Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

What is International Day of Women and Girls in Science?

International Day of Women and Girls in Science is recognized on the 11th day of February by resolution of the United Nations General Assembly on December 22, 2015.

The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is implemented by UNESCO and UN Women, in collaboration with intergovernmental agencies and institutions, as well as civil society partners, that aim to promote women in science. Its purpose is to promote full and equal access to participation in science for women and girls.

The Importance of Women and Girls in Science

Did you know that women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college? The gap is particularly high in the job fields of engineering and computer science.

“Greater diversity in the STEM workforce would offer significant benefits to Canadians by addressing skills shortages, increasing innovation and capacity, and providing a greater return on human resources investments,” says the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

~ Did you know? ~

In Canada, women make up 28% of the workforce in STEM Careers.

The Importance here at Pinchin

Bridging the gap and recognizing women’s contributions at Pinchin is vital in promoting diversity and Innovation. We invited a few of our employees to share their thoughts and experiences on being a woman in science. Here’s what they have to say.

Meet some of the women in STEM careers here at Pinchin!

Carolyn Prentice

Carolyn Prentice is a Senior Project Biologist for the Environmental Science group at Pinchin Ltd. Carolyn holds a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology from the University of Guelph and is enrolled in the Master of Science(M.Sc.)in Environmental Practice program with Royal Roads University. Carolyn is an ISA Certified Arborist® and has Tree Risk Assessment Qualification credentials. She is a member of the Society of Wetland Scientists, International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), and ISA Pacific Northwest Chapter.

I loved stomping around in the woods at the cottage with my grandfather as a child. It was the epitome of childhood bliss of the natural world being woven into my DNA. I had such a love of animals and thought I would become a veterinarian. I wanted to work with big animals on farms but having grown up as a ‘city girl’, I was more likely to be destined for small creatures in a clinic. Not one to be bound by brick walls, I switched my educational pursuits to specialize in wildlife biology.

Even after all these years, I am still just as fascinated, curious, and passionate about the environment. Every day in the field is a kaleidoscope of exploring and interacting with other likeminded people. Being a woman in biological sciences has allowed me to continuously stretch my learning and it is never boring. More recently, it has been exciting to work with and mentor women who are at the beginning of their careers in the industry. They are incredibly smart, capable, and empowered. I am inspired by knowing that opportunities for women in science continue to evolve and there are no limits to our ambitions.

Dixie Ortiz

Dixie Ortiz is a Senior Project Manager for the Environmental Due Diligence & Remediation group at Pinchin Ltd. Dixie holds a Graduate Certificate in Environmental Monitoring and Impact Assessment from Cambrian College and a Bachelor of Science in Earth & Planetary Science and Physical Geography from the University of Western Ontario.

I was inspired to pursue natural sciences primarily from two people in my life: my grandmother and a favourite teacher. My grandmother was a well-respected elder in the Indigenous community of Toronto, passing on teachings of a web of interconnectedness in the world. While learning one of Chief Seattle’s most famous speeches, “Humankind has not woven the web of life, we are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together, all things connect”, I joined a high school science class, taught by a woman who was practicing this way of life in modern society. I admired her knowledge, her career and the way she was raising her family. That teacher brought two of my worlds together, showing me that I can succeed in the modern world and still respect the teachings of my ancestors.

Thinking about Women in Science, makes me think of my grandmother, of that teacher, and each woman I have encountered in my career. To me, Women in Science is not limited to women practicing a scientific profession, but anyone who has inspired someone or has been inspired by a dream to make the world a better place for the next generation. If I can be that inspiration for at least one person in my lifetime, I will consider myself a successful Woman in Science.

Elizabeth DeCurtis

Elizabeth DeCurtis is a Data Entry and PCM Administrator for the Environmental Asbestos Laboratory Services group at Pinchin Ltd. Elizabeth has over 15 years of laboratory experience with an emphasis on molecular biology techniques. Bilingual, Elizabeth has an Honours Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry from University of Ottawa.

