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GTAGA Event Summary Report
Women in STEM: Fixing the ‘leaky pipeline’

On November 8, 2022, the third cooperation activity under the Global Trade and Gender Arrangement (GTAGA) was hosted by New Zealand, with the support of other GTAGA participants -- Canada, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. The theme of discussion was “Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics): fixing the ‘leaky pipeline’ ”. The event brought together women leaders in STEM from Canada, Chile, New Zealand and Mexico to share insights, advice and to exchange views on how we can encourage and support more women in STEM careers, and how to retain them so the ‘leaky pipeline’ or the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields can be addressed.

“Women in STEM” was an activity selected for implementation under GTAGA as it is referenced as a potential co-operation activity in the Arrangement text (see article 9).Footnote 1  STEM is important to advancing women’s participation in trade because it is often a foundation for well-paid careers that boost the economic security of women, contributes to the knowledge economy, and facilitates the creation of innovative entrepreneurial start-ups. STEM skills and knowledge are also globally transferable, which gives women in this industry broader opportunities for trade and investment. According to a recent report, increasing women's participation in STEM careers will boost women's cumulative earnings by $299 billion over the next ten years, expediting global economic developmentFootnote 2 .

The event was organised in two segments: “Women in Innovation” and “Technology 4.0”, with each speaker given a question to share their unique perspectives and story. The first segment, “Women in Innovation”, showcased Catherine Clennett from New Zealand and Dr Poh Tan from Canada, as women who are at the forefront of promoting innovation through science and research including in environment and biomedical sectors. The second segment, “Industry 4.0”, featured Barbarita Lara from Chile and Graciela Rojas Montemayor from Mexico, as women in the technology sector highlighting the importance of people-to-people connection and education including through harnessing the power of technology.

The event MC was Anna Guenther, Women in Export Lead at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. Welcoming remarks were made by Wendy Matthews from New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as a host country. This was followed by remarks from Lydia Antonio De la Garza, from Mexico’s Ministry of Economy, Angela Ospina from Colombia’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism and Jose Luis Castillo from Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Tourism, as newer members of GTAGA.

In the second half of the event, a series of five questions were asked by the audience and responded to by the panellists. These reflections have been captured in the report below, including a summary of presentations from each of the segment speakers. The event attracted more than 120 participants from 22 countries. A recording of the event is available here.

Segment one: ‘Women in Innovation’

Catherine Clennett, Managing Director/Co-Founder of Hiringa Energy – New Zealand

Catherine Clennett shared insights about her journey starting out as a mechanical and electrical engineer to a managing director and a co-founder of Hiringa Energy. Hiringa Energy is a green hydrogen company based in New Zealand with the aim to address climate change by decarbonising some of the world’s most hard to abate sectors, such as heavy transport and industrial processes.

Catherine noted climate change as the greatest challenge of our time, and highlighted that science provides the skills to address climate change. In particular, she noted that engineering has a key role in problem solving and implementation of technology like green hydrogen – which is essential to the change we need to make.

Against this background, Catherine addressed “why does STEM matter, and why is it worth promoting careers in STEM to women and girls?”

She noted that there are direct benefits of having women participate in the work place with their unique strengths and capabilities. Catherine stressed the importance of creating an enabling environment for women to thrive in STEM careers. For example, promoting women to senior positions to allow for more diverse career pathways; and ensuring a better gender balance for the benefit of all.

Dr Poh Tan, CEO of STEMedge Academy - Canada

Dr Poh Tan shared her views as an immigrant to Canada; one as stem cell biological scientist and second as a PhD candidate on science education looking at decentring the dominant western and male-oriented way of teaching science.

