Quebec partners with the UIS to test a new set of survey instruments and data designed to foster gender equality in STEM professions

Quebec has joined a UNESCO and UIS-led international pilot project to reduce the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions. The partnership will kick-off officially on 1 February with a workshop at the Bureau du ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation in Montreal.

While the province has policies in place to promote gender equality, and various provincial bodies collect data on the progress of women in science and technology, steep challenges remain. 

Data show that while women make up the majority of students enrolled in Quebec universities at the Bachelor’s and Master’s levels, they disappear from the ranks of researchers.  In scientific fields of study, such as mathematics and computer science, fewer women enrol than men and their numbers decline steadily with higher levels of tertiary education. 

This situation mirrors a global phenomenon in which factors like systemic gender discrimination and the lack of flexible working arrangements for mothers gradually squeeze women out of the research workforce. According to UIS data, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women

By joining the STEM and Gender Advancement (SAGA) initiative Quebec is taking concrete steps to address the urgent need to define and collect more policy-relevant indicators on all aspects of the role of women in STEM. 

The SAGA Initiative

Through SAGA, a project financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), UNESCO is working with partners in 10 countries and regional organizations to develop a toolkit that includes methodologies, indicators and frameworks to produce more precise data and make better use of existing information. The data will then be used as an evidence base to better target policies at the national, regional and global levels.

Two government institutions have pledged to take the lead in Quebec: Les Fonds de recherche du Québec  (FRQ) et le Ministère de l’Économie, de la Science et de l’Innovation.

Dr Maryse Lassonde, scientific director of the FRQ – Nature et technologies (FRQNT) explains that Quebec has a range of policies and programmes in place to encourage students to pursue careers in science. Data show that female researchers are still far less likely to apply for top-level grants and tend to have less impact, with their work cited less than men, for example. In response, provisions have been made allowing researchers to get reimbursed for child care expenses while traveling to international meetings. In this way researchers can expand their networks, which may eventually result in wider recognition and publication of their work. She hopes SAGA will help determine whether such policies can be correlated with changes in the status of female researchers.

“SAGA will help us bring together all existing sources of information in a single framework to see where we are missing data, and whether our policies and programmes are having a real impact or not,” says Dr Lassonde. “We are also bringing together all of the key partners, at the provincial and federal levels, to gain a comprehensive perspective on all of our efforts – from school programmes to encourage girls to study STEM to larger programmes designed to promote gender equality in innovation and entrepreneurship.”

As part of the province’s commitment to the SAGA objectives, FRQNT will prepare a detailed report of policies and data collections currently in place, and what actions the province will take to implement a more comprehensive and comparable set of indicators to track the drivers of and barriers to women’s careers in the sciences.

The report will be presented at the November 2017 Gender Summit, hosted by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada in Montreal.