I have worked in the Asbestos Lab for nearly 17 years now. While we have a few male colleagues in the lab, most of the staff in the lab are female. Once, when I was a new analyst, I was analyzing a vermiculite sample. Many of you already know that vermiculite refers to shiny, golden, puffy rocks that were once used as attic insulation. It is common for vermiculite to be contaminated with asbestos fibres, and our lab analyzes it regularly. Before we mount up a vermiculite sample on a slide, we pour it into a dish and go through it with tweezers, while looking through our stereoscope. On this occasion, I was looking through my stereoscope when I came across what looked like a twig or a stem. When I prodded it with my tweezers, it seemed like the stem was attached to something larger. I shifted the vermiculite around to get a better look and gave a sudden shout of surprise: I was looking into the magnified face of a perfectly mummified baby mouse. The “stem” was, in fact, a tail.

My shout got the attention of everyone in the lab, but when I explained the situation, did they say: “Ew, gross!” and go on with their day? Of course not. Instead, we all took turns looking at this tiny mouse corpse with equal parts curiosity, disgust, and fascination. We then removed him from the vermiculite and put him into a glass sample jar. His name was Crunchy, and he was our mascot for years. Sadly (?) he did not survive the move to the new lab building.

I think a lot of the time when we think about “women in science,” we picture a woman with a dozen letters behind her name, leading an innovative research team, and making incredible scientific breakthroughs. But I do not think that’s a realistic picture for most women in science. Having spent years working in a female-dominated lab, when I think of “women in science,” I picture a group of intelligent people who apply their scientific training in practical ways that help our clients, every single day. I see people who had the skillset to make hand-sanitizer for their co-workers when it was impossible to find in stores. I see friends who share a morbid curiosity of the world around them. Contributions to science can take many forms, and while it’s certainly important to celebrate the women who have made incredible discoveries, let’s also celebrate the women who use science in its more practical ways. Heck, let’s even celebrate the women who put tiny corpses into jars.

Samantha Cunningham

Samantha Cunningham is an Environmental Technologist in the Hazardous Materials group at Pinchin Ltd. Samantha has a Diploma in Environmental Technology from the New Brunswick Community College. She is certified in both Fast and Flat-Water Canoeing through Paddle Canada and has a Certification for Basic Chainsaw Safety, Operation and Maintenance through NBCC. Samantha also has software training and a full certification in ArcGIS Online.

To me, being a woman in science is special because I truly get to do what I love. I have always had a deep curiosity for the natural world and its inner workings. Pursuing the sciences as a career feeds into that need to challenge myself in ways that allow me to grow as a person. My appetite for knowledge is never quite satisfied and a quick paced environment has been very attractive. Pursuing what you love with the challenges of being a woman can often be daunting, due to social biases and lacklustre support systems. As a woman in science, I think I have the responsibility to create room for other women to be able to grow and pursue their dreams. I want to make more space for women in science, so others may experience the excitement, joy and satisfaction from their careers as I have. I want to exist in a space where we do not limit ourselves.

Dr. Theresa Phillips

Dr. Theresa Phillips is the National Risk Assessment Lead for the Environmental Due Diligence & Remediation group at Pinchin Ltd. Dr. Phillips has over twenty years’ experience in environmental consulting and remediation. Her work in toxicology, genetics, biochemistry and cancer research has provided a varied scientific background and expertise in the biochemical processes involved in contaminant degradation.

I began my scientific studies in Kinesiology because I wanted to work in a sports-related field, but by mid-first year, the talk of cadavers scared me off and because I had a keen interest in nutrition and metabolic pathways, I switched programs to Biochemistry. Neither I, nor the rest of my family, had any idea what one did with a science degree other than perhaps teach high school chemistry or work in the refineries at Chemical Valley in Sarnia where I grew up.

I became very fascinated with toxicology by fourth year, as the study of how chemicals affect our bodies on a cellular level, including how we biodegrade things and what happens next. I feel privileged to be working in a field that marries all these interests with my propensity for business and critical thinking; having traveled this path on my own and landing somewhere that I’m actually happy at my job might be one of the things I’m most proud of as a “Woman in Science”.

