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Celebrating scientists on International Women’s Day

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Simply Science introduces three inspiring women who are advancing the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation’s (CCMEO) scientific objectives. Their work contributes to a wide selection of geospatial data and mapping products, covering areas such as emergency mapping, forests, geology and geophysics, mines and minerals and topography.

March 2024

International Women’s Day isn’t just a date on the calendar — it’s a special time to celebrate the achievements of women and to reflect on the importance of equal opportunities.

With a team that includes several remarkable women, the CCMEO is actively shaping a more inclusive scientific landscape, one where everyone has the opportunity to contribute and succeed.

Three inspiring stories

Portraits of three women

Mary-Anne Fobert joined the operations team in 2022. As a senior ground station engineer, she’s involved in infrastructure development, spectrum management and the onboarding of new missions and programs at the CCMEO.

Before earning her professional engineering licence, Mary-Anne honed her skills in the aircraft manufacturing industry. She joined the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing as a student in 2016 and is now working with the CCMEO while pursuing a PhD in earth sciences at the University of New Brunswick.

Charlotte Crevier, a project officer and geomatics developer, is among the younger generation of scientists at Natural Resources Canada. She first joined NRCan as an intern and has been an integral part of the CCMEO’s GeoBase division since July 2022. She’s currently developing tools to simplify the discovery of and access to geospatial data to facilitate their use in decision making and research.

Marjan Asgari is a physical sciences specialist and integrates computer science and geomatics focused on remote sensing. In 2019, she moved to Canada to pursue a PhD in the geography department of Guelph University. She joined NRCan as a student intern from June to August 2023, and has been working with the CCMEO full time since December 2023.

Acknowledging the challenges

These scientists have made strides throughout their careers, emphasizing the importance of equal opportunities and paving the way for more diverse voices in the scientific community. Woven into their stories are the challenges that they’ve encountered along the way.

Asgari works in the field of distributive computing, which is highly specialized and does not yet have many experts. In this unique environment, she feels that her area of work is fairly gender-neutral and hasn’t encountered discrimination or differential treatment from her male colleagues. However, her educational experience as a STEM scholar in Iran was less inclusive.

“In engineering, most of my classmates were men. School was not somewhere I felt included,” says Asgari. “Industry projects coming to the university were often assigned to male students first, as women were seen as the minority that was just there to study. But I loved engineering, so I disregarded everything else so I could do what I really wanted to do. After obtaining my master’s degree and realizing that I was still a minority there, I decided to move abroad to see if I could improve my career.”

Even as someone who studied in Canada, Crevier echoed a similar sentiment. “In geomatics, my impression is that women are still very underrepresented. When I was doing my bachelor’s degree, I was the only woman in my cohort and most of the role models I had access to at the time were male scientists.”

“There aren’t many of us,” Fobert says in agreement. “In my program, 10 out of 60 students were female. Sometimes it feels like you need to work extra hard to be recognized. I was brought up never thinking about genders or thinking that I couldn’t do it. I’ve always loved space and physics. But when I was in high school and I got accepted in aerospace engineering, I remember telling somebody and they laughed at me!”

It struck her as odd that someone would have such an opinion, but such a reaction didn’t deter her from following the path that eventually led her to NRCan.

Building an equitable and diverse community

There were very few women scientists when Fobert joined NRCan in 2016, but as she saw more and more female students coming in, it made her feel like things were slowly changing. “In the engineering group (outside the policy team), I am the only woman,” Fobert says. “Fortunately, all my supervisors have been fantastic and very supportive, and I never felt like there was any kind of barrier.”

Not only has the number of women scientists been increasing, but NRCan has also launched initiatives that are geared toward women. “There’s a course offering that I keep seeing, but then when you click on it, it’s always full,” Fobert chuckles.

When she arrived, Crevier was quickly invited to network with other women scientists from her division. Since then, her team reached gender parity (3-3). “My experience at NRCan has been very positive,” Crevier says. “I was able to find go-to people who had the desire to build a scientific community that is equitable and diverse.”

She stresses the importance of having employers who are committed to promoting women in male-dominated fields. “It’s essential to break gender stereotypes. To do so, we need to create environments where every individual can excel.”

Asgari also believes the department has been actively supporting women’s careers in science. “Before I was hired, I was scrolling through job postings, and I saw openings for government positions that were specifically for women, which I found amazing.”

She thinks the methods and strategies her division is implementing could benefit from more diverse feedback and comments. “Having the perspective of women and men scientists is necessary for better results,” Asgari says. “NRCan seems to be taking that into consideration. In fact, in my research group, there is an equal number of men and women working on projects.”

“Seeing other women with PhDs in senior positions within the organization, especially in my job category, has made a huge impression on me,” she adds. “When I see these women — women like me — succeeding in the natural resources or physical sciences fields, these researchers become role models for me to follow and learn from. If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have been inclined to set my sights so high.”

Hopes and expectations for the future

In the future, these three CCMEO scientists would love to see more female representation. According to Crevier, this is not a forgone conclusion and, as a society, we must work actively to ensure that everyone feels included and that everyone can share equally positive experiences, even when they represent a minority.

“The desire to provide an equitable environment is there, and that’s a good starting point,” she says. “One crucial aspect is that individuals in positions of authority — managers, executives, et cetera — need to be open to promoting this inclusion. Currently, many initiatives are coming from below, but efforts are required at every level. We need people at the top pushing for the same representation.”

Asgari adds that more tools should be given to women at the education stage rather than at the working stage. “Having spots open for women in computer science programs could give them the courage to step into that field,” she says.

In the future, she would like to see more companies promoting diversity and inclusion through the implementation of policies that would ensure equal opportunity.

Crevier feels just as strongly about the cause. “I’m aware of my responsibility as a woman to contribute to this change,” she says. “Being a woman in the scientific field is, in itself, a driver of change. I have a strong conviction that our presence in scientific roles, including positions of power, will show the younger generation of girls that there’s a place for them in STEM.”

These three remarkable and talented women are thriving at CCMEO while setting a solid groundwork for future generations. Through their work and success, they show that inclusive science isn’t just beneficial for some — it’s essential for all.

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