Tech Girls Canada is an organization that advocates for women in STEM in Canada through various programs, advocacy, and events. I stumbled across it by accident in my CivicGeek work, and promptly discovered an amazing organization with fascinating people. Since we know there’s problems with female representation in STEM and related professions, let’s find out what people are doing to solve the problems. Julie Tyios, one of the co-founders, took the time to talk to us!
1) Julie, first of all how did you and the others found TechGirls Canada. Was there a distinct event, did it evolve over time, or something else?
TechGirls Canada was founded from a few discussions and quite a few planning sessions. My co-founder, Saadia Muzaffar, were motivated to find a way to help girls consider careers in STEM and encourage real change at the grassroots level. Initially we had considered running summer tech camps for girls as a means of achieving this, but after we started mapping out the landscape and the issues we realized there was a huge opportunity to work as an umbrella organization. We are constantly evolving and upping our game, learning as we grow.
2) You’ve set yourself some ambitious goals. How do you direct your energies with so many issues to address?
Admittedly, that really is the biggest challenge we have–there is so much opportunity out there and so many great ideas to help women in STEM that we’ve had to become laser focused on critical goals and programs. As a team we do a lot of planning and evaluating of objectives to ensure we stay committed to the most impactful campaigns and programs. It’s never easy because you really want to do it all, but the most important thing is that we do what’s right for right now and grow as we evolve. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have an army of supporters who help and encourage us in our work–we couldn’t do it without them!
3) Right now you have two campaigns. First there’s Strength In Numbers, creating a huge database of organizations and programs to help women in STEM. Tell us how you managed this – and how people access the data.
Strength in Numbers was actually the first campaign we launched. We realized that no one else out there had mapped the women in STEM landscape in Canada, and there are so many great organizations and programs out there doing great work–it needed to not just be recognized, but to be made accessible.
We launched this as a crowdsourced campaign and recruited key movers and shakers at the grassroots level to help us out. An overwhelming number of people and organizations stepped forward to help with submitting information into our database–one person in Yukon even gave us the full overview of all organizations in the territory! The overwhelmingly positive response told us we were on the right track and that we really had the ability to help the national community with this campaign.
Currently, we are sifting through all the data and compiling it into a report that will be publicly released. In the interim, we have used this information to help connect like-minded organizations and STEM advocates at a local level.
4) Your second campaign is Portraits of Strength to promote women who have had extraordinary STEM careers. This is a great way to promote role models – how do you organize this to reach people?
Portraits of Strength has been another phenomenally successful crowdsourced campaign for us. Truthfully, we haven’t had to do a ton of advertising around this–the reaction has been so overwhelmingly positive that people have come forward and asked to be involved. With every Portrait we publish, we see a ton of sharing and engagement around it on social channels, and that’s how it ends up reaching the right people.
We started with a core group of people in our network, and Portraits of Strength just grew from there through word of mouth. We had intended this to be a short-term campaign, but it’s been so tremendously successful that we’ve continued to profile women who have overcome barriers in their fields to achieve their own personal successes. The message we want to send is that any woman in STEM can be a role model and inspire someone else to consider a career path they hadn’t previously thought was attainable, and there are so many fantastic personal stories of how women have blazed trails and stepped outside the status quo in their fields. Every time someone shares one of these stories, they help ensure it makes an impact by reaching the right people. It’s incredibly humbling to receive notes from women who have said that this campaign really helped them consider new options for themselves–it’s why we do what we do and we’re so grateful that we can help people this way.
5) Do you do any work with groups in other countries – I know in America people are more and more concerned about women’s representation in STEM.
Yes, we do have affiliated organizations in other countries, and always look for ways we can help share and disseminate information that is relevant for Canadian women. Likewise, we get a lot of support and cross-promotion from some of these groups. There are so many wonderful people and organizations out there doing great work, and working together ensures we can all maximize the impact of our efforts.
The US has been a real hotbed for women in STEM and we’ve been lucky to be involved with organizations like Code.org, which are making huge strides at the grassroots level.
6) You have very organized and planned programs. Have you taught any other organizations or groups how to reach their goals – or have you considered it?
That’s been on our radar for a while and we are considering it as part of our next evolution. We have a great team with a lot of knowledge and experience in the space and we absolutely believe in an open source-like model of knowledge sharing so that we can all further our causes. Our door is always open for organizations, organizers, and inspired women to reach out.
7) Have you reached out to the “geek” crowd – science fiction conventions, citizen scientists, Maker culture, and more? If so what’s been your response?
Yes, we have gone into different crowds with Portraits of Strength and some of the perspective-based content we create. We find that people are overwhelmingly supportive and really do share the vision for women in STEM. It is refreshing to know there’s huge support for the work TechGirls Canada and like-minded organizations are doing and we hope to do even more to help get these various communities involved in collective efforts to promote real change.
8) There’s a lot to do to correct imbalances in STEM. What would you like to see your – or other – organizations do?
There is a long way to go but it starts with changing perspectives. We have to be more visible and ensure our voices are heard. We had a great dialogue with Steve Paikin on The Agenda a little while ago about why more women need to get themselves invested in leadership. It starts with each and every one of us, and it is our hope that the work we and other organizations do will help both men and women recognize that we need to work together to solve these issues, and inspire them to pick up the torch. If we can empower people to invest themselves in the cause, we will all be successful.
9) If someone wants to get involved in assisting women in STEM, what’s your advice to a person with budding civic interest?
First off–high five! We need more people like you. There are so many ways to get involved. You can research local groups for women in STEM, attend events, or get involved in online discussions and dialogues that will help you connect with others who are working toward the same thing. Local colleges and universities often have great programs and societies focused on STEM as well. We’re always happy to help connect people with local resources and organizations. Anyone looking for advice or information can drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10) How did you get involved in this – because you’re also busy!
TechGirls Canada actually precedes my current role in advertising, but there has always been a challenge juggling the two. I am insanely committed to my career and the really fantastic role I have working with Ford Canada at Sonic Boom Creative Media, but TechGirls Canada is a true passion for me. I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by wonderfully supportive people who have helped me and my team in our work over the past few years. The work that we do is extremely important to us and very dear to our hearts. If you have a passion for something, the best thing you can do is nurture it.
11) So what’s the plan for the next few years? How can the rest of us – Canadian and not – help out?
Get in touch! We always love hearing from people around the world and learning about new perspectives, challenges, and issues that we can help with. We are always evolving to meet the needs of the current STEM landscape in Canada, and are committed to partnering with enterprise companies and like-minded organizations to further our impact. We will be sharing some very exciting news about the future of TechGirls Canada in the coming months and we’d love to have as many people on board as possible. You can reach us through our website at TechGirls.ca, or via Twitter @TechGirlsCan.
The one thing that everyone can do rather effortlessly is be part of the conversation. Share opinions and success stories. Introduce your networks to new perspectives and help them understand why this cause is so important to our futures as Canadians. Start discussions and stir the pot. If we’re all part of it, we will collectively be heard.