Report of the
Canadian Committee on
Women in Engineering
APRIL 1992

The Issues
The Goals
Education By and For Women Engineers
Engineering Workplaces for Women
Support by Association
Making It Happen
The Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering
CCWE Committee Members

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data

Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering
More Than just Numbers, Report of the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering, April 1992
Issued also in French under the title: Elles font une difference, Rapport du Comité Canadien des femmes en ingénierie, avril 1992.

ISBN 0-9696015-0-6

Copies of More 7han just Numbers, Report of the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering, are available at cost ($25, including GST and handling) from:
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Faculty of Engineering
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The Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering began its work from a simple premise: there is no physical or intellectual barrier to women entering the engineering profession. Yet, women represented just under four percent of registered professional engineers in Canada in 1991. Our mandate, therefore, was to uncover the social and cultural barriers responsible for the under-representation of women in engineering and to design bridges that will bring them as full participants into the profession.

The rationale behind the formation of the Committee in February 1990 was reinforced by the predicted shortage of engineers in Canada by the year 2000. The shortage is attributed to engineering's decreasing share of total enrollment in university programs, the dwindling number of engineers immigrating from other countries, and economic growth.

One catalytic event gave our investigation great impetus--the murder of 13 female engineering students at école Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6,1989. That single event in Canadian history jolted engineers and non-engineers alike into deep contemplation and open discussion about the very issues we were to deal with--namely, the status of women in the profession.

More women are becoming engineers; in the last decade, the percentage of registered professional engineers in Canada who are women increased from less than one percent to almost four percent. However, the enrollments of women in university engineering programs compared with other male-dominated fields of study show that engineering is lagging far behind. Law and medicine have been attracting almost equal numbers of men and women students for several years.

The recommendations in More than just numbers go beyond attracting greater numbers of women into the engineering profession. Canadians must ensure that the learning and working environments welcome, support and appreciate women engineering students and engineers.

In formulating its recommendations, the Committee relied heavily on the personal testimony of women already in the profession. Accounts of experiences as a minority in high school mathematics and physics classes, in faculties of engineering, in the workplace and as members of professional associations brought the real issues to life. The experiences of these women were validated by the testimony of educators and employers of engineers as well as by our own research and the research of others.


The cultural influences that channel girls and young women away from non-traditional roles start with parents and other caregivers in the preschool years. Once in school, many girls and young women continue to be discouraged from pursuing interests in mathematics and science and from considering careers in engineering by teachers and guidance counselors who are not sensitive to gender stereotyping. Because there are so few female science and mathematics teachers and even fewer women engineers to act as role models, young women are not likely to meet and interact with them. These influences are compounded by the perception that engineering is a "male" profession, that high grades are needed to succeed in engineering studies, and that engineers only build bridges and roads.

Some young women who choose to study engineering have difficulty adjusting to the pervasive male culture of faculties of engineering and to a curriculum that does not reflect women's perspectives. Many never meet a woman engineer or engineering professor. Women who advance to graduate studies and aspire to academic careers are very few indeed. Many universities have yet to adopt flexible tenure procedures and other supportive policies that recognize the difficulties of balancing family responsibilities with the demands of an academic career.

Once in the workplace, women engineers encounter attitudes and activities that are systemically biased against women. Many face discrimination in hiring, promotion, job assignments and salary, and experience sexual harassment in their workplaces. Many have to cope with the isolation of being the only female engineer in a company or on a job site. As well, not enough employers have policies that enable employees to balance family and career responsibilities.

Women engineers are also minorities in their professional associations. These associations have a key role to play in providing support to women members, creating greater public awareness of the engineering profession, and attracting more women to the profession.


The CCWE has made many recommendations in this report; most focus on changing attitudes and creating women-friendly environments. Six factors are crucial to their successful implementation.

1.Commitment from the top. Change in attitudes and the environment will not happen without commitment from senior management in the elementary and secondary school system, universities and workplaces. They will need to commit, in principle and practice, to attracting women to the profession and creating women-friendly environments.

