25 outstanding female engineers

How the engineering profession can increase the representation of women is a well-documented dilemma, but it only tells part of the story. There are women in Ontario and elsewhere who are already leading engineering teams at important companies, building cutting-edge technologies at start-ups, and adding value to community projects. As outlined in the lives and work experience of the 25 professional engineers featured here, women professionals are making their mark.

Executive director, clients, Dillon Consulting Ltd.
Ahluwalia joined Dillon Consulting in 2010 as the lead for the environmental management and atmospheric services practice. Primarily a private sector discipline area, her role involved developing new client relationships and growing existing ones to keep pace with new policy direction associated with air quality management, climate change and waste management.

At her time with Dillon, she has worked on many significant projects, including supporting the provincial government in the areas of modernization of approvals, technical aspects of the cap and trade program, and assisting the waste management sector with opportunities related to environmental compliance and organics processing. Her openness to new ideas, new people and new philosophies and her ability to build strong connections and influence others has enabled her to progress to her current leadership position at Dillon. She joined Dillon’s newly created executive team in 2015.

“Two years after joining Dillon, I was appointed to be a partner in the firm and on my return from a maternity leave was given the opportunity to serve on the board of directors,” Ahluwalia says. “In 2015, I became the executive director, clients, for Dillon where my responsibilities include overseeing the quantity and quality of our revenue across the country. I play an important role supporting the CEO in the development of our key strategic plan for sustainable growth.”

Project manager, capital projects, Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall Corporation
As a civil engineering graduate with expertise in structural design and construction, Altman can now claim a career in the theatre—in a manner of speaking. Since early 2017, she has been responsible for capital projects at two of Toronto, Ontario’s best-known performance venues: Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall.

“In conjunction with the director of operations, I analyze the Massey Hall/Roy Thomson Hall Corporation’s multi-year capital plan and propose new construction and maintenance projects to benefit our assets as well as monitor progress of ongoing works,” Altman explains. “I’ve been fortunate to have some strong mentors who have supported my development as an engineer while giving me opportunities to explore various roles and instilling the confidence needed to succeed in this industry.”

Senior radiation physicist, Candu Energy Inc.
At Candu Energy, Ariani is responsible for planning, coordinating and delivering work packages related to the radiation transports, shielding designs and radiation protection. Her expertise includes shielding designs of nuclear facilities and components, radiation damage and environment qualification assessment for reactor components, radioactive waste safety, and accident consequence assessment. She is also responsible for mentoring junior members of the radiation physics group.

“My engineering career began at North Carolina State University,” Ariani explains. “I earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and continued on working at the university as a research associate for a few years following my study.” Prior to Candu Energy, Ariani worked as a senior reactor physicist at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., preceded by a stint as a researcher at the Centre for Advanced Reactor Systems with the National Nuclear Energy Agency in Indonesia.

Executive director, Industrial Power Consumers Association of Alberta (IPCAA)
In her role at IPCAA, Bellissimo is responsible for developing the association’s corporate direction and annual business plan and executing strategic goals against the plan. She also monitors real-time and forward markets, analyzes rates and tariffs, and troubleshoots for members with demand-side management, supply, rate, cost, connection and process concerns. On the communications front, Bellissimo consults with all levels of government and has experience presenting, moderating and commentating at industry conferences.

“I’ve taken an interesting route to my current position,” she says. “I served as a project manager in market structure at the Ontario Power Authority (now the Independent Electricity System Operator), and I have had roles in procurement at the Ontario Ministry of Energy, renewable energy research at the Scottish Parliament, and construction IT at the University of Maribor, Slovenia.”

Vice president, product development, Nudge.ai
Nudge.ai is a start-up company in Toronto, ON with a staff approaching 20. Corey is both a leader in the company and a hands-on software developer. Most of her career has been spent in product development at start-up technology companies that build Software-as-a-Server (SaaS) products. In a previous role, Corey led a team of 40 quality-assurance testers and developers, which was much closer to a traditional management position.

“Our product is evolving quickly, and my responsibilities include identifying new features and other non-functional changes, such as code optimizations, that will benefit our customers, producing metrics and working with others to evaluate our performance as a team, evaluating new technologies, as well as writing and testing code,” Corey explains. “I work closely with colleagues in both technical and customer-facing roles to work through new ideas and resolve issues. I also lead our diversity and inclusion initiatives at Nudge.ai to help ensure that we have the best team.”

