According to a 2021 UNESCO report, 19.7%. of engineers in Canada are women. This means that only one in every 5 Canadian engineers is female. To help change this statistic, the historically male-dominated engineering sector is working to remove some of the barriers that have traditionally prevented women from becoming engineers. Efforts to include and promote women within technical fields are being made at both the educational and professional levels.
Fed Engineering, one of Canada’s leading engineering recruitment agencies, asks why women aren't going into engineering, and what more can be done to change this.
Why are there so few women engineers?
There are many reasons why there are fewer women in some technical professions, including engineering:
- Gender stereotypes - Women are sometimes led to believe that certain technical fields are not suited to their interests or skills, which can be a strong source of discouragement.
- Educational access barriers - The cost of higher education may prevent women from pursuing certain technical fields.
- Corporate culture - Some companies are not welcoming to women and may not advance them or encourage their participation. Business leaders sometimes prefer to assign a project to a male employee due to women’s proven higher absenteeism rate.
- Lack of flexibility - Careers in engineering fields can demand a high level of commitment, making it difficult for some women to balance their work life with their personal or family life. Female employees may be less inclined to travel or work late, prioritizing family responsibilities, which can prove a barrier to career success.
- Lack of female role models - It can be difficult for women to promote themselves in careers where there are few women who have gone before them. This can make technical and engineering careers less attractive to women.
Farah Alibay, a famous woman engineer from Quebec
Quebec’s Farah Alibay is an aerospace engineer who holds a master's degree in space engineering and technology. Passionate about space since she was a young girl, Alibay had the chance of a lifetime when she was offered the opportunity to intern at NASA during her studies.
Alibay admits that her school guidance counselor had initially tried to dissuade her from becoming an engineer, claiming that the domain was too male-dominated. Far from being discouraged, Alibay remained strong and confident in her abilities. The support of her parents played a large role in encouraging and motivating her, and she never gave up.
Her journey is a source of inspiration for many young women, in particular among members of Les Ambitieuses, a program offered in Saguenay that helps 13 to 17 year old girls enter technical careers that are frequently considered ‘male’.
Attracting women to engineering: rethinking the process
The problem of attracting women to careers in engineering must be addressed at its root. Engineering jobs have never been presented to women as an interesting or fulfilling career option. It comes down to rethinking women's education as well as their ambitions.
Awareness and encouragement from a young age
It is important to make young girls aware of the career opportunities available within engineering and to show them role models of successful women in this field.
To this end, some high schools are starting awareness programs to teach young women more about occupations that have traditionally been defined as masculine. This approach helps to break down mental barriers. Encouraging girls to take an interest in science, technology and engineering subjects from an early age helps make these disciplines feel more accessible to female students later on.
It is important to support girls in their technical studies, to help them overcome barriers to education and career opportunities. This includes real encouragement from teachers as well as parents. Anyone with the right aptitude can become an engineer.
Scholarships for women engineers
More and more scholarships are being created to help women become engineers. In 2020, the Fondation de l'ordre des ingénieurs du Québec set up an scholarship called Femmes de Génie in partnership with ULTRA Communications. It awards $5,000 to female engineering students as support to pursue their studies.
Polytechnique Montreal, an engineering university, also raises funds to maintain several scholarships that encourage women to pursue advanced education within engineering. The Order of the White Rose Scholarship is awarded to any female student wishing to pursue her engineering studies at the master's or doctoral level. In 2023, the winner will be awarded $50,000.
Mentoring programs can help women connect with experienced professionals in the industry and get support and advice for their professional development. Organizing company visits or internships, for example, provides opportunities for women to gain practical experience and learn what it means to be an engineer.
Diversity and inclusion within companies
Once a woman enters the engineering workforce, she faces new challenges. Companies need to do more to promote diversity and inclusion. Creating a welcoming work environment and ensuring that women and men have equitable opportunities to grow in their careers is the responsibility of the corporate arena.
Some companies have already begun to provide greater flexibility to accommodate employees’ family obligations. As seen above, women's family responsibilities are still frequently a source of friction within their professional lives, and rethinking accommodations for an employee’s private life is a step in the right direction.
Efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in the engineering industry need to continue so that people of all genders feel welcomed and supported in their careers.
The presence of both men and women in any type of industry promotes variety and coherence of ideas, which is beneficial to everyone. It should not be exclusively a female concern to invite more women into the engineering industry: men must also be agents of this change.
Fed Engineering supports women engineers
Specialists at Fed Engineering are ready to help you find your future career. With a focus on technical and engineering professions, we make it a point of honor to offer personalized support every step of the way. We’ll be there until you are fully integrated into the right company, and comfortably established in your new position.