, the United States or other places. And then the media can also hold governments and institutions accountable. They can also talk about the progress that's being made or not being made. So, yes, the media has a very important role to play, but everyone has an important role. It's really a societal issue.

[All three panels return.]

Margaret Meroni: Thank you, Mona. Sarah, anything to add, either about the media or employers, universities, or anything else?

Sarah Paquet: I think that was very comprehensive. It's a societal problem and everyone…  education is everyone's job, as is the matter of promotion. We have to get out of the old niches and be open in order to raise awareness of everything that's happening and try to participate in creating the future.

Margaret Meroni: Great. And, in the meantime, we're also talking about the role that men play, both at work and at home, to really help change the discourse that has historically kept women out of STEM fields.

Mona Nemer: Yes. Look, it was because of mostly male mentors that I was able to really have a meaningful career in science.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

For sure, the turning point was also when I had a female mentor whom I looked up to, who I wanted to be like, who was accomplished scientifically and personally with a family and everything. She was really successful in her life. But men have an extraordinarily important role to play at all levels, whether it's in education or the workplace. I think it's important to work from lists, again, and not from memory, because we always tend to remember who we've talked to recently when we're inviting people to roundtables and panels or giving promotions to. That's something that we have to be very careful about and I think that men who are still in very influential positions… we have to get them to work maybe a little bit differently too because, even though they want to support women, maybe they don't quite know how to do it. So, yes, you not only have to expect that from everybody, but you also have to equip them and help them to do it.

[All three panels return.]

Margaret Meroni: Good point. Sarah, do you have anything to add?

Sarah Paquet: I think men can do a lot. There are men who are doing a lot. They can lead by example and create safe environments. They have to be vulnerable and uncomfortable. They'll never be women. Let's give them the space to not understand everything, but, at the same time, if they admit that they have to learn and they have to admit what they don't know,

[Sarah's panel fills the screen.]

-they'll be able to become coaches, mentors and champions, promote women, make sure that they have balanced management committees, and call out any abuse that's happening. It's not easy for a man to go against another man to support a woman, but, if we start doing it, they're going to get more and more comfortable doing it. The emails I get from fathers thanking me for creating a better future for their daughters make me so happy. But that's the thing––you have to give these champions the space to find their place and then support them on their journey. But there are outstanding champions. I will name two: Martin Bernier, Chief Information Officer at the University of Ottawa, and Luc Villeneuve who is President of Benchmark, a software company. They have taken it up as their cause. They create events. They create forums. They build best practices. They invite their colleagues. So, there are men who are visible and vulnerable, who are uncomfortable and who continue to move forward in this. We need to bring others in, and we need to support them.

[Margaret's panel returns.]

Margaret Meroni: That's right. We could keep talking about this all day. I know that we're getting towards the end of this event. Maybe before we finish, Sarah, I'll give you the floor if there's anything else you'd like to leave us with as thoughts or opinions or whatever.

Sarah Paquet: I would say that women must also take their future into their own hands. As a woman, it's hard. We're not used to asking; we wait for people to offer us opportunities. It's a very feminine characteristic. So, we have to ask. We have to use our voices. We have to support other women too.

[Sarah's panel fills the screen.]

I haven't just had great female mentors in my career. I want to be a good mentor, but I need others to be there. So, one of the things I do is, every time I do a coaching or mentoring session, I ask that the woman I'm doing it with do it again with another woman just to create that movement. I think there's a lot of room for improvement, but there are a lot of people who are motivated and engaged, and I thank them for participating.

[All three panels return.]

Margaret Meroni: Excellent. And Mona, back to you.

Mona Nemer: I, for one, think this is an extremely important conversation for our future. I think we need to keep talking about it. It's not a war against men.

[Dr. Mona's panel fills the screen.]

Men are going to benefit as much as women when there is parity, whether it's for their spouses, whether it's for their children, whether it's for their sisters, etc. They have a very important role to play. We must recognize the progress we've made. I think the fact that we're talking about it without having to hide it is already very important. It's not something that's marginalized; it's acceptable and accepted and encouraged. But we need to ask for the pace of change to be accelerated. And I think there's nothing better than to also reward those who are going to champion this. So, we need to look at our reward system for incentives that are not just financial. It's a matter of recognizing those who are really participating in this collective effort and in this very important social progress. I would end by saying that women of certain races and Indigenous women have twice as many… face twice as many challenges and obstacles, and we need to remember that and really help them.

[All three panels return.]

It starts even earlier than for other women. So, we have to keep in mind that we're not all at the same starting line even though we all want to be at the same finish line.

Margaret Meroni: Great. Okay, so on behalf of the School, I want to thank you, Mona and Sarah, for accepting our invitation. Thank you for sharing your perspectives with us. It has really been a privilege to share this space with you today. So, thank you very much. I'd also like to thank the virtual participants who are with us today.

[Margaret's panel fills the screen.]

I hope you found the conversation as interesting as I did and that you got some new ideas from it that you can build on. And I invite you to give us your feedback by filling out the evaluation form that you'll receive by email. Your feedback is important to us. Lastly, I encourage everyone to watch for the next episode of the Virtual Café on June 10th. We'll be talking about modern Europe with Stefanie Beck, who is Deputy High Commissioner for Canada in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and also Ailish Campbell, Ambassador Designate of Canada to the European Union, as well as Michelle d'Auray, former Ambassador and Deputy Minister to the OECD. So, registration is open, and we hope you'll join us.

[All three panels return.]

With that, we'll end the event today. Again, thank you very much ladies, and to everyone, thank you and have a good day. Goodbye.

Sarah Paquet: Thank you.

Mona Nemer: Goodbye.

[The chat fades to the animated white Canada School of Public Service logo appears on a purple background. Its pages turn, closing it like a book. A maple leaf appears in the middle of the book that also resembles a flag with curvy lines beneath. The government of Canada Wordmark appears: the word "Canada" with a small Canadian flag waving over the final "a." The screen fades to black.]

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