Engineering’s hidden talent

Last year, the Society of Women Engineers in the United States shared a collection of astonishing documents from its archives, which included letters, circa 1919, from deans and professors of prestigious universities explaining why women can’t be admitted to engineering schools.

“We have not now, have never had, and do not expect to have in the near future, any women students registered in our engineering department,” wrote Thorndike Saville, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina.

That same year, the United States Congress passed the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote—in Canada, this occurred a year earlier—but, as so many of the letters demonstrate, women wouldn’t be permitted to formally study subjects like engineering until much later.

Today, nearly a century later, women have come a long way in education now that they represent 20 per cent of students in accredited engineering programs in the country. This is a ray of light in the effort to become a more inclusive profession. But statistics also show a portion of them either quit or never enter the profession, so it seems the forces that push women out of the field—or even prevent them from pursuing it in the first place—remain persistent and complex.

Last September, PEO Council endorsed a lofty goal set by Engineers Canada to increase the number of women entering the profession over the next 12 years—otherwise known as “30 by 30.” Can we get there? It’s hard to predict, but I do believe the increased recognition of women engineers’ achievements and the proliferation of stories such as Hidden Figures (this Academy Award-winning film is a must-see) are moving us in the right direction, which is why we are dedicating this issue to the subject. Here, we feature women professionals who are pursuing their passion and encouraging more girls to consider engineering for their future, and who are inspired to reach the 30 by 30 goal within their own workplace. Starting on page 36, we also spotlight 25 impressive women engineers who are making their mark in what some may consider traditional male roles.

On a final note, don’t forget to check out who’s running for available positions on PEO Council. Candidate statements can be found in this issue’s insert. Voting opens on January 19, so don’t delay getting in yours. Happy 2018!