Equity, diversity and inclusion embedded into our culture, reflected in our research
At first glance, it can be discouraging to look at the numbers.
Less than 30 per cent of all researchers worldwide are women and a similar number of female students entering university are choosing to enter STEM-related (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs, according to recent data from UNESCO.
However, the situation is starting to change in a big way. Each year, more and more women decide to pursue a career in science and its helping to level the playing field while tossing aside gender-based biases that have been an obstacle for some young women and girls with an interest in STEM.
Here at KITE, where more than half or our senior scientists and scientists are women, we are proud to foster a culture of equity, diversity and inclusion and owe a large part of our international success to the incredible talent we have dedicated to improving the lives of those affected by injury, illness and aging.
It’s one of the reasons we wholeheartedly to support The International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which takes place each year on Feb. 11. Here are just a few of our female up-and-coming researchers, scientists and senior scientists who are blazing a path in their individual research areas.
Senior Scientist, KITE
Director of the Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Lab
Trained as a clinical speech-language pathologist, Dr. Steele first worked on the clinical side for approximately 10 years. Throughout, she realized treatment options for patients were surprisingly limited.
Ideally, it should not make any difference what sex or gender I have as a scientist. But that is not reality. I hope that as a woman in science, I can succeed (just as well as any man) but also tread a path that will make it possible for girls and women to be engaged in science in the future. I have been mentored and inspired by many female scientists and hope I can do the same. At the same time, I also hope that I can be a role model in being a scientist who is also a mother, wife, daughter, friend, mentor, teacher, and clinician.
When it comes to diversity in science, Dr. Steele is a major advocate for it. She says, “Having diversity among the people doing science is a key ingredient for building teams that do better."
Dr. Steele’s advice to younger girls interested in science
Keep learning and reading, be brave and reach out to scientists. See if you can visit them and learn about their work. Even though a career in science can have its share of challenges and disappointments, it is also one of the best careers out there – to have the privilege of continuously learning new things, and hopefully contributing to projects that will improve lives for other people is exciting and rewarding – each success more than makes up for the challenges that have happened along the way!
As a graduate student in Psychology, Niroshica’s research explores how sensory and cognitive impairments in healthy older adults and older adults with age-related hearing loss can increase the risk of falls using virtual reality simulators.
From a very young age, she was passionate about pursuing a career in science, so she got her honours Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Toronto. Her long-term goal is to help improve the quality of life for older adults and support them in aging well by implementing preventative and proactive directives.
To be a woman in science means being able to follow my curiosity and contribute to do what I am passionate about. It also means to be grateful for the women who have pioneered the way for our generation to pursue what we are passionate about. Dr. Jennifer Campos continues to be my inspiration and is instrumental in paving the way for myself and other women in science!
Niroshica’s advice to younger girls interested in science
Believe in yourself and trust that your contributions are impactful for the community and science.
Associate Scientific Director, KITE
Senior Scientist, KITE
Dr. Elizabeth Rochon leads many different roles at KITE. Not only is she a Senior Scientist and Associate Scientific Director, Dr. Rochon also co-leads our Communication Research team.
Her research is focused on understanding language and communication difficulties in individuals with neurological conditions such as stroke and dementia. Her long-term goal is not only to find speech therapy solutions, but to support junior investigators with their professional development.
A fascination with the human brain and its workings, the desire to understand the difficulties of brain damage and the need to develop and investigate treatments for those difficulties is what she says drove her to pursue a career in science.
Discovery comes from diversity. By that I mean that scientific advances and new knowledge are enriched when problems or questions are considered and approached from many different perspectives. Diversity, in all its forms, provides this opportunity.
Dr. Rochon’s advice to younger girls interested in science
Follow your curiosity; let the deep satisfaction that comes from your intellectual interests motivate you; be both focused and collaborative; strive for balance in your life; face challenges and obstacles with resolve and remember to have fun!
Equity Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee Chair, UHN Research
Dr. Yadollahi is the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee Chair for UHN Research. Her research focuses on developing wearable technologies to improve cardio-respiratory disorders. Her love of biomedical engineering and the power of learning from physiological systems drove her to pursue a career in science.
Dr. Yadollahi acknowledges the several challenges that women in science face, such as barriers in the culture of working, having access to supporters and mentors, and systemic barriers in funding and publication. She says the challenges are even greater when one finds themself at the intersection of being a woman, an immigrant and a person of colour. At the same time, she reveals her optimism about different initiatives to lift these barriers and challenges.
Diversity, when appropriately combined with inclusion, enriches the research community and makes it stronger, brings better ideas to science, develops inclusive solutions, increases productivity, and stimulates a sense of belonging to the team. It motivates individuals to be more involved in their research activities, and promotes efficiency. It also helps the team become more tolerant and open-minded. We all benefit from being open minded to various viewpoints.
As for her long-term impact, Dr. Yadollahi says she hopes to motivate more women and girls to pursue a career in science and become tomorrow’s successful leaders in the field, especially women from black, indigenous communities, those from a low socio-economic status or with diverse sexual orientation and cultural backgrounds.
Dr. Yadollahi’s advice to younger girls interested in science
Believe in yourself, believe in your capacities, follow your passion, and you will be great. There will be challenges, but there are passionate women and men who are there to help you succeed.
Rabea is a PhD candidate, and her doctoral project focuses on the application of force platform-based measures of postural balance in stroke. She has always been interested in how the nervous system works, how we learn new tasks and how we regain ability after an injury. “Knowing my research can ultimately help optimize rehabilitation care and clinical decision-making is another main reason that drove me to science,” she says.
Rabea hopes to help make tangible improvements in the quality of care for older adults and individuals with neurological conditions. She also hopes to expand our knowledge about the nervous system and neurorehabilitation.
Fields of science and technology must be true representations of the societies that we live in. The more inclusive and diverse these fields are, the more they can echo the voice of different groups in society, help them to be heard and to be seen. Collaboration of individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences in science will lead to more robust and realistic scientific solutions for our research problems.
She says, “For women, in many societies, pursuing higher education or a career in science means swimming against the current of social biases and standing up against stereotypes.” To Rabea, being a successful woman in science means having faith in our goals, exhibiting passion about our research and supporting the community.
Rabea’s advice to younger girls
Follow your interests and believe in yourself! Research is really exciting, but might not always be very straightforward. Take some time to figure out which field of research you are passionate about working in. Once you find your passion, you will enjoy being involved in whatever it takes.
KITE committed to fostering next generation of female scientists
The KITE Research Institute is committed to introducing the next generation of scientists, academics and researchers to the incredible field of STEM. The KITE Young Innovators Program (kYI) encourages young people to pursue careers in STEM fields by revealing to them the positive and tangible impacts that they can have on society through interactive tours, contact with researchers and guided activities.
kYI has a focus on encouraging girls, BIPOC youth, economically disempowered youth (e.g., from a low-income background), 2SLGBTQ+ youth, youth with disabilities, youth from rural and remote communities, and more to pursue STEM. In the past, kYI has worked collaboratively with the Professional Engineers of Ontario and the Women in Engineering Program to develop and host the Women in Engineering Science Design Competition (WESDC).
The kYI program has found that the most effective strategy to inspire young women to choose and sustain a STEM educational or career path is through providing exposure to successful female role models and promoting confidence through achievements.