Young women in Yellowknife encouraged to pursue science, tech careers

'I do know there’s probably going to be a lot more men in whatever I am doing, but hopefully that can change.'

De Beers Canada luncheon promotes careers in science, technology, engineering and math

Akruthi Balaji wants to study to become a surgeon after high school. (Randi Beers/CBC)

Akruthi Balaji has dreams of becoming a surgeon someday.

The Grade 12 student was one of about 50 young women learning about all the possibilities for women in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields — Monday in Yellowknife.

De Beers Canada organized the luncheon just as the Yellowknife Geoscience Forum gets underway this week. It starts Tuesday and runs through Thursday.

Balaji isn't intimidated by the prospect of entering a field she knows will be dominated by men.

"I do know there's probably going to be a lot more men in whatever I am doing, but hopefully that can change and I really don't feel that scared to go into it," she said.

New scholarships announced

Women are underrepresented in STEM fields. According to Statistics Canada, 39 per cent of STEM graduates are women, while women make up 66 per cent of all university graduates.

In an effort to close this gap, De Beers Canada has invested $604,000 over four years in scholarships for women who enter STEM or STEM-related programs, such as nursing or accounting.

At Monday's luncheon, speakers such as Pamela Ellemers, manager of technical services with De Beers Canada, told stories about their career paths and encouraged the young women in the room to explore STEM programs.

"You can do anything you set your mind to," she said, pointing to a picture of herself taken in South Africa several years ago, while 35 weeks pregnant.

Pamela Ellemers spoke to the crowd about her career in geology. (Randi Beers/CBC)

"You can even go out into the field when you're going to have a baby."

Ellemers entered the geology field by accident. She was studying math in university when she took a geology course as a fluke. She discovered she loved it and ended up building a career around it.

Ellemers says she was fortunate to work with great people, which meant she never faced a lot of adversity.

"But I note that being out there, I had to always be on and work my hardest so everybody saw me at my best," she said.

Her message for young women who might be on the fence about entering a STEM field such as geology is to explore all of the opportunities.

"One of the things [De Beers] doesn't do enough is share what mining is, and the opportunities available out there for everyone," she said.

"People can have a rewarding career whether you are mining with heavy equipment, or environmental studies, or working in the kitchen. Everything is so important for the team and everybody contributes to every carat taken out of the ground."