Athena SWAN and Other UK-Canada Collaborations on the Topic of Diversity and Inclusivity

The month of October has been incredibly productive for our women in engineering project (led by yours truly, Natalie). Early in the month, I had the pleasure of attending the Athena SWAN conference hosted by York University, and just a couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to England to link up with professionals in the engineering discipline that are working toward positive change.

Athena SWAN is a recent initiative spearheaded by the UK to increase representation of women and minorities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. It is a program designed to reward institutions who consistently work toward promoting diversity and inclusivity, and its success lies in its rewards not being permanent. Institutions that carry Athena SWAN medals must continue to support inclusivity and diversity, else lose their medals for lack of improvement.20181009_061248This focus on accountability and endurance of effective programs and practices over time is precisely what our research in Canada is targeting. The Athena SWAN conference held at York University sought to understand how to bring the Athena SWAN framework to Canada, as many of our resources and problems are similar but there are marked differences that must be acknowledged. Key themes that emerged from this conference were the need to acknowledge the differences between recruitment, development, and retention in our research and discussions about diversity; the need for initiatives and collaborations to run at a national level; and the need for institutions to be transparent to the public about both their successes and failures. I hope to embed these themes in our continuing work on the retention of women in engineering across Canada, and to involve more and more institutions in our research program. It is clear that incentives to participate in the drive to include underrepresented folks in STEM are being developed more and more, and that means that we will hopefully start seeing the people who need to be participating start participating, to avoid preaching to the choir.

The Experiences of Women in Undergraduate Engineering

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.

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