STEM for all gender identities

Research
STEM

By University of Ottawa

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

Janelle Fournier
Janelle Fournier
As a former high-school science and math teacher, Janelle Fournier has witnessed firsthand the under-representation of female students in physics and biology and, more widely, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). After having worked with a person who identifies as non-binary, Fournier became increasingly aware of the struggles of marginalized groups. “This made me change,” says the doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Education. “It is not enough to talk about the disparities between men and women. The gender spectrum is wide and there are many other forms of exclusion.”

Fournier’s teaching experience inspired her involvement in a research education project, which aims to engage more gender diversity in engineering. Realizing that change was necessary motivated her to work on a PhD project that encourages students of all genders to consider pursuing studies in engineering and to build a career in this field.

Janelle Fournier works with professors Donatille Mujawamariya of the Faculty of Education and Catherine Mavriplis of the Faculty of Engineering, as well as fellow PhD candidate Shelina Adatia of the Faculty of Education. They have proudly implemented equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) practices in their research environment and in conferences they have hosted, which have been well received by students and professors.

Fournier has also adopted other inclusive practices in her research. Participants in events she and her group have organized are provided with options for wider seating accommodations and they can share the pronouns they identify with rather than being assigned pronouns based on their perceived gender. Her research team promotes inclusive writing and creates documents accessible to everyone in the research community, regardless of abilities. Her recently submitted PhD thesis proposal complies entirely with provincial accessibility standards and uses inclusive language representing all gender identities, adhering to the uOttawa Accessibility Hub’s recommendations.

“Incorporating EDI practices in research is worthwhile because it creates a safe and comfortable work environment, which nurtures creativity,” explains Fournier. She notes that including EDI practices has improved the climate of her research environment.

Implementing EDI is important to encourage gender diversity in STEM. “As a science educator, I sometimes heard colleagues imply that some female students could not go any further in the sciences, that they had reached the limit of their potential. As a result, teachers stopped encouraging them,” says the researcher. To further promote inclusivity, she believes that future teachers should be educated in EDI initiatives, that the University of Ottawa should offer EDI courses, that more resources and training be available to create inclusive websites, and that gender-neutral washrooms be more widespread on campus.

Fournier works towards integrating EDI practices in research because she is convinced that diversity fosters more creativity and that equity measures are beneficial — not only to underrepresented groups but to the entire University community.

By Kirtarath Kaur and Diego Herrera, uOttawa Research Management Services.

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