Poh addressed the question, “why does mentorship and representation matter in STEM for youth who are considering STEM as a potential career?”. Poh explained that traditional teaching of science has emphasised knowledge transmission through textbook and memorisation, often through a single narrative. Poh shared that in Canada, there is a growing focus on Indigenous knowledge, in bringing Indigenous interests into areas such as science going beyond the perception of pure technical and objective knowledge and on diversity, through the Government of Canada’s “50-30 challenge” which encourages organizations to ensure gender parity (50% women and/or non-binary people) and 30% representation of marginalised groups in leadership positions.

Poh emphasised the importance of representation and the acknowledgement of the many layers of diversity in STEM sectors. She highlighted that more stories about women scientists in classrooms could be told – what did they discover, what were they like? What did they share with the world? Poh noted that normalizing such narrative into a classroom environment would allow young female students to overcome gender stereotypes and increase their expectations of success believing  that they belong in STEM too. Furthermore, educating students about scientists “who look like them” will also contribute to girls deciding to enter into hard sciences where male scientists are predominant.

Poh noted that everything we do is relational and comes down to relationships. When we teach and learn science that brings together language, culture and relationships, we ultimately gain a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the importance of equity in science.

Segment two: ‘Industry 4.0’

Barbarita Lara, CEO of EMERCOM & Leader of S!E Project – Chile

Barbarita Lara shared how she became the CEO of EMERCOM & leader of S!E Project.  The theme of her story was to “hack yourself” where she addressed the question “how to build diverse teams in STEM industries, why it matters and what is the best way to achieve it?”.

Barbarita shared her experience during an earthquake in 2010 in Chile. During this time, 93% of the Chilean population had been affected and a tsunami caused widespread loss of life.  She highlighted that the lack of a viable communications network and technology at the time had led to information being slow to reach the people that needed it. In response, she created S!E, a system that allowed people to communicate with the affected population in case of an emergency by using a high frequency radio.

Barbarita noted that the lack of preparedness in education in STEM resulted in lack of opportunities for girls and women. She highlighted that societal expectations have often shaped and established a “prototype” of what a boy or girl should “like” and “do”, emphasizing gender roles and expectations and the resulting inequality. Because of such behaviours, we are losing capability and talent in our societies by limiting what people can do, particularly in STEM sectors.

Barbarita stressed that crises are opportunities and technology is an empowering tool for all, including women, girls, and those from different cultures and languages. She noted that technology is trans-sectional and cross-sectional regardless of who you are, and that we should all be embracing such tool to address global challenges and crises together.

Graciela Rojas Montemayor, Founder of Movimiento STEM – Mexico

Graciela Rojas Montemayor tackled the question “what advice do you have for women navigating their studies or careers in STEM?” Graciela shared views from her own journey as a founder of Movimiento STEM, an educational consultancy that fosters connection and development of STEM education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Graciela stressed that the world needs STEM talent; girls and boys are our hope to resolve the many global issues such as poverty and climate change mitigation. Therefore, her mission has been to spread awareness amongst stakeholders about the importance of addressing the gender gap in STEM education.

Graciela noted the need for women in this generation to embrace the fourth industrial revolution driven by technological advancements.

Graciela shared that the most productive and innovative companies are inclusive. She identified inclusivity as one of the four pillars that underpin the basis for success in the 21st century along with others such as capability for Industry 4.0, Agenda for 2030 and innovation. Graciela noted that in order to make an impact in empowering women, focus needs to be on ensuring that women are present to participate in discussions and dialogues, and be given opportunities to contribute in different areas including STEM sectors.


STEM has been identified as a cooperation focus for activities under the GTAGA, and this event showcased the importance of promoting opportunities and engagement for women in STEM fields, including promoting trade in STEM sectors. In sum, all speakers addressed  the topics of how much representation matters, how diversity of thought and identity will help to resolve the biggest problems of our time, and the influential role that our society plays in informing the education and career pathways for girls. They highlighted the value of inclusive perspectives and decision-making. There is still much work to be done in promoting gender equality, in particular, representation of women in STEM sectors and international cooperation initiatives such as GTAGA are instrumental in helping our societies to progress forward.

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