Naval architect, Vard Marine Inc.
A graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland’s engineering co-op program, Davis enjoys a variety of work experience at Vard Marine. “One day I will work on structural calculations as part of a multi-phase design project, and the next I will write a report on potential future legislation and its effect on a client’s proposed vessel design. My colleagues and clients rely on me to produce a product that is of high quality, on time and on budget,” Davis says.

While there are currently no female engineers in senior management positions at the company, Davis expects to see this change in the coming years with the increased interest in science and engineering fields, as well as women taking on leadership roles. “Through my work, I have had the opportunity to participate in professional societies, attend conferences, and foster professional relationships with female engineers who are in senior positions in other organizations,” she says. “As I continue to work and gain experience, I am confident my career will include an increase in responsibilities and advancement opportunities and I look forward to the challenges that await me.”

Director, technical excellence in mining and mineral processing, Vale Base Metals
Multi-award winner Espley is known as a trailblazer for women in the mining sector, and it’s hard to argue otherwise.

“My role as technical director of mining and mineral processing is a first for a woman at Vale,” she says. “I am proud of this achievement. I am also proud that Vale Base Metals employs many women across the organization and at all levels, from the front lines to the senior executives, including a CEO, Jennifer Maki, and a chief financial officer, Andrea Almeida.”

Even as an engineering intern, Espley was involved in mining operations. She developed specialization in rock mechanics and the development of mining automation and new, innovative processes. In her career, she served as engineering manager of the Copper Cliff Deep Mine project, and as mine superintendent at the Creighton Mine.

Espley participates in many areas of the mining business and on boards, such as MIRARCO, Science North, Canadian Institute of Mining, Global Mining Standards and Guidelines, Women in Science and Engineering, Engineers Canada and Women in Mining. She is also the chair of the Bharti School of Engineering at Laurentian University, and was honoured to receive the Women in Mining Canada Trailblazer Award, the Award for Support of Women in the Engineering Profession from Engineers Canada, an Ontario Professional Engineers Award in the management category, and a fellowship with the Canadian Academy of Engineering.

Director, central engineering, Creation Technologies
Creation Technologies is a provider of electronic design and manufacturing solutions headquartered in Canada and with locations in the US, Mexico and China. As a director, Ferrari leads a value analysis and value engineering (VA/VE) team to reduce risk and cost of customer designs across industrial, medical, communications, transportation and defence sectors. Ferrari is the first person in the company to take on the new role of director of central engineering.

“Our engineers analyze a customer’s design and offer solutions to make the product easier to produce from a manufacturing perspective, less expensive to procure from a material cost perspective and reduce all forms of risk in the supply chain so that their products can have a successful launch and a healthy overall product life cycle,” Ferrari explains.

Ferrari also leads the company’s product engineering team from a strategic roadmap perspective and its environmental compliance team, which ensures it has a sustainable approach to various legislative compliance issues.

Director, training program evaluation division, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC)
As a professional engineer and project management professional, Françoise has more than 18 years of experience in the nuclear industry. In her current role as director of the training program evaluation division at the CNSC, she is responsible for providing regulatory leadership and expertise pertaining to CNSC licensee training programs. Previously, she was director of the personnel certification division at the CNSC, responsible for the certification of exposure device operators as well as personnel at nuclear reactor facilities, such as control room operators and health physicists.

“Throughout my career, building relationships based on mutual trust and maintaining a high level of professionalism under ever-changing conditions have been key in reaching any sort of successful outcome,” Françoise says. “In my estimation, strong performance on the job leads to earning the respect of your peers and co-workers, which in turn allows for a more seamless integration into any work environment, irrespective of your gender, cultural background or other characteristic.”

CEO and founder, Nudestix Inc.
A 1994 graduate of chemical engineering from the University of Toronto, Frankel first joined MAC cosmetics as a product developer and process engineer. As a new product development specialist, Frankel oversaw successful product launches by way of tactical planning, branding expertise and packaging, marketing and distribution initiatives. In 2000, she helped create a beauty brand called COVER FX, and in 2014 she went on to create her own beauty brand, Nudestix Inc. “I was able to identify ‘white space,’ and lack of innovation in the global beauty industry and engineer new brand concepts to meet customer demands,” Frankel explains. “Engineering inspires a problem-solving approach to life, and this is the essence of any entrepreneur. For any engineer and entrepreneur, adversity and challenges are commonplace, and to be successful, you need to think strategically about how to make it work. There is always a solution to be engineered. The same is true with launching a global beauty business.”

