February 11 is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, an initiative implemented by UNESCO and UN-Women to promote diversity in the scientific community. Waterloo's Dr. Julie Messier was one of three scientists interviewed to discuss sexism in science for PLUS TFO.

TFO is a Canadian French language educational television channel and media organization that serves the province of Ontario. It produces films, documentaries and news stories on the latest political and cultural news from French Canada.

According to data from the UN, women represent on average only 33 per cent of researchers worldwide, an even more staggering statistic when analyzing the proportion of women in top scientific positions. Plus TFO wanted examine this issue from a Canadian context and interviewed three scientists to assess what the field of science is like for female scientists in Ontario. 

The three scientists participating in the program were:  

  • Dr. Ève Gilroy, research scientist in the Aquatic Contaminants Research Division at Environment and Climate Change Canada in Burlington
  • Dr. Marie-Josée Fortin, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Spatial Ecology
  • Dr. Julie Messier, Assistant Professor and Laboratory Director in the Department of Biology at the University of Waterloo

The program highlighted the obstacles women face that may deter them from pursuing the sciences including: different societal expectations for men and women, higher standards for women and questioning the skill set and education of women.

"We must remind society, then we must remind ourselves, women and girls, in science that we have our role and that this is the path of the future," said Messier.

There is a high attrition rate for women at the more advanced levels of scientific careers. One constraint facing women is biological - females have about 40 years to have a family which can influence their early careers and something that doesn't affect men. Maternity leave is another.

"We say to ourselves, what is my circle of influence? It’s the people in my family, my friends and my students in the classroom," says Messier. "It is at this level that I make an effort to try to have a positive impact. That’s how you move forward."

"I find it really important to have an International Day of Women and Girls in Science because it allows us to take stock of the disparity between women and men in science," says Gilroy.

To view the video please click on the link below.

Remote video URL