​International Women’s Day event encourages conversation on gender balance in STEM

By Sheri Block 

The Princess Margaret's Dr. Danielle Rodin (pictured left) will be speaking at the event along with other female leaders in science and tech.

While women make up 60 per cent of undergraduates majoring in science and technology in Canada, only 28.8 per cent of scientists working in research and development around the world are women. 

According to a report from UNESCO, the gap only widens as women move through their career, with just 24 per cent of mid-level and 13 per cent of senior-level research positions filled by women.

This discrepancy in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is the inspiration behind an International Women’s Day event called “Creating Gender Balance in the Biological Sciences” held tonight at JLABS@Toronto, in partnership with University Health Network (UHN). This is the second year the two organizations have collaborated on the networking event for women across UHN.

Dr. Danielle Rodin, Radiation Oncologist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Assistant Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Toronto, will be speaking at the event along with other female leaders in STEM. She is looking forward to highlighting some of the unique issues women face.

“I think one of the things that the panel is trying to do is raise awareness around these implicit biases that we have around gender-based decision making and why women are not moving through the ranks,” says Dr. Rodin. “We are pretty good at getting entry-level women into the sciences, but we can’t seem to advance them in the same way that we do men.”

Even though Dr. Rodin was raised in a gender-positive household and was always encouraged to pursue whatever career path she wanted (her mom worked for the Canadian Human Rights Commission), she has taken an interest in gender diversity issues to help other women entering STEM fields. 

“I think the last couple of years, the increasing awareness around gender diversity, more broadly around the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, have made me reflect about my own training experiences and what we can do as a department for trainees going forward,” says Dr. Rodin. 

The statistics show a lot of young girls are already interested in STEM, but the challenge is to make sure these girls are set up for success and mentored and supported along the way. 

“In the biological sciences, we don’t have an entry problem. We have a retention and advancement problem,” says Dr. Rodin. 

Dr. Rodin works in an environment with strong female leaders – her department is headed up by Dr. Fei-Fei Liu and the Cancer Centre’s Medical Director is Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz.

“I’ve actually been very fortunate to have some very strong female mentors and I would say that’s one of the biggest things I would credit with my own success thus far.”

Dr. Rodin says addressing issues around equal opportunities and pay for women are extremely important and encourages everyone to get involved in the conversation.

“This isn’t just a problem from within institutions, this is a real societal issue we have to deal with.” 

Find out more information about the event here.  

International Women's Day is Friday, March 8. Learn more about the day and the #BalanceforBetter campaign theme here