As the G(irls)20 Summit in Moscow draws nearer, I am torn between overwhelming excitement and total awe. Excitement, because I can’t wait to put my thoughts and ideas into action and meet girls from all over the world with similar goals. Awe, because my fellow delegates are some of the most innovative and accomplished girls I have ever met. I feel confident that together we have the potential to have a real impact thanks to the global platform of G(irls)20.

As the Canadian delegate, I am proud to represent a country that continues to make strides in narrowing the gender gap in both opportunities and achievements. Canada, however, still has a long way to go – and we are at a crucial crossroads in ensuring that women are not left out of the fastest growing sectors: STEM fields.

In Canada, women still only make 85 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts – an income disparity that is dependent on education level but also on choice of occupation. That women are a minority in some of the most exciting fields today should be a concern for all Canadians: our global competitiveness increasingly depends on technology, and many top tech companies have recognized the importance of women in contributing the diverse perspectives that drive innovation.

Sadly, one of the reasons for this gap is self-selection. Due to external pressures or lack of exposure, most girls are opting out of technology-related career paths that are seen as non-traditional or unfriendly to women. For example, while 74% of middle-school girls express interest in STEM fields, only 0.3% of girls will go on to study computer science. Yet women remain the majority of tech-product users, demonstrating an innate ability to relate to technology.

Closing the income gap will take more than changing legislation or tackling institutional bias. It will take a major shift in what girls perceives as viable and exciting career options. We have to make sure girls learn the valuable skills that will make them competitive in a rapidly evolving job market, and that now includes coding.

While I hope that Canada will one day integrate programming into its school curriculum, there are myriad free and easy ways to empower yourself by learning to program the computers that have become ubiquitous in any workspace (my favorite right now is Code Academy).

It’s by promoting tangible solutions like these that the delegates of the G(irls)20 Summit in Moscow are going to change the world. You can help us by contributing to the campaign here: https://www.catapult.org/project/cultivate-new-generation-female-leadership.

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