Women in Engineering: International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month

Dark blue text that says, “Equality for All. Women’s rights are human rights. International Women’s Day” on a light blue background, with a photo of four people holding hands and walking down a set of stairs outside a building.

As the month of March comes to an end, in recognition of Women’s History month and International Women’s day, let’s take some time to reflect.

March 8th is International Women’s Day and it is a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a day to mark a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2021 is “Choose to Challenge”. A challenge world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. #ChooseToChallenge

While March 8th has been recognized as International Women’s Day in some way since 1911 (not officially recognized by United Nations until 1975), Women’s History Month began in Santa Rosa, CA, as a local celebration, where in 1978 there was a “Women’s History Week”.1 In the US, since 1995, each president has proclaimed March as “Women’s History Month”.1

Now, specifically for women in Engineering; how does it look? According to Engineers Canada, in 2018, 22% of undergraduate engineering enrolment were women. The graph shows data since 1991, where it was at ~16%. There has been an increase since 2008 (~17% = women), after the 1st peak in 2001 (~20.5% = women); net-net a ~38% increase in enrolment since 1991.2

In 2019, 17.9% of newly licensed professional engineers in Canada were women, a fairly stable % since 2014.3

Recruitment, retention and professional development of women in the Engineering profession is one of the four strategic priorities for the Engineers Canada Strategic Plan, 2019-2021, and directed Engineers Canada to develop goals and action plans for all three of these areas. This work will be primarily executed through Engineers Canada’s 30 by 30 initiative, which has a goal to raise the percentage of newly licensed engineers who are women to 30% by 2030.4

Looking earlier in education, research created a “leaky pipeline” metaphor (and illustration) to indicate the decrease and loss of women at the different levels in STEM. The illustration below indicates numbers for Ontario, where the majority of the losses happens as women progress in high school; whereas the leaks do not occur between enrolment and graduation in University. There is again a leak (or loss) of women progressing to becoming a licensed Engineer after graduating.5 The white paper article, “Closing the Gender Gap in Engineering and Physics – The Role of High School Physics” can be found on ONWIE (Ontario Network of Women In Engineering) website is an interesting read and shares the significant role high school plays with having greater number of women in engineering.

At the 2021 Ontario Engineering Competition, there was 25% participation by women Engineering students. This is almost 14% higher than the enrolment split of women and men engineering students (comparing to 2018 stats of enrolment). Could success at Engineering competitions improve confidence in pursuing Engineering endeavours beyond graduation? FECC and OEC committees will be working together to collect feedback from competitors to help improve events for future competitors and all participants. It would also be interesting to follow competitors and winners post competitions and post graduation. This is definitely of interest for our FECC organization! Let’s all stay tuned to the Engineers Canada 30 for 30, and the Ontario Engineering Competition — at this event, there’s huge potential for networking with highly motivated, high caliber students; stay tuned as there is lots more to come!

Competitor statistics from OEC 2021
  1. Women’s History Month, https://www.womenshistory.org/womens-history/womens-history-month
  2. Canadian Engineers for Tomorrow, April 2020, https://engineerscanada.ca/publications/canadian-engineers-for-tomorrow-2018#female-students
  3. 2020 National Membership Information, https://engineerscanada.ca/reports/national-membership-report/2020
  4. Women in Engineering, https://engineerscanada.ca/diversity/women-in-engineering and https://engineerscanada.ca/diversity/women-in-engineering/30-by-30
  5. Wells, Mary A., Williams, Martin, Corrigan, Eamonn, and Davidson, Valerie, “Closing the Gender Gap in Engineering and Physics – The Role of High School Physics” December 14, 2018. http://www.onwie.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/White-Paper-Final-Draft.pdf

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