I’ve never felt “out-numbered” as a woman but that might be because I’m not the type to really pay attention to what others are doing, keep score, or let that change my course. I’m very internally driven and self-motivated, not to mention having a lot of confidence in myself (I thank my parents for that), so it never occurred to me that pursuing my goals was at all unusual just because I was a woman. However, I realize that not all women are blessed with such a sense of self and when I look back through history or consider social situations in other countries, I feel so privileged to live in a country where I can study and work in any field I choose. My hope is that the future brings further progress to address inequity with respect to opportunities and pay in scientific fields, for women everywhere, including Canada.

Linda Drisdelle

Linda Drisdelle is a General Manager with the Emissions Reduction & Compliance group at Pinchin Ltd. Linda holds a MBA and Bachelor of Applied Science from the University of Toronto, a Master of Engineering from the University of Ottawa and is a member of the Professional Engineers of Ontario.

Society has invested heavily in inspiring young women into STEM* careers over the past 4 decades. The results in general are deemed disappointing for two reasons – first, the numbers are nowhere yet near parity between women and men in these fields and secondly, many women “leave” these fields early in their careers.

I would like to address the second point about it being a ‘failure’ that women leave their ‘STEM’ careers behind. Some research suggests that many of these disappointing women who after much societal investment gained in their “non-traditional” education in STEM and then leave – do so to become managers of technical departments and CEOs of technology-based companies. In these roles, they are not moving away from STEM, but they instead arguably are playing a more important and influential role in STEM industries.

It is time we changed the narrative. It is not a disappointment that few women choose STEM, instead, it is a celebration that proportionally for those that do – can move quicker to more influential and impactful roles that shape the experiences STEM provides all society.

Edyta Chorostkowska

Edyta Chorostkowska is a Risk Assessor in the Environmental Due Diligence and Remediation (EDR) group. Edyta holds a Master of Environmental Science from the University of Toronto and a Bachelor of Biological Science with a concentration in Environmental Toxicology from the University of Ontario, Institute of Technology

I am fascinated with how the world around us functions, how everything has a purpose and how humans and the environment interact with measurable actions and reactions. I vividly remember reading in my high school science textbook about the effects of different drugs on the mind based on an experiment conducted on spiders – these scientists observed how spiders spun their webs based on the type of drug they were on, and the results were exactly how you would have imagined, webs were erratic when the spiders were on caffeine, or incomplete when on marijuana. I was also very excited to be mixing aldehydes in chemistry class to create different scents in what is essentially the bases for perfumes. And I was thrilled to be making beer in my biology university class so that we could study the effects of yeast on sugars (and its production of alcohol). Science is just amazing – it explains everything around us, and I continue to enjoy all the big and small explanations that science brings.

Over the years as I learned about science pioneers, I appreciated all those that have paved the way. Particularly Marie (Sklodowska) Curie, who was a two time Nobel prize winner in physics and chemistry, the only person to ever receive the prize in two different disciplines, and who fought tirelessly to achieve her goals during a time when women were aggressively pushed out of scientific communities. Plus, she was extra special because she was Polish, and if you’ve seen my last name, it’s pretty obvious that I am too.

I am most proud of seeing other women in science achieve their goals and rise-up the ranks. It can be difficult for women to persevere within the scientific community due to the “leaky pipeline”, lack of mentorship, parental leave, perceived behaviours, and inherent biases in our work environment. At times women must work harder to achieve the same goals that men do within their same positions and can even be overlooked because our personalities may not be as aggressive as a man’s. But when I see women who are managers, senior managers, leaders and beyond, it makes me proud of what they have achieved and what can be achieved.

I am excited to see the next wave of women coming up through the workforce and into upper management positions where we can be heard and make real change where it’s needed. Women are said to be very good leaders since they have high emotional intelligence, can empathize with others, lead by example, know their limitations, and are quite reasonable, capable of juggling a multitude of tasks while keeping the balance. I am very curious to see how the workforce, the scientific community and the world will change as more women take up leadership roles, which will bring equality to everyone.

Silvana Wu

Silvana Wu is a Senior Project Manager in both the Alberta Hazardous Materials and Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) groups. Silvana holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Calgary. She started her career in the Oil Sands field in the Environment, Safety and Social Responsibility group assisting with the development of the Phase II Environmental Impact Assessment application process.

