'Mothers need to provide an example such as my mother did, i.e, fix the lawnmower yourself, and to allow their girls to get their hands dirty exploring and tinkering, because that is what little engineers are made of.

Early childhood influences

The making of an engineer begins in early childhood. The influences are many. Almost from the birth of their children, parents tend to be more protective of their daughters than they are of their sons. Parents tend to have different expectations of boys and girls and they show these expectations by the kinds of toys and books they give their children, the kinds of games they play with their children, and the kinds of behaviours they encourage, discourage or expect.

Ever since I was young, my mother impressed upon me that I could do anything I wanted. There was no, 'girls can do that too.' There was just, 'You can do anything.

As girls grow into young women, parents can influence their decisions about university and careers. This is demonstrated by the fact that many women who choose engineering are likely to know an engineer or to have a parent or close relative who is an engineer (Baignée, CCWE Conference; Dench, 1990). One young woman who felt "alone and unwelcome" as the only woman in her Grade 12 physics class described how her parents helped keep her on the path to engineering.

What made me stay? I knew that I could do as well, or even better than most of those boys. Most importantly I had a father (yes, he is an engineer, as is my grandfather) who was a strong positive influence and instilled in me the knowledge that I could be anything I wanted to be. I also had a mother who did not 'mother' me in the usual way, forcing me unconsciously into a traditionally feminine, submissive role.

As children grow, they come in contact with many individuals in their communities: baby sitters, childcare workers, Boy Scout and Girl Guide leaders, coaches, teachers, and guidance counsellors. If these people are aware of the changing roles of women in society and the workplace, they can help girls and young w to develop interests in non-traditional areas, as engineering.

One of the most damaging barriers is the sex gender stereotyping in society which teaches link girls how to become women, and little boys how to become men. Girls are socialized to be passive dependent, typically avoiding risk-taking behaviour. Boys are socialized to be a aggressive and independent, confident of their ability, even when facing unfamiliar tasks. (Elinor Nicoll, Halifax District School Board, Atlantic Region Forum).

Canadian women of aboriginal ancestry must overcome even stronger social stereotypes in becoming engineers.

For an aboriginal person of this country, the obstacles created by stereotypes concerning aboriginal culture, language and social interaction have created barriers which must be addressed over and above what may be considered 'normal' in the pursuit of a career in engineering. (Karen Decontie, EIT, Public Works Canada, Prairie Region Forum)

Major barriers to women with abilities in mathematics, science and engineering include the perceptions that girls are not supposed to be "good" at mathematics, science and technology, and that engineering is a profession for men. Above all, parents, childcare workers, teachers, guidance counsellors and others need to be made aware of the importance for girls to grow up with technological know-how and interests equal to those of boys. Awareness can be increased by school visits featuring women engineers, through presentations to community organizations and by the media. Associations of professional engineers have a responsibility to promote engineering as a potential career choice for women (Chapter 19).

Toys, books and television

[Advertisers] still present toys exclusively for girls such as dolls that make reference to their future responsibilities within the family. Moreover, they present toys that seem to be exclusively for boys and that relate to different values and can raise an interest for science and engineering (Suzanne Harrison, École de technologic supérieure, Montreal Forum).

Children acquire technological know-how and learn appropriate gender roles through play. Unfortunately, separate toys for girls and for boys are still being designed, produced and marketed. Stereotypes are reinforced by toy makers and retailers who set up separate displays and sections for "girls' toys" and for "boys' toys." While girls dress their dolls and play with cooking sets, boys make model airplanes, build bridges out of blocks, and experiment with chemistry sets. Through play, boys learn about problem solving and the basics of chemistry, construction, design and mathematics. Girls learn about nurturing, caring for others and housekeeping. While boys imagine themselves as engineers and scientists, girls learn to see themselves as future homemakers and mothers. The toy industry should be encouraged to create, manufacture and market toys designed to help both girls and boys develop problem solving and technical skills. Such toys should be equally appealing to both genders.

The stereotypical idea that women are primarily homemakers and men are professionals is also reinforced by the books children read. There continue to be romance stories for girls and adventure stories for boys, despite ongoing efforts by several publishers, authors, and illustrators to portray girls in non-traditional roles. Writers, editors and publishers of books, textbooks and magazines should be encouraged in their efforts to show equal participation by women and men in science and engineering.

Without a doubt, television has a tremendous influence on children and young people. Many television shows and commercials still portray men as the dominant characters and cast women in supporting roles. The Committee was told over and over again that what is needed is a woman star in a television show called "L.A. Engineer." The media and its producers and sponsors should be encouraged to produce documentaries and dramas that portray women in science and engineering fields.


1. The CCWE recommends 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.