February 11, 2021
Honourable senators, in 1983, David Chambers, a social scientist, published results from his 11-year study. Between 1966 and 1977, a total of 4,807 elementary-school children — predominantly from Quebec but also from other cities in Canada and the United States — were given a simple task: draw a picture of a scientist.
While many of the images included a white coat, eyeglasses and lab equipment, one feature stood out the most: Each scientist was almost exclusively portrayed as a man. Out of approximately 5,000 drawings, only 28 women scientists were drawn all by girls.
Fifty years later, a team of researchers from Northwestern University examined how children’s gender-science stereotypes have changed over time. They analyzed 78 “Draw-a-Scientist Test” studies and found that, as the decades passed, children became more likely to draw women scientists — a clear reflection of our ever-evolving society.
Today, we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science, established to recognize and promote the critical role women and girls play in the fields of STEM.
We honour women like Harriet Brooks, Canada’s first female nuclear physicist; Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut; and Carrie Derick, the first female professor at a Canadian university who paved the way for future generations of women.
However, despite the advancements made in recent years, serious gender disparities in STEM fields of occupation and education continue to persist globally. Research shows that women remain less likely than men to choose career paths in STEM.
As we celebrate the many achievements of women scientists, we should continue to engage young women and girls in STEM. Our encouragement and mentoring efforts can break barriers and enhance their sense of belonging.
If, by chance, this statement reaches the ears of a young woman or girl, remember this: Be bold in your pursuits. Your curiosity and drive for innovation can find answers to some of the most puzzling questions of our time. And you, too, can be the face of a child’s future drawing of a scientist.