Ontario Construction News staff writer
A new partnership is aiming to increase the number of girls who consider going into engineering, and the number of women who become engineers, by targeting a wide range of age groups in the province – from elementary school students to university graduates.
The partnership will see Hydro One give each of four Ontario schools (Ryerson University, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, University of Waterloo and Western University) $350,000 over four years.
“The key point is that very few females choose engineering as a career, and we believe that the reasons for this are based on a misconception of what engineering really is. So the Hydro One partnership is basically focused on improving enrollment and career opportunities for females in engineering in Ontario,” says Anna Luisa Trejos, an assistant professor at Western University’s department of electrical and computer engineering.
The partnership’s goal is to boost the numbers of women in electrical and mechanical engineering, which have the lowest rates of women.
“Through something like this, we should be able to increase the numbers of females in general that go into these disciplines and that actually end up working in these disciplines once they reach the workforce,” she said.
She explains that there are three main elements to the program – outreach, support and networks – with the goal of educating girls, women and their influencers about what’s involved in being an engineer, and the different phases in an engineering career.
The outreach element of the program is targeted at elementary and high school-aged students, since “these are the students who are in the process of deciding what career path they’re going to follow.”
The program also focuses on providing support for undergraduates who have already chosen to study engineering.
“They’ve already chosen a science or engineering career path, but they might be finding some resistance to their education or doubts about their future as an engineer,” she says.
For engineering graduates, the focus is on providing networks, with the aim of ensuring “that they have the level of support that is required to transition appropriately into the workforce.”
The number of women studying engineering at the undergraduate level has stagnated at 17 to 18 per cent over the past decade, according to Engineers Canada, while Hydro One says women only make up around one-tenth of electrical engineers in Ontario.
Trejos says engineering has historically been male-dominated. She recalls that when she was an undergraduate, she was the only woman in her class.
“I had a lot of resistance from my classmates, I had a lot of resistance from the professors that really questioned what I was doing there,” she recalls. “And it was only because I had a very clear influence from my dad who was an engineer, who was able to explain to me what engineering was and how it wasn’t just something for males and that I was in the right place, because I really liked math and science.
Girls might face opposition from parents, who think engineering is “for boys,” or even once they’ve graduated, in the workplace, from people who might be reluctant to work with women, Trejos added.
“It’s a resistance at different levels, which is why our focus is to educate everybody at the different levels,” she said, explaining that education also involves correcting misconceptions about what kind of work engineering involves.
While nothing has been finalized yet, Western has been discussing specific programs that could be initiated as part of the program. For instance, this includes working with textbook producers to include more applied science, including profiles of female engineers and scientists, in the curriculum at the elementary school level.
“I think it’s important to convey the value of becoming as an engineer…. We feel that a lot of females are missing out on this opportunity, by not having the chance of going into these programs, purely due to external influences,” said Trejos. “It’s not because they don’t have the abilities or because they wouldn’t succeed in those areas.”