Event recap: WWIN celebrates International Women in Mathematics Day

The event featured a keynote presentation by Professor Hilary Bergsieker about creating inclusive cultures in STEM

On May 12, the Waterloo Women’s Impact Network (WWIN) celebrated International Women in Mathematics Day with round-table discussions and a presentation by Hilary Bergsieker, associate professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo, about how to create inclusive cultures in STEM.

Bergsieker spoke about her work with Engendering Success in Stem, a research consortium that aims to better understand and combat the various ways that cultural biases stand in the way of creating inclusive cultures in STEM:

Building an inclusive STEM culture

Bergsieker stressed that it’s important to think about diversity, equity and inclusion as distinct yet interrelated terms. “It used to be that people mainly talked about diversity,” said Bergsieker. “But there’s been a historical shift, in part because research shows that diversity isn’t enough.”

Diversity, or the representation of different identities within a given setting, does not guarantee that groups feel that they belong (inclusion) or that they are being treated fairly (equity).

“Diversity, inclusion and equity sometimes correlate, but not always,” says Bergsieker. “You could have a workplace that achieves perfect gender parity but still has toxic norms related to work-life balance that can be very unfriendly to women.”

With many organizations investing significant resources in EDI initiatives, Bergsieker contends that it is more important than ever to pay attention to emerging evidence on how to create inclusive cultures. This will ensure that efforts are effective and sustainable.

“We need to get over the notion that we can just create a cure-all policy that says everybody respect each other and nobody make any assumptions,” said Bergsieker. “We need to recognize that it’s a journey and that we need to constantly take in new information and learn.”

So what does the research say about promoting inclusion? According to Bergsieker, voluntary EDI training appears to work better than mandatory training, which can sometimes cause more harm than good. Formal mentoring programs, open to all employees, have also been shown to help women and other underrepresented groups because they otherwise tend to receive less informal mentoring. And networks and affinity groups, similar to the Waterloo Women’s Impact Network, Women in Computer Science (WiCS) and Women in Mathematics (WiM), play a key role in creating feelings of belonging.

“These kinds of groups create safe spaces for underrepresented identities and can help with group visibility,” said Bergsieker. “Coming together creates opportunities to connect with women and other underrepresented identities of your own age or career stage and to see people from your background succeeding. There is often an ‘aha’ moment when you see somebody who shares an identity with you in a position of leadership.”

About the Waterloo Women's Impact Network

WWIN was launched in 2020 on the second anniversary of Women in Mathematics Day. The aim was to build on the work of WiM, WiCS and the CEMC in promoting gender equity and inspiring the next generation of leaders in the Faculty by engaging the University’s external community of alumni, friends and partners.

Over its first three years, WWIN has connected thousands of women, underrepresented identities and male allies in virtual webinars with themes such as women in entrepreneurship, workplace sustainability and the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

The organization has also raised money to fund programming in support of women+ students and researchers in the Faculty of Mathematics. To date, more than 85 donors have made 240 gifts, raising more than $56,600.

Learn more about WWIN here.