Borno’s IWD message: Enlighten girls about STEM at early age

Embracing equity is the major theme of the 2023 edition of International Women’s Day, which is taking place today, and the way Ruba Borno sees it, events like these and others can truly make a difference, particularly when it comes to attracting more women into the technology sector.

Borno, vice president of worldwide channels and alliances with AWS, said in a one-on-one interview with IT World Canada last week, prior to a Women of Inspiration panel organized to highlight the importance of diversion, equity and inclusion (DEI), that she knows what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated world.

“I earned my PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, and at the time, the percentage of women in the engineering program was about 15 per cent,” she recalled. In the area of her specialty, which revolved around wireless integrated microsystems, the number dwindled to a mere five per cent.

“It certainly is a small percentage of female representation in those disciplines. And I think that is why, when we look at diversity and equity and inclusion, we’ve really got to look at the entire talent lifecycle, not just once people get in the door of an organization.”

A key driver needs to happen earlier, she said, long before the university years, adding that an example of that occurred last month when the Montreal Science Centre held its sixth Women and Girls of Science event, co-sponsored by AWS Canada.

Organizers estimate there were upwards of 3,600 girls, aged six and up, who were invited to “touch a human brain, make their own sanitizing hand gel, recognize marine mammals using virtual reality and play with lab equipment.”

In addition, they experienced what it was like to go into space, courtesy of Quebec’s Farah Alibay, who grew up in Joliette, and is now a systems engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), an organization “whose missions have flown to every planet and the Sun in a quest to understand our place in the universe, and to search for the possibility of life beyond Earth.”

A release issued by the centre following the event noted that she “shared stories about how she became a member of NASA’s team, and also shared about the challenges she overcame as a woman and a woman of colour. Her talk sought to inspire young girls to pursue their dreams of making their own mark in an exciting career in science.”

Alibay pointed out in the release that “less than 30 per cent of those working in STEM fields are women, yet we represent more than 50 per cent of the world’s population. Encouraging young girls to enter and establish themselves in these fields will help us take on the challenges of the future.”

The world of tomorrow will be full of technical and environmental challenges, she said, “and we will need everyone’s contributions to help us find solutions and put them into action. STEM fields owe it to themselves to be increasingly inclusive. Women must be encouraged to enter these fields, and be welcomed in these fields, and given the opportunity to make their mark.”

While there is no doubt these and other initiatives are critical, women also need the opportunity to purse a career in technology through training programs, said Borno. One example of that is an initiative AWS Canada has carried out with Calgary-based Momentum involving its re/Start program, which now operates in 180 countries.

AWS describes it as a “cohort-based workforce development training program that prepares individuals for careers in the cloud and connects them to potential employers. A technology background is not required to apply. The program is free to the learner and focused on helping unemployed or underemployed individuals launching a new career.”

And while such DEI projects are important, Borno stressed that “we have to make sure we are looking at diversity in a full spectrum way. Absolutely gender is a component, but it’s not the only component. There’s ethnicity, there’s tenure, there’s veteran status, there’s ability.

“I think the largest minority group in the world is the disabled, and we’ve got to make sure that we are including all of those individuals when thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Luis Robinson

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