From words to action: how Canadian businesses can improve STEM equity for underrepresented communities.
Oct 24, 2023

In 2023, the shifting demographics of our society demand we take action to ensure the Canadian economy’s future growth is supported with a pipeline of diverse STEM talent.

As part of a global science company, 3M Canada has been on a path to help remove barriers to STEM education for underrepresented communities through better understanding what these barriers are, why they exist, and how Corporate Canada can help so we can be ready with a future workforce. 

We have established a series of 3M STEMtalk roundtable discussions with the goal of engaging STEM champions and business leaders on how we can move from words to action in order to improve equity in STEM education for all Canadians. The Canadian business community share many ideas about inclusion, however collectively we need to find solutions that match what organizations are saying with what they are doing.

3M STEMtalk: Bringing business leaders and STEM champions to the table.

Our most recent 3M STEMtalk brought together leaders from Canadian businesses who are investing in STEM education, for a conversation on how we can collectively match our words to action to remove barriers to access in STEM for underrepresented communities.

From tech companies like Microsoft, HP Canada, and Snap to Visa, Ellis Don and Ernst & Young and education organizations like University of Waterloo and D2L, we recognize that collectively the onus is on Canadian businesses to leverage our influence and network to break down barriers, drive progress and help shape our society.

Three key recommendations emerged from our discussion:

  1. Providing access begins at the grassroots level.

For Canadian businesses, we need to invest in community engagement and spend more time in underrepresented communities to expose youth to STEM opportunities, bring them into the world of STEM and enable them to participate.

We need to ask ourselves – how do we bring our youth to see the day in the life of an engineer, a scientist, a skilled trade worker or the many other unique and exciting career pathways that STEM presents?

“As leaders, we have a responsibility and duty to be more involved in communities and pay it forward” – Mary Ann Yule, President & CEO, HP Canada.

In addition to providing underrepresented youth with mentorship and volunteering opportunities, we also need to ensure we are providing basic access to resources like tech equipment to enable equal participation in STEM.

“Technology has the ability to empower the teachers and free up the capacity of the teacher, but it can also support the scarce time commitments of the working mom or the new Canadian” – Stacey Madge, President and Country Manager, Visa Canada.

  1. Champion the champions.

We need to be mindful and intentional of building a support system around our youth that will encourage and champion them to move forward despite the obstacles they face. This includes parents, guardians, and older siblings.

“When it comes to working with youth, parents and family members are very important champions. Taking them along the journey can be incredibly impactful to achieve our objectives around addressing issues of STEM Equity.” – Turfah, Chief Operating Officer (Interim CEO) Visions of Science Network for Learning.

We need to support and educate parents with the right resources to champion STEM education effectively for their children. For example, encourage parents to introduce their children to STEM role models from a young age. Make STEM subjects more relatable by showcasing the practical application of math or science in their daily lives.

“We make math so far removed from the persons lived experience that by the time we get to the challenging part, you have little motivation to persevere or have no idea how you can apply it.” – Jennifer Ladipo, National Programs Manager, Actua.

For STEM individuals that do break through the barriers, we need to recognize that there is a continued responsibility to be a role model for everyone else. Providing training around soft skills like resiliency will help prepare youth for their STEM journey. 

  1. Be intentional with partnerships.

There are broader forces at play that will move a community in a certain way.

For businesses, identifying the right partnerships whether its with large organizations or niche ones will set the tone and scale for how businesses show up and make an impact.

Consider partnering with grassroots organizations in underrepresented communities that are making the most impact and help them grow and expand their network.

It is critically important to identify and work with partners that share similar values and are working towards a common goal. The effort that organizations put in to prioritize representation in their leadership team and intentionally address intersectionality in STEM related programming and activities is often undervalued.  If we seek out partnerships that model the change that we want to see in STEM, our collective impact will be unstoppable. Jennifer Khan, Vice President, Inclusive Diversity, People & Culture EllisDon.

For businesses, we have an opportunity to leverage our strong networks, influence, and partner with stakeholders whether that’s across academic, non-for-profits, community groups and government to drive continued impact.

How 3M Canada is taking action on STEM Equity.

As one of our STEM experts shared: We recognize that actions will never be enough. We must consistently do more and evolve our actions to meet the needs of our changing society.

While we recognize these are small steps, we believe these are monumental steps to helping remove barriers in the long run.

At 3M Canada, we’re matching our words with action by:

  • 3M STEM Equity Research and Education: 3M Canada has fielded research to uncover where in the STEM journey the most impact can be made to remove barriers and help STEM students and workers from abandoning their pursuit. The 3M STEM Equity research represents the first of its kind in Canada, and our goal is to take action based on the data to help ease the barriers and bring more corporate allies to the table to improve equitable access to STEM education for underrepresented communities across Canada.
  • Partnering with Canadian organizations and STEM champions through the 3M Advocacy Fund: 3M is providing support to the Canadian Association for Girls in Science to help reach more underrepresented communities across Canada to access STEM education. We will continue to leverage our reach and collaborate across our vast network of Canadian customers, peer companies and community partners.
  • Continuing to lift the voices of STEM champions and experts through the 3M STEMtalk workshops and the 3M STEM Equity Council: As a science company, we believe we can add value by supporting the advocacy for disruption. We will continue to bring together STEM experts and champions to inspire real action, help normalize differences and build a path to equal access.

3M Forward: How 3M’s Commitment to Science is Shaping the Future

Demographic shifts facing Canada will have far-reaching, disruptive impact on businesses, economies, industries, societies, and individuals.

According to the 2023 3M State of Science Index results, 96 per cent of Canadians believe that our workforce needs more skilled trades, and 94 per cent see consequences if their country cannot find a solution to the shortage of skilled trade workers. 

With Canada’s working age population shrinking, coupled with the number of skilled trade workers expecting to retire outpacing those entering the workforce, the onus is on businesses to take action and champion STEM and skilled trade opportunities for all Canadians to ensure our economy continues to be supported with a pipeline of diverse STEM talent.

Together, I believe we can leverage our influence, resources, and network to make a difference.

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