Vice president, engineering, capital and support, Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA)
The OCWA is a provincial group providing water and wastewater operations for municipalities, First Nations and industrial partners. As a vice president, Fraser oversees engineering, project management, process optimization, asset management, technological and innovation services, and health, safety and environmental compliance.

She started her career consulting in both the water resources and drinking water treatment sector, and over time shifted her focus from design to construction and project management. She worked for the City of Toronto in 2010 and managed the city’s Basement Flooding Protection Subsidy Program and played a part in the project upgrading large-diameter storm sewer installations to dry and wet ponds and storage tanks.

“Over the course of my career, I have chosen to ignore any external obstacles that may have been present because of the fact that I am female, but I have found my biggest challenge, like many other women, is my own confidence in my abilities,” Fraser says. “I have frequently questioned my ability to move to the next, more senior position or take on a new challenge because I have not felt I was sufficiently prepared, however, I have been fortunate to have both male and female mentors or role models who have pushed me when I was not prepared to push myself. I think women have a tendency to ‘bench’ themselves, and I think in this male-dominated industry it is important we realize men and women may need to be managed differently when looking at succession planning and discussing career aspirations.”

President, John Deere Canada
McGill University engineering graduate Harrison has spent her entire career with John Deere. She began in 1980 as a product engineer and progressed through roles of increasing responsibility in Canada and the United States, and has travelled around the world to enhance product development effectiveness. In September 2017, she become president of John Deere Canada.

“During my 37-year career with John Deere, I have had the opportunity to develop my technical and leadership skills within product engineering,” Harrison says. “However, I did have the opportunity to work in other functional areas, such as operations, customer and product support and enterprise quality to broaden my perspective and understanding of the business. Ultimately, this diversity in my career path provided me with the skills to be successful in my current role. There were challenges early in my career—as a woman in engineering I was not taken seriously and had to prove myself before I was accepted and listened to. Today I am happy to say that John Deere does an excellent job identifying and promoting high-performance employees who are able to deal with adversity and work effectively in cross-functional teams.”

Manager, plan review, City of Toronto
Ishak is one of the managers in the City of Toronto building division managing a team of professionals whose role is to ensure building permit application documents comply with the Ontario Building Code and that other building safety requirements are met.

A graduate of civil engineering from Cairo University in Egypt, Ishak has much experience working in what has traditionally been a male purview. Despite some challenges of being a woman professional in a male-dominated environment, Ishak has persevered and gone on to serve as a mentor to young women professionals. For a number of years, she delivered technical training sessions on behalf of the City of Toronto and the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers to prepare city staff and Ontario engineers in obtaining the required Ministry of Housing and Municipal Affairs’ (MMAH) building code qualifications. She also supported junior professionals, especially junior professional women, by volunteering her time to help them pass the MMAH’s challenging examinations. These exams are quite complex, especially for individuals whose first language is not English.

“Awareness is the first step towards resolution of any problem,” Ishak says. “By overlooking the promotion of women engineers to leadership roles, our division missed out on opportunities to bring diverse viewpoints to the table. I would like to see a change in the approach towards women engineers in both the public and private sectors.”

Senior director, infrastructure renewal and renovations, University Health Network (UHN)
At UHN, Kan leads teams of project managers who deliver construction projects, such as interior renovations and renewal of building systems, to benefit patients, staff, researchers and educators at hospital sites. With approximately 30 staff, Kan and her team are responsible for approximately $250 million of work. Previously, Kan was manager, infrastructure facilities at UHN, where she helped prioritize the network’s capital renewal needs across all sites, and managed a $25-million infrastructure program. “The value I bring to UHN is the engineering and management experience to care for the buildings and infrastructure that provide an environment for patient care, research and education,” she says.

Head of traffic, Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO)
In her role with MTO’s Eastern Region traffic section, Klein supports the delivery of safe and efficient operation of traffic on ministry highways and freeways. She is responsible for the planning and delivery of traffic engineering services, including signing, illumination, traffic signal design and operation, and traffic management for construction, maintenance, major incidents and special events. She also leads the development and implementation of new technologies, processes and concepts, such as intelligent transportation systems and traffic data collection technologies.

“It’s from stepping into construction trenches during my co-operative education experiences that I came to learn how infrastructure is rehabilitated and replaced in the field,” Klein says. “Building upon this knowledge, I managed infrastructure reconstruction and rehabilitation projects as a project engineer following graduation from the University of Waterloo. I embraced opportunities that arose for me to lead teams of various staff and stakeholders to accomplish milestone initiatives, such as developing a Cycling Master Plan for Northumberland County and establishing a county-wide GIS (geographic information system).”

