June 16th, 2024

Career women forging into male-dominated fields

By Ry Clarke - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on January 17, 2023.

Herald photo by Ry Clarke Instructor Laura Keffer-Wilkes introduces the STEM panel last week at the U of L.

The University of Lethbridge hosted a panel last week inviting students and community members to learn about women in STEM and how they have progressed in their careers.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees are often male-dominated programs, so in hosting the Thursday career panel the event looked to inspire females in those degrees by helping foster a healthy mentorship toward their goals of graduating and building a career.

“This is part of our EDI Scholar Initiative, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion,” said Laura Keffer-Wilkes, instructor in the Biochemistry Department. “The University has been really pushing to branch out and make sure that we are including EDI initiatives in our day-to-day university experience for everybody. I won the EDI scholar for 2022/23 and my proposal was addressing women in STEM and their barriers that are still around today. Today’s event is Women in Stem Career Panel, I have seven wonderful ladies from the Lethbridge area who have backgrounds in STEM.”

Hosting Laura Chasmer (U of L Geography), Susan Findlay (U of L Chemistry), Kristina Santiago-Mateo (CFIA), Suzanne Sjovold (North and Co LLP), Julie Legault (Amino Labs), Krysty Thomas (AAFC), and Christine Lewington (PIP), the seven panelists spoke to participants about their current careers and how they have established themselves as women in that field.

“A lot of times it is a non-traditional pathway. One of our presenters that we have, Dr. Suzanne Sjovold, she is a lawyer, but she actually has a doctorate in neuroscience. Why she went into being a lawyer was actually an event like this when she was in school. She learned you can do other things besides being a traditional lab scientist with a science background,” said Keffer-Wilkes. “These ladies have traditionally masculine-focus jobs. There are still less women in science overall, so having role models that students can look up to in these positions really helps the younger undergraduate and graduate students plan for their career path and the barriers they can anticipate and overcome.”

Those in attendance were excited to see the presenters, seeing others in roles they hope to share one day.

“Getting the opportunity to see so many women who have made it in their careers and see how they got there is so special, and to have these great role models to look up to,” said Chloe Devoy, attending the panel as well as pursuing her Masters in Biology at the University. “The shift I have seen in the last few years, in our own labs, there has been such a change. I was one of two girls in a lab of maybe eleven men, and now we are basically female dominated. It is incredible to see and have role models, like Laura, to look up to.”

The event served as a career panel but also a toolkit for those in the audience to understand the obstacles they may face and how to persevere.

“Being able to identify and give the upcoming generation the tools to help them overcome those barriers is really important for events like this,” said Keffer-Wilkes. “We are also having a woman in STEM conference in February, to coincide with International Day of Women and Girls in Science. We are inviting women doing research here at the University to come and present and break those barriers down.”

Happy to give an opportunity to the community on campus, the event helped showcase the ability of women in STEM fields.

“I really appreciate getting the chance to be the EDI scholar this year,” said Keffer-Wilkes. “I appreciate all the help that I have had from my colleagues and all the wonderful women that are so eager to be part of events like this.”

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