Continuing to Lay the Foundation for Female Engineer Success
December 6th marks a significant day of remembrance for Canadians. On this day we reflect and express gratitude to the women who came before us and paved the way for women in engineering and other STEM careers.
No sense of gratitude would be complete without acknowledging the obligation that we feel to future generations. It is because of the women before us and their perseverance that we are here today, doing what we love.
Today, women make up about 22 percent of engineering undergraduates, according to Engineers Canada. Of licensed engineers in the country, women account for 13 percent. Since 2005, applications to Canada’s engineering schools have tripled, according to Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWIE), showing that continued growth is encouraged by the development of an environment that promotes and supports diversity and inclusion.
December 6, 1989
Starting as an ordinary day, December 6, 1989 was etched in to the collective memory of the Canadian Engineering community for generations to come.
On this day, a lone gunman entered a Mechanical Engineering class at École Polytechnique in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Stating he was “fighting feminism” he targeted and opened fire on the women before ending his own life. That day, 14 women lost their lives and 10 others were injured for no other reason than they were female and pursuing a higher education in a field that they were passionate about. Four men, in efforts to assist the female victims, were also injured.
Creating a supportive environment
Creating a strong community starts with support. As female-identifying engineers and allies we can continue to seek and support others by taking part in university and high school volunteer opportunities. This helps to showcase the growing diversity in STEM and reshape students’ vision of the profession.
Additionally, creating communities within your company or school for female engineers or engineers in minority groups can help to foster a welcoming space for shared experiences and learning.
Mentorship programs have proven to be greatly effective to support junior employees as they navigate being the only female or minority group in the room, and this continues to hold true.
Active learning and engagement with minority groups can also help to create a supportive environment. This can include everyday interactions to unlearn subtle behaviors rooted in stereotypes:
- Being conscious of who is speaking during meetings and giving frequent opportunities to female/minority coworkers to speak.
- Providing training to staff about the way they perceive and relate to female/minority staff.
- Consistently challenging any discriminatory behaviors exhibited by teammates.
You can also show support to local Women in Engineering groups by attending, promoting or helping at their events.
Prioritizing diversity and inclusion
Companies are bringing diversity and inclusion to the work environment. At Bastian Solutions, we’ve launched a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative with four main focus areas, one of which is focused specifically on hiring and training. The group works to ensure that more perspectives are included in the hiring process and that the existing climate at Bastian Solutions continues to progress towards more inclusion and more diversity of background, deeper understanding of groups that are under-represented in our current employee demographic, and ways we can each actively be involved in this growth.
Our history is laden with examples of brilliance and success at the hands of female engineers. While the road to total inclusion may seem long, the inclusion of more diverse groups in the engineering industry across the globe will lead to future success.
Remembering those that pushed boundaries
Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, are the 14 women massacred at École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989.
There are also so many women who deserve our gratitude:
- Elizabeth Bragg (UC Berkeley 1876) – The first woman to receive a bachelor’s degree in engineering.
- Edith Clarke – The first female in the United States to be employed as an electrical engineer, the first American female professor of electrical engineering, and the first woman to deliver a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.
- Elsie MacGill (University of Toronto, 1927) – The first Canadian woman to receive a bachelor’s degree in Engineering and the world’s first female Aeronautical Engineer.
- Eleanor K. Baum (1984) – The first female dean of engineering in the United States, a position to which many schools today have yet to appoint a woman.
- The women of the 1800s – Among the first to be allowed to study in science and engineering programs across some of the top technical schools, who were then refused degrees even upon successful completion of the coursework.
- Women throughout history – Allowed to participate in science courses but faced numerous restrictions and regulations such as restricted seating, limited library, lab access and much more.
As interest by women in engineering careers continues to rise, it’s important to remember that we can all play a role in supporting women and minorities in the workplace. Starting with active learning and discussion, we can help continue the development of a welcoming and encouraging environment started by those that came before us.
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