Project executive, real estate and workplace services, Google
Montefiore is the leader of large project teams in the design and construction of interior fit-outs of Google offices in the San Francisco Bay Area, running projects ranging in size from 5000 square feet to over 250,000 square feet, and accountable for budgets totalling close to $300 million. “Once the properties are acquired [by another team within my department], I am responsible for transforming them into the office spaces Google is famous for—with cafes and mini kitchens serving free food, fitness centres, meditation and massage rooms, game rooms, and much more,” Montefiore says. “I also renovate and redevelop our existing building portfolio as needed for our fast growing company.”

Prior to moving to California in 2014, Montefiore spent two years as director, business development and project management at SNC-Lavalin in Toronto, ON. She also spent several years as a green building consultant for Halsall Associates (now WSP Canada). She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from McMaster University in Hamilton, ON.

Defence scientist, Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC)
Nakashima was hired as a defence scientist after completing a master’s degree at the University of British Columbia, and has been working at DRDC since 2004. Her work and research are aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of military personnel by optimizing cognitive, physical and physiological performance. “With my educational background in physics and mechanical engineering (acoustics), my specialization as a defence scientist is in auditory protection and performance,” says Nakashima. “In this role, I have conducted noise measurements on shooting ranges, inside armoured vehicles and onboard patrol frigates, as well as conducted laboratory experiments of speech communication and auditory perception in noise. My research supports recommendations for noise exposure assessment, auditory communication strategies and hearing conservation practices for members of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The work has taken on increased significance because, according to Veterans Affairs Canada, medical conditions of the ear comprise the second highest percentage of disability benefits.

Director, environmental design and engineering, Walt Disney Imagineering
University of Western Ontario engineering graduate Pang has just marked 15 years of service with the Walt Disney Imagineering Organization. She now oversees the engineering design and development of Disneyland expansion in Asia.

Shanghai Disneyland is Disney’s first theme park in mainland China. It opened in 2016 after five years of construction. Consisting of six “themed lands,” it includes the largest castle in any Disney theme park, world class attractions and theatre designed for live entertainment. Ongoing projects for Pang include a new Toy Story-themed land in Shanghai Disneyland scheduled to open this year, and a multiphase expansion of Hong Kong Disneyland, featuring the addition of Frozen and Marvel-themed attractions. It would seem a dream job for any engineer—male or female—with a sense of wonder.

Senior structural engineer, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)
As the structural lead for technical review of the much-anticipated Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit project in Toronto, ON, Rakocevic is up to her eyes in reviewing design and construction plans. It’s all in a day’s work for this dedicated practitioner who is proud of the profession and its ability to draw on the talent and experience of all players.

Rakocevic’s track record at the TTC’s structural engineering section includes designing direct fixation isolated concrete slabs for special track work, developing seismic guidelines for TTC underground structures, reviewing consultants’ design submissions for TTC projects, and ongoing updates of the transit commission’s design manual. Her credo is that if you’re going to design anything, endeavour to make it the best design it can possibly be, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or work environment. She finds the TTC provides a good environment for such an approach. “The TTC is open-minded to entrusting senior positions to women,” Rakocevic says. “As an organization, the commission takes great pride in its diversity and inclusiveness.”

Director, return to service, Darlington nuclear refurbishment, Ontario Power Generation
Ramphal’s role is critical to the success of bringing the Darlington Unit 2 nuclear reactor back from disassembly to commercial operations. The Return to Service $12.8 billion project will provide the logic, schedule and detail testing to return systems for service in a sequence that ensures safety and reliability for continued operation of the Darlington reactor over the next 30 years. “I am confident that my 28 years of nuclear experience and knowledge of Darlington will serve me well in my new role,” Ramphal says. “I think back to my initial role of commissioning engineer of special safety systems and reactor components in 1989, when I performed reactor fuel bundle verifications and developed an appreciation for the level of attention to detail required to make the refurbishment project a success.”

Ramphal was licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission as a control room shift supervisor, shift manager, operations manager and duty manager for the Darlington Nuclear Generating Station and has the training and experience necessary for her current role. She performed important roles such as outage manager and has successfully executed planned maintenance outages that delivered reliable operations on scope, budget and schedule.

