Today is International Women’s Day. This means many things to many people, both celebrating women and their accomplishments and highlighting inequities that need to be reversed. I don’t need to reiterate the dialogue here – we are inundated with the conversations daily.

From the International Women’s Day site:

International Women’s Day has been observed since in the early 1900s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

The past hundred years have seen great advances for women: we have gained the vote, right to work, right to hold public office and more, in many countries around the world. And we all know there is still much to be done. A short video from the Canada Foundation for Innovation features interviews from five prominent (female) Canadian scientists and engineers in academia:

Women and science – International Women’s Day 2012

In the video, Dr. Suzanne Fortier (President, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council) comments:

“We need to encourage young women to think about science and engineering, as well as making sure that if they choose those disciplines, we provide them with a good environment to succeed, and then if they choose to pursue it as a career, that we support them in realizing their goals. There’s not one solution; we have to do it all from [a] very early age all the way to the career stages.”

Over and over again, I am hearing that we need female mentors in the STEM fields. I believe this is true of any profession; why else do we see so many children following in their parents’ footsteps? For myself, I studied electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo, but never felt I had a true mentor, throughout school or my professional career. I wonder if I’d be encouraged from a younger age to embrace the more traditionally “masculine” fields if I would be designing hardware, or conducting research on a regular basis, rather than working in the “softer” field of technical marketing. I am fortunate, however, to have been able to develop my voice to the point where I can act as an advocate for those women who are in the field.

I believe we need to open up the traditional definition of technical careers so we don’t turn our girls off. If we position engineering as more creative, fun and engaging, we can try to appeal to a broader demographic of students. Key to this is positioning female technology workers where they can be seen. Women tend to shy away from self-promotion, but it is crucial that we begin to speak up for ourselves when we can. I think awareness of the issues is one of the first steps, along with support and encouragement for those who are stepping up and giving their time in this respect.

There are several organizations in (and near) our local community working to raise the profile of women in technology and I urge you to check them out if you’ve not already done so:

Additionally there is a great list of resources provided by the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology.

Who are the women in technology in your life? Let’s celebrate them today – let us know in the comments!