The following is a guest post by research assistant and team member, Natalie Mazur. This June, Natalie is presenting The Experiences of Women in Undergraduate Engineering at the 9th Canadian Engineering Education Association’s Annual Conference., Vancouver, Canada. The paper can be downloaded here .
A long-standing issue in the field of engineering has been the representation of women. Of the students that pursue undergraduate studies, half are women. However, to this day, women make up only 21% of engineering undergraduate students in Canada. This number has not significantly changed in almost 20 years. Additionally, women make up only 17% of newly licensed engineers nationally. As we look higher and higher up the corporate ladder, fewer and fewer women are visible.
Where are they going?
The field of engineering is not recruiting enough women, and it is also not doing enough to retain them. Outreach programs have helped somewhat, but they haven’t done enough. Problems of intimidation and discrimination against women still exist, even as early as the undergraduate level. My team and I investigated the experiences of women at the very beginning of their engineering careers – undergraduate education. We did this through a survey and followed up results with a small workshop last spring. We thought that if women were facing difficulties right from the get-go, then that could explain why so few of them pursue careers beyond their undergraduate studies.
We found that 65% of women in undergraduate engineering at the institution surveyed reported being discouraged or intimidated by professors and peers in their program.
Men and women answered our survey very differently, and unfortunately many of these differences highlighted aspects of undergraduate engineering that continue to alienate women in the field of engineering. Although the situation has improved over the years, it is clear that problems remain, and they need to be addressed. My team cataloged all of our findings in an peer reviewed academic paper, to be presented to the Canadian Engineering Education Association at their annual conference (June 3-6 2018).
Our goal is to draw attention to the experiences of women in engineering, and to encourage others to engage with and provide feedback on our work. We wish to reach out to as many women in engineering as possible, in order to understand their experiences and what support they might need.