Women in Engineering Task Force Report

Women can be construction workers, too
Credit: flickr / quinn.anya

This was discussed at the WECS meeting this week, there’s a new attention to it as the number of women enrolled in undergraduate programs from a high of 20% to 17%. See the full report here. Recommendations are as follows:

  1. Raise the profile and improve the image of the profession.
  2. Explore how engineering curriculum and its delivery could, without compromising the high standards of the Canadian system, become more attractive to a greater diversity of students.
  3. Demonstrate the value of diversity in engineering education and in the workplace.
  4. Help better prepare female engineers for the workforce.
  5. Promote information-sharing on mentorship programs and the importance that mentors have in the attraction and retention of women in engineering.
  6. Work with industry on methods to help improve the retention of female engineers in the workforce and diversity in general.

I’m particularly interested in 1, 2 and 4.

1. This makes me wonder, is the lack of women self-perpetuating? Few women go into it so few are inclined to? Why is biology succeeding to attract women, where engineering fails?

2. Most beginner programming courses I’ve seen fail to engage. One thing I see regularly is having a solution (what you want to teach) and trying to twist a problem to fit it. Finding the right problem makes the solution seem much more intuitive. Also, making stuff that has no bearing on the real world. That’s a big one. Innovative curriculum designed for engagement could go a long way, I think. In Computer Science, particularly teaching Java, there’s no excuse not to do this. There are so many free and open source teaching tools out there.

4. It’s tough to work in a predominantly male environment. I’ve done it – the only other girl was the secretary. As nice as the boys were, it can be difficult. I’m hoping WISE can put together a workshop for this.

Let me know what you think, and how WISE could help!

12 thoughts on “Women in Engineering Task Force Report

  1. I spend a lot of time pondering this one. Some anecdotal observations
    – a lot of my friends were are single sex schools
    – we had parents who were supportive of science or were role models
    – we tended to self-teach or study outside of the curriculum because the curriculum didn’t get exciting until (oh, let’s say final year of undergrad)
    – for Physicists of my generation, Feynman was an inspiration (in fact several of my classmates remember a Horizon documentary on him as being pivotal)

    You are right, but I think we can better prepare ALL of our engineers for the workplace (the applied degree programs of the colleges have tried to address this).

    I think there is also an absence of good examples of what scientists and engineers really do ‘a day in the life etc’. Ok, enough rambling, you’ve inspired me to think of a blog posting of my own!

  2. I spend a lot of time pondering this one. Some anecdotal observations
    – a lot of my friends were are single sex schools
    – we had parents who were supportive of science or were role models
    – we tended to self-teach or study outside of the curriculum because the curriculum didn’t get exciting until (oh, let’s say final year of undergrad)
    – for Physicists of my generation, Feynman was an inspiration (in fact several of my classmates remember a Horizon documentary on him as being pivotal)

    You are right, but I think we can better prepare ALL of our engineers for the workplace (the applied degree programs of the colleges have tried to address this).

    I think there is also an absence of good examples of what scientists and engineers really do ‘a day in the life etc’. Ok, enough rambling, you’ve inspired me to think of a blog posting of my own!

  3. I didn’t really think about the importance of the school until you mentioned that – I didn’t really get excited about science until I went to boarding school at 16. It wasn’t single sex, but there was a huge difference – smaller class sizes, fantastic teachers, and we actually did experiments as well.

    This is one of the fantastic things about the Lets Talk Science program – they go in there with real, exciting stuff. Including explosives!

  4. I didn’t really think about the importance of the school until you mentioned that – I didn’t really get excited about science until I went to boarding school at 16. It wasn’t single sex, but there was a huge difference – smaller class sizes, fantastic teachers, and we actually did experiments as well.

    This is one of the fantastic things about the Lets Talk Science program – they go in there with real, exciting stuff. Including explosives!

  5. I think it also has to start when students are waaay younger. I am not from Canada but this is (I think) a problem seen everywhere including where I come from. I have always been interested in trying to promote engineering in general. I went once to an elementary school here in Ottawa (through the Pathmakers program) to promote engineering. The kids were very interested in the engineering-oriented games!! (they were 7-8 yrs old) until the teacher told one of them(I’m not lying): “If you can’t even tie your shoelaces, how can you be an engineer?”.
    Of course, I told the girl that shoelaces were not a problem and tried to include her more in the games. She was very happy at the end.
    Teachers of young children – girls and boys alike – are shaping their minds and comments like that one are just not right.

  6. I think it also has to start when students are waaay younger. I am not from Canada but this is (I think) a problem seen everywhere including where I come from. I have always been interested in trying to promote engineering in general. I went once to an elementary school here in Ottawa (through the Pathmakers program) to promote engineering. The kids were very interested in the engineering-oriented games!! (they were 7-8 yrs old) until the teacher told one of them(I’m not lying): “If you can’t even tie your shoelaces, how can you be an engineer?”.
    Of course, I told the girl that shoelaces were not a problem and tried to include her more in the games. She was very happy at the end.
    Teachers of young children – girls and boys alike – are shaping their minds and comments like that one are just not right.

  7. Okay..A guy’s comment.

    Pathmakers was on the right track..they had come to my high school.

    Basically it goes as follows: Industry has a low percentage of women but it only has the pool of graduates the universities and colleges put and the pool of graduates has a low percentage of women as does the CSI/Engineering student body.

    It is in high schools and young where students make the decisions as to what to take at university. There is significantly more female students at university now compared to male. (some policy makers are starting to get rather concerned about that actually). Thus, it is a matter of what programs those students choose. That comes down to what they choose to take in high school and how things are run there.

  8. Okay..A guy’s comment.

    Pathmakers was on the right track..they had come to my high school.

    Basically it goes as follows: Industry has a low percentage of women but it only has the pool of graduates the universities and colleges put and the pool of graduates has a low percentage of women as does the CSI/Engineering student body.

    It is in high schools and young where students make the decisions as to what to take at university. There is significantly more female students at university now compared to male. (some policy makers are starting to get rather concerned about that actually). Thus, it is a matter of what programs those students choose. That comes down to what they choose to take in high school and how things are run there.

  9. @Gabriela – that story is horrifying! You hope that saying “those who can’t, teach” isn’t true but in that case you have to wonder. Women are just as capable of being in Sci and Eng, but there’s a lack of role models and a lack of inspiration, I think. We have to see what WISE can do to help with that.

    @Darren – yes high school is important, but retention is also bad. So there are other places where work needs to be done too. But high school would make it easier for the women who come into the workforce in 10-15 years time.

  10. @Gabriela – that story is horrifying! You hope that saying “those who can’t, teach” isn’t true but in that case you have to wonder. Women are just as capable of being in Sci and Eng, but there’s a lack of role models and a lack of inspiration, I think. We have to see what WISE can do to help with that.

    @Darren – yes high school is important, but retention is also bad. So there are other places where work needs to be done too. But high school would make it easier for the women who come into the workforce in 10-15 years time.

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