On April 15, 2016, 200 young female leaders arrived at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario for the Inspiring Future Women in Science conference. An inspiring day of talks from women in STEM careers awaited them, along with quite the surprise: a candid address by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I am honoured to have given a keynote address at this conference and to have had the opportunity to speak with the young Canadian women who will be leading STEM in years to come.
The day kicked off with a keynote from rocket scientist (and one of my personal role models) Natalie Panek, who shared her experience pursuing her dream of becoming an astronaut. Her stories of persistence and her amazing adventures (like the time she built and raced a solar powered car across the US-Canadian border) inspired the audience and started the day with energy. Next, I delivered my keynote, “Turning Your Passion Into Your Career,” and shared five key strategies to turn what you love into what you do. Then the panelists took the stage – Varuna Prakash, Giana Houwer, Jessica McElhone, and Mina Arvanitaki – and candidly answered questions from the students. A common theme in the questions throughout the day was how to be taken seriously and hold your own as a woman in a male-dominated field. Among the advice was how to find mentors, how to beat impostor syndrome, and how to persevere in the fact of rejection.
The conference coincided with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement of a $50 million grant for the Perimeter Institute, so the panel took pause to watch the announcement. When we resumed we were greeted by a surprise, an impromptu address from the Prime Minister himself. Prime Minister Trudeau spoke candidly about his experiences in politics and how they relate to women in STEM, saying that we need more women in positions of power, and that we should look at female scientists as “scientists who happen to be women,” rather than “women who happen to be scientists.” He even made time for a few questions, the first of which was a cheeky, millennial, “can we take a selfie?”
Following Prime Minister Trudeau’s address, Virginie Hotte-Dupuis from L’Oreal Canada presented ways the students could get involved with philanthropic organizations for women in STEM. The day finished with round-table networking in the Perimeter Institute atrium with women from a range of STEM careers, briefly including Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan.
It was such an honour to be part of this incredible event. Being the youngest speaker and relatively new to industry myself, I got to meet some of my own role models and reaffirm my conviction to be part of the STEM world. The stories the other speakers told reflected so much of what we face as women in tech, and the passion and energy that the girls brought to the conference filled me with inspiration and a renewed love for what I do. A huge thank you to the Perimeter Institute for investing in women, and to Prime Minister Trudeau for making time to show his commitment to equality. It is events like these that will really make a difference in the ratio, as we reach diverse groups at a young age and start them on the path to pursuing their dreams.
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