Women* supporting women* is the key to our success and identity in STEM

Helping each other helps us stay strong and present in these often intimidating and male-dominated spaces

Photo courtesy of nwPlus via Facebook

By: Kitty Cheung, Staff Writer

Author’s Note: The asterisks (*) have been included by the writer, as organizers of nwPlus UBC have, in order to “specifically and intentionally include cis and trans women, as well as non-binary, agender and intersex people” in their definition of women.

I found my high school science department to be uninspiring, to say the least. At this critical point in adolescence and education, whatever I was learning in science classes in the poor way it was taught deterred me from wanting to pursue science further.

When a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) club was founded at my school, I remember being excited. Rather than remaining deep in textbooks, I finally had the opportunity to learn hands-on by playing with robotics kits and trying out coding challenges.  

One of my problems getting there, though, was that I was only one of the few female* students in that club. When I tried reaching out to other female* friends within my grade, there didn’t seem to be many people who had genuine interest in doing science for fun. How much of that I can attribute to their inherent interest and how much to lack of external encouragement, I cannot guess.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend an all-women* hackathon. A hackathon is an event where teams of people work together on technical projects within a time limit, and network while they’re together in a space. The tech industry is known for being a sausage party of sorts, and the need for an event such as this hackathon was made clear by the over 150 other hackers who signed up. The event, titled “cmd-f,” was hosted by nwPlus UBC and marketed as “Vancouver’s first all-female* hackathon”.

One thing that I really admire about the way this hackathon was coordinated was that one of the organizing principles was “Women* Helping Women*.” Throughout the weekend, I saw this value being implemented in activities such as a clothing swap, where all leftover garments would be donated to women* in the Downtown Eastside. Mentors providing guidance to teams for their projects. The development of ideas that were geared towards women*’s safety in STEM workplaces.

Most important was the general camaraderie between my fellow girl* geeks. It was an uplifting experience to focus on themes that supported our identities as women* rather than just students of STEM.

In my meagre hackathon experience, I’ve never seen so many women* gathered together in a STEM-themed event. Often times I’ve felt out of place and lacking in experience compared to my male teammates, who seemed to be light-years ahead of me in terms of skill level. In contrast, this hackathon was an optimal environment for me; it was beginner-friendly and supportive, screaming “girl* power!” in its very inception.

Closing the STEM gender gap has been the focus of quite a few recent programs, such as AI4ALL, a summer program to teach young women* about Artificial Intelligence (AI), the SFU branch of which is directed by Dr. Angelica Lim, and Kode with Klossy, a coding camp for girls* launched by fashion model Karlie Kloss. There are many other male-dominated industries — tech is just one. It’s creating a community of women* helping women* that makes for a more gender-inclusive and diverse workplace.

Rather than merely placing women* in these roles of leadership, I think it’s especially important that women* are able to create their own leadership roles and partnerships, so that we ourselves can foster confidence and allyship among fellow women*. The aforementioned programs are STEM examples, of course, but this concept of women* helping women* can be applied to any other discipline. Women* can kick ass and empower each other to kick ass in any field.