I distinctly recall my first “love at first site” moment with science. I was fifteen, sitting in my school uniform at the front bench in the lab at my school in Peru. Our science teacher had asked each student to bring an old, cheap piece of jewelry to class or basically anything made of metal. My friend and I brought in old, discoloured necklaces that we didn’t use anymore, I remember one of the boys brought in his fork from lunch as a joke. The electroplating experiment was setup like any other boring school experiment we got accustomed to at that age. I don’t recall thinking that this experiment was going to be anything out of the ordinary that morning, but for some reason when those old pieces of jewelry (and fork) was transformed into brand new shiny treasures, my curiosity towards science and engineering was born.

After high school I decided to study engineering at a private university in Lima, Peru. Entry into engineering programs is different than in Canada. If you are not the first or second in your graduating class academically or athletically, you must write an entrance exam to enter the program of your choice. At the time, there were about 2,500 students vying for the 200 seats available to study general sciences. Approximately 99% of the students writing the exam were male. I was able to score within the top 200 of the group and within a couple weeks of starting university quickly became good friends with the two other girls in my class and were inseparable for two years.

Fast forward a couple years, I found myself studying chemical engineering at the University of Calgary. My daughter was born two days after final exams were taken at the end of my first semester of my first year of the program. I had two weeks to recover before going back for my second semester. I was blessed to have a circle of friends with women who would let me photocopy all of their notes when I was too tired to go to class and who would spend hours with me to study for exams.

During my engineering program, I spent a year as an intern in the environmental department of a large oil and gas company. Our director and about half of the senior executive managers I met were female, at the time I didn’t realize how having women in those positions shaped how I now define having a “work/life” balance. I saw these women in senior positions while also raising families and wanted to be like them.

I’ve been extremely blessed to have had many special women throughout my life who without their support, I would not be where I am today. As a woman in science, I believe studying and working in this field not only requires hard work and a strong interest in science, but also a strong network of friends who genuinely want the best for each other and are there to hold you up when you need them

Lorena La Osa Gómez

Lorena La Osa Gómez is a Project Manager in the Environmental Due Diligence and Remediation (EDR) group. Lorena holds a Master of Engineering in Geological Engineering and a Master of Science in Environmental Research, Groundwater Modeling and Risk Assessment from the Polytechnic University of Madrid (Spain). Lorena is working towards a designation as a Professional Engineer with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA).

When I was a child, my dream was to be a dancer. I felt the passion and plenitude that dance provided me during many years, until I decided that obtaining an engineering degree was the best for me. I do not know if I was right or wrong, but it was my decision nor anybody else. At that time, I wanted to study a degree that combined art and science but that was very difficult to find. Then, I looked at options related in some way with nature, and I chose Geological Engineering after a disastrous start in Civil Engineering. Soon I discovered the potential of Contaminated Sites and Risk Assessment field. Thanks to one of the best professors I had, I started my thesis and Masters in this area. I have been working on this discipline ever since and I am still motivated to learn something new every day.

I grew up in a family where everyone was proud of me because I always worked very hard and reached my goals, even when my self-confidence was low. I always will be grateful for my parents’ support even when I said goodbye to live in Canada. Over the years my decision has caused them some suffering but also happiness too.

As a woman in science, I feel lucky to work in a the field I’ve chosen, surrounded by my colleagues and family that respect, value and motivate me. I am aware that other women do not have that luck in their life and their fight leaves a deep mark on me, because I really think they are heroes. I will fight with them on my day to day as a professional, as a mother and as a wife, for the future of so many girls like my daughters, to ensure they have a future full of opportunities. I am committed to contributing, even if in a small way, to help build their confidence and help them to feel strong enough to be able to reach their dreams and do whatever they want to do because, I truly think, they can.

Working Towards Closing the Gap

Pinchin recognizes the need for talented and creative ability of all our people, to stay competitive and foster an environment that will allow women to thrive in a career in science.

If you are currently studying or are a professional within the field of science, or know someone that is, and would like to learn more about joining our team in a co-op opportunity or professionally at one of our 42 offices across Canada, visit our careers page.

Related Links

SCWIST (The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology)
Women in Science – Government of Canada
CCWESTT (The Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology
2021 International Day of Women and Girls Science presentation on YouTube hosted by UHN, in partnership with the Durham District School Board