2.Gender sensitivity and awareness. Real social change will not occur unless everyone understands and accepts that women deserve equal status as people and as engineers. This acceptance is especially important in faculties of engineering where some male students and professors still discriminate covertly against women students, and in the workplace where many women engineers do not have the respect of staff, co-workers and supervisors. Changing attitudes will take time, but will be accelerated by education and awareness programs that reinforce gender sensitivity.

3.Women involved in the process of change. In the elementary and secondary school system, more women must become mathematics and science teachers and be appointed as school administrators. In universities, more women must be seen in the ranks of senior management and as professors in faculties of engineering. In the workplace, more women must be named to boards of directors and promoted to senior management. In associations of professional engineers, women must sit on councils and committees at the national, provincial and territorial levels.

4. Co-operation from educators, employers and engineers. Co-operation is required from all those involved in the making of an engineer: parents, other caregivers, teachers and guidance counselors; engineering deans, faculty and students; employers of engineers; and associations of professional engineers. By working together to change the image of engineering and to improve the learning and working environments of engineers, women will be convinced that the engineering profession offers a challenging and rewarding career.

5. Realistic and challenging goals. Organizations must set realistic and challenging goals for the attracting, retaining and advancing the careers of women engineers. To illustrate, the CCWE has set schedules for success as guidelines for implementing the recommendations. Individual organizations will need to set their own pace for change based on their own situations.

6.Mechanisms to measure and report on progress. Organizations that represent the key stakeholders in the elementary and secondary school system, universities, workplaces and associations of professional engineers must be made responsible for monitoring the implementation of the CCWE's recommendations and strategies. Such monitoring must include regular and public reports on progress.


Although this report is entitled More Than just Numbers, we do refer to statistics and set numerical goals for measuring success. Numerical goals and time frames can be used to measure the success of our recommendations and identify future directions. Our recommendations aim to achieve the following in the next five years, by 1997:

Girls and boys will pursue mathematics and science in equal numbers, especially at advanced levels throughout high school; Women will comprise 25-35 percent of first year students, 20 percent of master's students, 10 percent of doctoral students, and five percent of the professorate in faculties of engineering across Canada; Women will comprise at least 18 percent of graduates from undergraduate engineering programs. More women engineers will be in senior management positions and on boards of directors of companies employing engineers; and More women engineers will be elected members of council and appointed members of committees of associations of professional engineers.

We propose this five-year timetable in part because there is a unique "window of opportunity" open to society. In this decade, large numbers of elementary and secondary school teachers and university professors hired to teach the "baby boomers" will be retiring. This turnover will open the teaching profession to new members who will receive their academic training in the next few years. The training, attitudes and gender of these teachers and faculty members will have a profound impact on the career choices of girls and young women for decades to come.

If these targets are met, the greatest rewards will go to society in general. For too long, the engineering profession has been deprived of the input and abilities of more than half the population. Attitudes that discourage women from considering the engineering profession deprive Canada of distinctive feminine perspectives on technological issues, and a considerable pool of expertise.



The CCWE recommends

1.that the active role of women in engineering be portrayed so that parents and the public will encourage young women to pursue careers in engineering.

2.that educators empower young women tofully develop self-esteem through significant and appropriate learning experiences in elementary and secondary school.

3. that faculties of education include the study of equity issues, gender stereotyping and gender differences in teacher education programs so that all students have equal opportunities for learning participating and contributing in the classroom.

Schedule for success:

Courses in equity and gender-related issues for all education students by 1995.

4.that educators enhance the mathematics, science and technical learning experiences of women students in elementary and secondary schools so that they develop interests and abilities in these subjects and acquire the academic prerequisites for engineering studies.

Schedule for success:

Development of mechanisms to monitor the participation and success of young women in secondary school mathematics and science courses by 1993. Review of qualifications and standards of science and mathematics teachers by 1994. Applied science topics and experiences of women incorporated in mathematics and science curricula by 1995. Enhanced science and mathematics courses in all teacher education programs by 1995. Increased science, mathematics and technical education courses required for secondary school graduation by 1995.

5.that teachers and guidance counselors provide career information and guidance free of gender-bias about engineering and related fields to all students, so that women with interests in and aptitudes for engineering are informed, encouraged and supported.

Schedule for success: