A call to action

Thank you for devoting an issue to women in engineering (Engineering Dimensions, January/February 2018). Such an issue is timely because of Council’s recent unanimous endorsement of Engineers Canada’s 30 by 30 initiative. However, when I reflect on the issue I find myself pleased, disappointed and a little angry.

I am pleased with many of the articles. In particular, I enjoyed the “25 outstanding female engineers” piece wherein you focused on a diverse group of female engineers in a wide variety of jobs and sectors.

I was disappointed because it seems to me there was a missed opportunity. There are more elected women on Council than ever before—women make up 25 per cent of Council, and last year there were two female vice presidents for the first time in PEO history. We should celebrate these role models! It would have been wonderful to highlight experienced female engineers who have been in the trenches for decades, and to uplift the younger female change-makers who volunteer their time at PEO.

It was also a missed opportunity to publicly thank the women who created a draft 30 by 30 Joint Action Plan. The draft plan was created in record time, thanks to the tireless work of many women and the leadership of Helen WojcinskiP.Eng., FEC. Without this work, PEO Council would likely not have been in the position to take the steps we took for 30 by 30.

Finally, I was a little angry when I read the headline, “When it comes to gender, we may have something to teach.” Virtually every woman engineer I know has had a #MeToo moment. While I think everyone has a right to share their lived experiences, the message of the title is not the message needed in the profession now. I worry that a recent female engineering grad who has had a #MeToo experience might see that title and think engineers did not get the message and are not committed to change. There is tremendous value in sharing anecdotal experiences, positive or negative, but it is irresponsible to extrapolate an industry-wide trend from a handful of positive experiences lived by a single person. In doing so, we may find ourselves inadvertently alienating those who have had negative experiences and overlooking unacceptable professional conduct.

In my opinion, the numbers speak for themselves: fewer than 15 per cent of licensed engineers in Ontario identify as women. This is especially troubling in an environment where women are enrolling in post-secondary engineering programs at a growing rate. Why are we losing these potential young engineers? While many women in the profession have had positive workplace experiences, the statistics tell us that this is the worst possible time for us to become complacent on this issue. There are male bosses and colleagues who are exemplary role models but as a profession we still have a lot to learn. It is a time for a call to action to ensure the profession embraces the principles of equity, diversity and inclusiveness. Without a commitment to these principles and a culture shift, we will not achieve the 30 by 30 goal.

Nancy E. Hill, P.Eng., LLB, FEC, FCAE, PEO president-elect, Toronto, ON