In October 2023, Woman and Gender Equality (WAGE) Canada recognized Dr. Ratnam as part of Women's History Month, an annual celebration highlighting the outstanding achievements of Canadian women and girls. Dr. Ratnam is the first Tamil Canadian women to receive this honour. This year's WAGE theme, "Through Her Lens: Celebrating the Diversity of Women," acknowledges the contributions of eleven remarkable Canadian women from various backgrounds who are actively shaping the future and fostering inclusivity. Dr. Ratnam's journey is deeply rooted in Scarborough, where she was raised, continues to reside, and passionately dedicates her work. A proud graduate of the University of Toronto with a Ph.D. in neurobiology, her research focused on the regulation of inflammation by resident immune cells in the brain, known as microglia, following cerebral ischemia.
Dr. Ratnam serves as the President of the UTSC Alumni Association, committing her time to support activities that strengthen the alumni community and deepen their connections with the institution. Her dedication to volunteerism was acknowledged in 2022 when she received the Arbor Award, the University of Toronto's highest honor for individuals exhibiting exceptional and sustained dedication to the institution. Dr. Ratnam's advocacy extends from local schools in Toronto to national organizations. She has mentored over a thousand students, spanning elementary, high school, and university levels, empowering them to tackle contemporary challenges through innovation in science and technology. Her mission to foster change and gender equity in STEM is evident through her role as the President of The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (SCWIST), a national non-profit organization dedicated to advancing gender equality and breaking down systemic barriers in STEM for equity groups across Canada. In the spring of the previous year, Dr. Ratnam actively participated in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women session. She built on the work of SCWIST's Policy and Advocacy team and incorporated insights from diverse communities across Canada. These insights were instrumental in shaping gender-responsive policy recommendations. Dr. Ratnam underlines the importance of these conversations, stating, "SCWIST has spoken with women in STEM throughout Canada about the barriers they face, and these conversations have been very influential when outlining gender-responsive policy suggestions." Her commitment to addressing systemic barriers within STEM is ingrained in SCWIST's national strategy, encompassing early education through career advancement. This strategy serves aims to improve address known barriers in STEM fields.
Dr. Ratnam's impact extends to the younger generation of Canadian scientists and innovators. She has designed programs for elementary school students, such as Ultimate Science, integrating STEM and innovation while focusing on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. Her dedication to nurturing future innovators also extends to secondary schools, where she is actively involved with the EaRTH Switch program at UTSC. This initiative prepares the next generation for careers in electric vehicles and mobility, fostering ideation, design thinking, and innovation through challenges like the EVolve Hackathon for secondary and post-secondary students. "Canada's vast talent pool for innovation is going to be our greatest driver to achieving economic growth," Dr. Ratnam emphasizes. "Embedded within our diverse communities is the creativity needed to solve the biggest challenges of our time and deliver on our commitment to achieving the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals."
At UTSC's startup incubator, The Hub, Dr. Ratnam pays it forward through mentorship and coaching for entrepreneurs. Additionally, she hosts a Science Innovation series aimed at supporting science-based startups in their pursuit of success in innovation and entrepreneurship. Donovan Dill, The Hub Operations Lead, expresses gratitude for Dr. Ratnam's contributions, noting that she has inspired many to achieve their entrepreneurial aspirations.
Dr. Ratnam was incredibly honoured and humbled to meet the Honourable Marci Ien at Parliament Hill on October 23, 2023 at WAGE’s Women’s History Celebration. In the minister’s remarks she stated, "Women's History Month is a time to remember and honor Canadian women who have worked tirelessly throughout our history to advance women's rights." Dr. Ratnam expressed her deepest admiration for the Minister and the other women profiled during WHM, which serves as a continued source of inspiration for her to work to alongside her community to achieve innovation and equity in STEM. Dr. Ratnam's remarkable journey stands as a testament to the boundless potential of Canadian women in the pursuit of scientific excellence and a brighter future, and she is beyond humbled to be the first Tamil Canadian Women to receive this honour.