She is passionate about mentorship and is the chairperson of Bridging the Gap, an initiative sponsored by the Chief Nuclear Officer aimed at improving diversity and inclusiveness by reducing barriers for women to achieve leadership roles.

Senior vice president, commercial and corporate development, Imperial Oil
These are heady times for Redburn in her executive role with Imperial Oil in Calgary, Alberta.

Although not practising front-line engineering, the Queen’s University chemical engineering graduate and 32-year executive management veteran oversees commercial and land business development, new ventures, natural gas marketing, corporate planning and related policy and environmental services. “It is an exciting time as our company is working on new technologies that will reduce the emissions intensity and freshwater use of operations by up to 90 per cent,” she says. “While I no longer practise engineering, my degree gave me analytical and thinking skills I still use today, and provided the foundation for a diverse career path. I have had the privilege to work with many talented people within the company and found I was always treated with respect throughout my career.”

Senior director, Radeon program management, Advanced Micro Devices
Sham has been with Advanced Micro Devices for over 17 years. The first 11 years of her career were spent in post silicon engineering roles where she advanced from engineer to manager to director. In 2012, she moved to the program management team and is now responsible for overall program delivery for all Radeon Graphics products from product feasibility through to full deployment.

“I had challenges early on in my career due to being shy and not always having confidence. While this is common in women, it is not limited to a woman issue and many young engineers face the same challenge,” Sham says. “I was able to overcome this by having mentors who helped in my development. And as key leaders, they recognized and acknowledged my performance and potential, and it helped me to build my confidence and recognize my own potential.”

Director, systems engineering, Thales IFC
“If you have ever been on a commercial flight, you have probably used one of Thales’s devices,” says Stuart, a graduate of McMaster University’s electrical engineering and management programs. Now based in Irvine, California, Stuart has parlayed a life-long interest in space and adventure into a cutting-edge career with in-flight entertainment systems.

“We supply the in-flight entertainment that keeps you occupied through those long hours spent—perhaps in a middle seat in economy class—on an airline. If you think about it, there are a lot of complex things that need to be done to ensure your entertainment experience is as enjoyable as possible. We need to ensure the content we receive from the movie moguls loads properly, streams properly, that our software enables you to switch between games, music, movie, or the Internet, and that we have a connection to the satellites that makes your experience seamless,” she says.

After Stuart and her team help the customer define what they want in their system, they take that design document and have it translated by system architects and system engineers into “engineer speak” by decomposing it into requirements and interface.

“My career has also been quite fascinating. When I was about eight years old, I vowed I would be an astronaut,” she says. “I had caught the ‘space bug’ and was going to marry Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek series—but that is a whole other story. Although I can’t say that I fulfilled that dream, I did work in the space industry for Spar Aerospace, working on the Canadarm for both the shuttle and space station programs. I am still very proud when I think that somewhere in a drawing vault are Canadarm drawings with my signature on them.”

Director, engineering review, engineering and construction services, City of Toronto
Tse graduated from the civil engineering program at the University of Waterloo and started her career with the private sector prior to moving into municipal government with the City of Vancouver. She joined the City of Toronto in 2003 as a transportation engineer, later became a senior development engineer reviewing development applications and subsequently managed a development engineering team in one of the districts in Toronto. Today she leads a team of about 90 staff who review land development applications, third-party construction applications, and maintain the city’s utility mapping services.

Technical director, mine hydrology, Hatch
Yang’s main role is to provide technical solutions on mine water management, ensure quality of technical outputs, supervise and mentor supporting engineers, project and task management, and maintain client relationships and business development. At Hatch and at a few other engineering consulting firms, she has provided technical expertise for more than 50 mining projects in over 20 countries from the Arctic to the tropics.

A typical mining project sees Yang leading water management tasks covering all stages of the project cycle, including baseline study, conceptual design, pre-feasibility, detailed engineering level studies, operational support and rehabilitation planning. While working with SNC-Lavalin, a 2011 mission saw Yang travelling to Greenland as part of a feasibility study for an iron ore project. The field trip had Yang investigating the drainage system, land cover, soil type, ice and snow melting conditions in the project area. “I enjoy working as an engineer and I believe it is one of my greatest accomplishments when I could add value to a project, to the company and to sustainable mine development,” she says. 

Do you know an outstanding female engineer you’d like us to feature? Let us know! We know there are many more shining examples out there, and we’re always looking for P.Engs to profile and share with the community. Contact the editor at naxworthy@peo.on.ca.