February might feel like that month that is kind of just there. It comes right after the winter holidays, when we have all eaten and spent in excess and it’s right in the way of better weather. But what if I told you that February is actually a really significant month? Not only is it my birth month (I had to slip that in there) but more importantly, it’s the month that we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
This International Day sheds a powerful light on the strong women in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Typically male dominated, these fields need women to bridge the gender gap and contribute to research because science needs more voices.
We had the privilege to chat with four women working in STEM: Jessica Zeroual, Rabia Sajjad, Bindi Doshi and Dr. Eleanor Berryman. These women, all of which were from different departments across the Government of Canada (GC), shared pride in their work that has the power to influence those who come after them - and maybe even those before them.
Jessica Zeroual: The Empathetic Innovator
The first woman we spoke with was Jessica Zeroual, a researcher at Employment and Social Development Canada’s (ESDC) Innovation Lab. The Lab helps ESDC employees solve challenges they may experience along the policy to service continuum. Jessica’s role involves supporting these employees and providing them with innovative tools to help them tackle challenges by leveraging the lived experiences of Canadians. And get this, the Lab is predominantly women, who she refers to as “powerhouses”! Siri, play Beyoncé’s “Run the world (Girls)”.
Jessica is a part of a team that comes with a wide range of backgrounds and skill sets. They STEM (see what I did there?) from behavioural science, quantitative research, ethnographic research and the list goes on. I asked her why this diversity in skill sets is so crucial and she explained that, “Everyone is able to bring something different to the table. We can work together to identify and solve problems because our skill sets address different kinds of challenges.”
“I believe that a lot of our research is guided by empathy. And that is a huge advantage when it comes to research because we need to empathize with the population we serve.”
This team finds success in taking the time to understand the person and the problem in order to find the best solution. Jessica also stressed the importance of empathy by saying, “I believe that a lot of our research is guided by empathy. And that is a huge advantage when it comes to research because we need to empathize with the population we serve.” By putting themselves in another’s shoes, these women are fully immersing themselves in the research and as a result, they are helping us all.
Rabia Sajjad: The Passionate Programmer
A computer programmer on the Open Government Portal Development team at Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), Rabia Sajjad is relatively new to the public service, but that hasn’t stopped her from being a force to be reckoned with. Her role is to help develop and improve the Portal, where thousands of government datasets and information are published for Canadians.
Rabia’s GC career began uniquely through the Post-Secondary Recruitment Campaign. This is a program that helps college and university graduates looking for jobs in computer science within the GC. The women are matched with potential employers in various ways, including in-person meet and greets called ConneCSion, where employers can offer jobs on the spot. Rabia is one of over 100 candidates to find a job through the initiative.
“My team always supports me, and my contributions are valued in the decision-making process in all phases of design and development.”
When her father enrolled her in computer camp during the summer of eighth grade, Rabia’s interest in computer programming began to flourish. She learned how to code and that sparked a light inside her. “That summer camp was the catalyst for me. It influenced the classes I took in high school and eventually my undergraduate and master’s degrees” she said. This drives home the fact that it is so important to be surrounded by people who support and uplift you. With her father’s encouragement pushing her into a widely male dominated field, she was able to find something that she was really passionate about and smash stereotypes. Even though she’s one of the only women on her team, Rabia has nothing but praise for her male colleagues, “My team always supports me, and my contributions are valued in the decision-making process in all phases of design and development.”
Bindi Doshi: Coast-to-Coast-to-Coast Collaborator
Next up, we chatted with Bindi Doshi, an instructional designer at the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions Canada (OFSI), where she trains employees on the big shift from paper to digital. Bindi’s role is considered non-traditional STEM, however her job has a strong focus on technology by finding the right tools for collaboration. Of course, there are challenges and hurdles, but luckily with brilliant people like Bindi contributing to these initiatives, success is inevitable.
“I asked myself: do we have to use the current tools, or should we experiment? And it was through our own experimentation that we found new collaboration tools.”
Throughout her career in the GC, Bindi has seen firsthand the importance of working collaboratively. “It was in my previous job that I realized that we cannot work in isolation from our other teams. The isolation made it difficult for each team to properly communicate and coordinate” she explained. “I asked myself: do we have to use the current tools, or should we experiment? And it was through our own experimentation that we found new collaboration tools.” I smile and think to myself: if this isn’t “taking matters into your own hands”, I don’t know what is. Bindi explains this as a “paradigm shift” and encourages others to follow suit by “shifting our mindset and knowing we don’t have to be stuck with what we have.” I can’t help but think how universal her message is, as we can apply it to many aspects of our lives that go beyond work.
Bindi concludes the interview with a strong message to all young women looking to get into STEM, “Look past what is available. Go out and discover what is out there and see what’s possible.”
Dr. Eleanor Berryman: The Rock-Solid Scientist
A mineralogist at Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Dr. Eleanor Berryman’s work focuses on the environmental impacts of ferrochrome, which is used to make stainless steel. She studies different compounds to learn where and how they form. It’s safe to say her work is pretty important considering it helps ensure the health and safety of those working in ferrochrome production, along with those who live near the plants and ensuring the proper regulations are put forth.
Growing up with parents who were both scientists, they encouraged Dr. Berryman’s curiosity in the field. But in high school, she wasn’t sure that her career would lead to science. As she explained, “I always looked at careers where women were represented - like nursing and teaching.” With a lack of female representation in the STEM fields, she wasn’t even going to consider it. But her female science teacher encouraged her to go for a career in science, “You’re a scientist, plain and simple”, she told her. That single line of encouragement lit the fire she needed. She went on to receive an undergraduate and master’s degree in earth and planetary sciences, a PhD in mineralogy, followed by postdoctoral work from Princeton in mineral physics.
“Diversity breeds diversity. Science will only benefit from better ideas when we make space for everyone at the table.”
Dr. Berryman is passionate about encouraging more women to thrive in their science careers and stresses the importance of welcoming more transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary persons and people of colour to the field. “Diversity breeds diversity. Science will only benefit from better ideas when we make space for everyone at the table.” MIC DROP. I can’t help but be in awe, what wise words from such a young woman.
Although there is so much more I could say about these women’s stories, I feel lucky to have been able to share a glimpse of it with you. These conversations not only made me proud of them, but it was also a good reminder about the importance of inclusion. Diverse mindsets, unique backgrounds, various genders - we can benefit from it all.
“Here’s to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them” – Unknown
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