Three ways Canadian business can help improve equity in STEM education.
Jul 7, 2022
Three youths look at a tablet while another student assembles a robotic vehicle.
President, 3M Canada

Solving the challenges of tomorrow, requires action today.

Over the past year, 3M Canada has set out on a mission to better understand why there is a lack of diverse talent across underrepresented groups in STEM fields.  

We have spoken with STEM experts from several underrepresented groups in a series of intimate roundtable discussions to learn what barriers exist, and how we can build a path towards equal access to STEM education for all Canadians.

Bringing business leaders to the STEMtalk table

Our latest 3M STEMtalk brought together leaders from large Canadian businesses who are already investing in STEM education. 

From Google to BASF, P&G to Ford Motor Company, and even finance companies like Mastercard and Scotiabank, we all recognize if we want to have organizations and STEM talent that is representative of the Canadian community: it’s up to us to take action.

Our conversation was focused on how we can work together, instead of in silos, to match words with actions in improving equitable access to STEM education for underrepresented communities.

Three key recommendations emerged from our discussion: 

1.    Define and understand the STEM education journey to take informed action.

Children are little scientists. We start out naturally curious, unafraid to ask questions, and wanting to learn about everything in the world around us. But as we get older, we start to become more hesitant. Even small interactions can discourage us from continuing to explore our sense of wonder, as our true authentic selves.

“To be successful, the messaging was you (Indigenous children) need to be just like us, you need to learn like us, dress like us, speak like us, as the status quo or the dominant culture.”
-Doug Dokis, Director, National Indigenous Youth in STEM (InSTEM) Program, Actua

To help keep the curiosity alive for children, we need to understand their STEM journey: where it starts, what motivates people to choose STEM and for those who pivot away, what are the factors that contribute to loss of interest in STEM? 

STEM experts that have made it through the STEM education pipeline often speak of their experiences with gatekeeping, and its impact on them. Removing barriers to the STEM pipeline means finding solutions to gatekeeping, revealing the hidden curriculum for youth, and providing accommodations for people with disabilities.

Changing how STEM is taught and accessed for people with disabilities.

Learn more.

It’s also clear, as business leaders, we need to do a better job of educating Canadians about what a STEM career means today, and the variety of opportunities that go way beyond the current perception of what a “scientist” is. 

“If you think about the STEM jobs of the future, many of them are just starting to emerge, a lot of them don’t even exist today. Who are kids turning to? They’re turning to us (adults) that didn’t grow up with the idea of being a social influencer or a cyber security specialist. How can we get kids imagining themselves in those roles when we haven’t imagined ourselves in those roles?”
-Sasha Krstic, President, Mastercard Canada

2.    Walk the walk and commit to longterm investments.

For Canadian businesses, speaking about the need for change towards and greater equity in STEM education is not sufficient, we must walk the walk within our organizations, and in the communities we serve.

Building trust requires time and action.

In our own walls, we must build internal programs that reflect underrepresented communities, with sustainable resources, infrastructure, and commitment across all levels of the organization to build trust and authenticity. This includes setting clear and visible goals for representation across communities. 

“We’re trying to build communities that will go across the business lines. If we don’t have the infrastructure, it doesn’t get done. You have to build the trust people will move onto the roles, and we need to build something that has a legacy.”
-James Spearing, Vice President, Global Talent Acquisition, Scotiabank

This includes creating opportunities to develop talent and provide mentorship across all communities. These are actionable steps towards creating the space to provide an equitable playing field for underrepresented communities. 

Companies also need to invest in external programs to reach underrepresented communities. Our STEMtalk revealed, to make a meaningful difference for organizations that reach underrepresented communities, the investments need to start earlier in the STEM journey, and need to be approached as long term investments.

Systemic change doesn’t happen overnight. We must be realistic about how long it takes to affect change.

“There needs to be a level of commitment to it. It’s not going to work in one year, it’s not going to work in three years, but it will work if you’re willing to think generationally about it.”
-Dr. Mahadeo Sukhai, Vice President Research and International Affairs and Chief Accessibility Officer, Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)

3.    Make an impact through collective action.

Doing the right thing can sometimes be small and while it can be a good first step, the business leaders at the 3M STEM talk all agreed: we must do more. 

If we are committed to truly making a societal-level impact, we must do this at scale, and it will take organizations coming together to create meaningful impact.

While companies are all competing for the same STEM talent pool, we must recognize that in order to increase diversity and representation in STEM, we must resist the competitive mindset, and partner together to create lasting impact. This approach needs to become our default action, not the exception.

“Being willing to listen to folks who are at the forefront of trying to make this change happen is super powerful and important. As someone whose work is on the ground with communities, it’s always so encouraging when folks are willing to sit and listen and take in and learn and really ask the question ‘what can I do?’ And I think we started answering those questions together and I sense there’s a commitment to take that further.”
-Eugenia Duodu Addy, PhD, Visions of Science Network for Learning

How 3M Canada is taking action on STEM equity

As one of our STEM experts put it best: social innovation is not free and it’s not short term. We understand long-term investment is needed to enable the transformational change to improve equitable access to STEM education in Canada. 

MathGuru: Three ways to break the gender bias in STEM.

Learn more.

At 3M Canada, we’re committed to matching our words with actions by:

  • Partnering with Canadian organizations and champions through the continuation of 3M STEMtalk workshops and the 3M Advocacy Fund. 3M will continue to support Canadian voices who can empower and extend the scale of STEM equity champions. In addition, we will continue to leverage our reach and collaborate across our vast network of Canadian customers, peer companies and community partners.  
  • Investing in STEM equity research and education: 3M is fielding research to determine where in the STEM education journey the most impact can be made to remove barriers and help keep students from abandoning their pursuit. This research is already underway (stay tuned) and will be a first for 3M. This will help provide deeper and more targeted Canadian data to help identify the leaks in the STEM talent pipeline. We will share this research with peer companies and customers to help bring more allies to the table. 
  • Driving change within 3M Canada: We recognize, as a company that cares deeply about the future of STEM, we must be champions for equity in our own organization. We’re committed to building internal programs and provide sustainable resources to ensure STEM equity becomes engrained in our culture. To do this, we recognize the need to champion diverse voices within our own organization and ensure their voices are represented at the decision-making table.

As a first step, 3M Canada’s Diversity and Inclusion Council alongside our own Employee Resource Networks will build a connective framework to ensure the vision of improving equitable access to STEM education for underrepresented communities is reflected in our ERNs activities within 3M, and in our community outreach.

State of Science: Canadians want to see diversity in STEM

The lack of diversity and representation in STEM is a critical challenge facing our country, and Canadians agree.

According to the 2022 results of the 3M State of Science Index survey, Canadians not only recognize the systemic inequities that exist in STEM fields, but they also agree it is an important issue that needs to be addressed. 

Woman scientist smiling in a lab

Learn more about the 2022 3M State of Science Index survey.

We hear the message loud and clear, whether it’s coming from business leadership competing for STEM talent, STEM experts with lived experience, or from everyday Canadians: the lack of diversity in STEM is an issue that impairs our ability to solve challenges facing society, grow our economy, and create a society where everyone can thrive. 

Solving the barriers to equity in STEM education an incredibly complex topic, to which there’s no one easy answer. But I know that if we all come together, whether that’s at 3M, or externally with our partners and peers, we can make a difference. 

Together, we will make a difference.

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