As I was just driving in my car, I heard a report on the radio highlighting International Women’s Day. They were talking about how here in Canada the enrollment of women in science and engineering courses in university is down from 20% ten years ago, to 17% now. It also spoke about how those numbers are not reflected in the industry, especially in management, that the percentage of women is far fewer.
When I was in high school, I was a very good student. Especially when it came to math and science. I fell in love with physics, I loved theories of gravitation, electromagnetism, and relativity. I loved chemistry and how orderly it was. When I took calculus in the last half of grade 12, it was heaven. I loved how everything just fell together and made sense. I was lucky that I had some amazing teachers who also loved their subject matter, and shared this love. When it was time to decide what to do after university, I decided to take engineering. It made sense, I loved math, I loved physics, I was good at both, what else would I take?
My mother, like many mothers of 17 year olds who think they know what is best for them, bit her tongue. She knew. She knew that I would NOT love engineering. She knew that even though I loved physics, chemistry and math, that I also loved people, art, music, and children. She knew that engineering would not by my final destination. It turned out that my love of people and socializing definitely trumped my love of math and physics. My first year of university was an unmatched disaster.
The next year, I blamed it on my lack of focus, that I just didn’t try hard enough, and that I had spent too much time with my friends rather than in class. Which, WERE true, but were not my only reasons for not doing well. After I took another semester of engineering, this time at a local college transfer program, I realized that; yes. I was capable of doing the work, but NO. I did not want to do this for the rest of my life.
I spent the next 2 years trying to decide what to finally major in, trying a variety of classes, but thinking that I would end up in either chemistry or geology. I liked both of those classes, liked learning and understanding how things worked. But again, I had no desire to do that for the rest of my life.
Which brings me to how I am another statistic. I am a capable, bright woman who could be working in the science and engineering industry, being a mentor and leader for women to follow. I had the knowledge and interest. But the thing is, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be an engineer, geologist, or chemist. I don’t want to work designing planes, performing research, or even really doing math. I COULD, but I don’t want to.
I work in a field dominated by women. Male co-workers are rare. And I love it. I love what I do, I love the kids I work with, and each day I come to work, use what I have learned, and I am challenged. I am a success.
Shouldn’t that be the message that we are sending our daughters? Not that they should be equalizing the percentages, or making in roads into science and technology. They MUST have those opportunities if that is what they want, but they should have the right to choose. Just like boys should have the right to choose to be a nurse, teacher or a behavioural strategist. We should all have the same choices regardless of gender, and our choices should reflect what we love and what we are passionate about. Nothing else.
For the record, I still love science. I still read books on physics, astronomy and other assorted nerd stuff. I love getting into debates with my husband about how and why things work the way they do. I love knowing that I am capable of understanding those things when I need to, and that I have the opportunity to do so.