Building a future
Indigenous women discuss barriers in the industry
The Women of Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) hosted an event at Chinook Lodge, SAIT’s Aboriginal resource centre, on Jan. 25, as part of an ongoing mentorship series.
The event’s focus was to discuss barriers for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, with a focus on Indigenous issues.
“It’s been a great way to connect with the community, and to promote women’s networking opportunities and also to do mentorship within science and technology in the trades here on campus,” said Nicole Dunsdon, the communications manager at ARIS.
Women of ARIS has been funded by SAIT’s centennial projects, and will continue with more panels throughout the semester.
The event started with a traditional smudging by the elder in residence at Chinook Lodge, Marion Lerat. Traditional foods were also served, including berries, bannock and elk stew.
The panel discussion kicked off with Lowa Beebe, CEO of Naato’si Design and Consulting Limited. Beebe talked about her upbringing and how she got into working for TELUS, in a role more traditionally given to men.
She also discussed how Indigenous women have extra barriers to get past, specifically the history of residential schools and their continuing impact on Indigenous communities.
“We came from a culture that was decimated in the last 150 years,” said Beebe. “We have other things that you have to layer on, before we can enter a career.”
Other panelists included Angel Gamble, a recent graduate of the Engineering Design and Draft Technology program at SAIT.
Gamble spoke of the barriers on reserves for children and girls who might want a career in STEM trades.
“The schooling is not appropriate,” said Gamble. “We don’t get a strong background in science and math. I think if we did, there would be more of us joining.”
Rick Tofani, director of ARIS, was at the event and gave high praise to women trying to enter the STEM trades.
“Today, I’m well aware that there is a disproportionate number of men in science and engineering still, compared to women,” Tofani said.
“We need to make an effort to make sure they’re represented in science and engineering, because they’re as good or better than anybody else in that area.”
Members of the group Ladies Learning Code were in attendance, giving a pitch for women to join in another field that is heavily dominated by men.
“We really believe in making code and technology accessible to women and girls, and increasing the diversity in this industry,” said Darcie Milliken, the Calgary chapter lead for Ladies Learning Code.
“I certainly know what it’s like to be the only woman in the room, having studied math and technology here at SAIT.”
Jean Dube, a student advisor at Chinook Lodge, helped put together the event with ARIS. Dube was very pleased with how it played out.
“I think that we taught a group of women a few things about our culture and about our struggles,” said Dube.
“Not only getting into a male dominated industry, but how the struggle was for them even just to leave their homeland, leave their family and go for a career and post-secondary.”