Organizations must be prepared to fully integrate female engineers, or [their education] will be all for nothing (Felice Raimondo, P.Eng., Esso Petroleum Canada, Atlantic Region Forum).

In our cross-Canada consultations, the CCWE heard from women engineers who dropped out of the engineering profession because of isolation, lack of respect and lack of support.

'As a woman constantly surrounded by men, I often feel somewhat isolated because there is no one to compare the experience with, no one to let off some steam to without having it taken personally, no one to confirm or deny my observations. It can be a lonely feeling.

Many are the only woman engineer at plants or remote sites; several have been the first woman engineer to be hired by their companies.

I experienced lots of encouragement at university, but the reality of the working world is very rough. It started with summer jobs where I was the target of many sexual advances. I felt young and vulnerable, scared and didn't know who would help me. At all the three places I have worked full time, I have been the first female engineer at the mine. As mines are usually located in isolated places, I feel alone in the world.

As more women engineers enter the workforce, their isolation will gradually disappear. Unless the environment changes also, women will still experience lack of support and some will choose not to work as engineers. Some women engineers report having experienced more overt forms of lack of respect in their workplaces.

As technical services supervisor, I had reasonably good co-operation from most of the subordinates, but I found there were a few that would try to undermine my position by not following the normal chain of command and bypassing me to deal directly with my boss.

One group of human resource practitioners and women engineers and technicians identified the most common and difficult barriers faced by women engineers. In order of priority, they cite: lack of collaboratively planned career development; absence of policies that support individuals balancing career and family; workload demands; heightened visibility; promotion that depends on emulating management; traditional attitudes to women in technical roles; and absence of networks, mentors and role models (Parenteau and Balcom, Prairie Region Forum).

Women engineers unable to progress in their careers or having difficulty balancing career and family responsibilities often change jobs or even leave the profession. When highly trained engineers leave, the employer loses training and development investment; the employee loses self-esteem, career satisfaction and income. It is in the employer's interest to ensure the corporate culture and the work environment allow women engineers to develop their own careers and contribute fully in achieving the organization's goals.

Changes to the corporate culture require the visible commitment of senior management. The president, chief executive officer and all senior managers need to develop and monitor the impact of a new corporate culture throughout their organizations. Everyone from the executive suite to the plant floor must be familiar with policy changes and understand why such policies exist and how they will be administered.

Women in senior positions

You will find engineers heading not only technological firms, but banks and universities, large human resources departments, marketing and public relations. Yet even when one looks only at technological firms, it is very rare to find a woman with an engineering education in any of the executive or even top middle management positions (Claudette MacKay-Lassonde, P.Eng., Northern Telecom, Ontario Forum).

Very few women engineers have reached senior management in Canadian companies. In 1989, one percent of women engineers and 10 percent of men engineers were in executive positions (Table 17). Employers of engineers should significantly increase the number of qualified professional women, including women engineers, who are appointed to boards of directors and to senior line management positions. By doing so, corporations will demonstrate a commitment to change and will ensure that women, as senior managers, can help create a corporate culture that is comfortable for women. It will also send a positive message to all women in the organization.

Employers of engineers need realistic but challenging objectives and timeframes for promoting women engineers to operating line functions and senior management. For example, a company might decide it wants to have a female vice-president within five years. The company would identify women with potential, provide developmental and career opportunities, and fast-track them to give them the experience needed for senior management positions. Where suitable candidates are unavailable within the organization, the company would recruit from outside. For such a plan to work, senior management must ensure all employees understand that the women hired are qualified and competent. Strategies for identifying, attracting and developing women with management potential are discussed in Chapters 14 and 15.

Involving women in the process of change

Employers of engineers should form gender-balanced advisory committees to ensure senior management is aware of, understands and resolves the concerns of professional women, especially engineers. Formation of such committees is important because most companies are managed by men. It will be difficult to develop a women-friendly corporate culture if women are excluded from the process.

Such an advisory council or committee could advise and act as a resource for senior management on issues of concern to professional women, especially engineers. To provide a diversity of perspectives, members should come from all levels of management, the organization's workforce and, where applicable, union and management. Broader equity issues could also be discussed if the committee members also represent groups such as visible minorities, aboriginal people and people with disabilities.

Such a committee's mandate should include reviewing company policies and programs affecting women employees and surveying women about their concerns. An important role of an advisory committee would be to report on progress in attracting, retaining and advancing the careers of women engineers for which the strategies, time-frames and goals in this report could serve as a guide.

Principles of equity

The low number and status of women engineers is a vicious circle. There are not enough women role models to make engineering an obvious choice for girls. There are not enough women to be role models because of the chilly climate and low level of power of women engineers. Numbers count and power counts, and both of these are increased by employment equity programs (Etta Wharton, P.Eng., Manager of Employment Equity, Ontario Hydro, Ontario Forum).

Senior management should commit to the principles of equity in employment, pay and promotion practices. Adoption of these principles and corporate-wide representation targets for women at all levels of the company will provide the necessary guidelines for managers to recruit and promote women engineers.

Women engineers are not represented equitably in levels of responsibility throughout organizations (Table 17) and tend to be paid less than their male counterparts (Chapter 15). Inequities in salary and promotion can result in loss of otherwise valued employees. One mining engineer who experienced salary discrimination left her company after her employer refused to adjust her remuneration.

'I changed jobs for several reasons, but the largest one was the realization that my value would never be judged on the same scale as that of my male colleagues within that company.

Federally regulated employers and those doing business with the federal government have no choice but to implement employment equity. Under the Federal Contractors' Program, employers wishing to do business with the federal government are required to review their hiring and promotion practices and implement employment equity for four designated groups, including women.

Critical to the success of employment equity programs is an education program that explains to all employees the purpose and objectives of such programs. The CCWE is concerned that both men and women automatically infer that women who are hired to fulfill employment equity goals are not qualified. Rather than being seen as giving women an equal chance in the workplace, these programs are viewed sometimes as reverse discrimination or as preferential treatment. Many women battle against the false view that the only reason they were hired was to fill the company's quota for number of women. Education programs must address the fears some men have about employment equity, including:

Those who believe that their chances of promotion will vanish despite the fact that most senior positions continue to be held by men. Those who believe that 'standards' will drop despite the fact that women know that they have to be twice as good to get the job at all. Those who believe that women are getting all the best jobs despite the fact that senior women are dropping out in frustration because they can't get the jobs they are qualified for (Rosalind Cairncross, P.Eng, Women in Science and Engineering, Ontario Forum).

Making managers accountable

All managers should be held accountable for successful implementation and monitoring of employment equity and harassment policies. At a few committed companies, such implementation and managers' ability to work with and for women are prerequisites for career progression and promotion. Some companies have moved responsibility for employment equity to individual departments, leaving the human resources department to oversee the overall monitoring and implementation.

Systemic bias

Hiring and promoting women engineers is not enough. Employers of engineers must identify and actively discourage attitudes and informal and formal activities which are inherently biased or discriminate against women. Systemic discrimination can appear in many forms according to several women engineers.

Hours of work and overtime.

Senior managers are expected to devote long hours to work and this is incorrectly viewed as impossible for women because of family commitment. There is a definite difference in management's opinion of women's willingness to travel and to accept transfers compared to men.

Intolerance of different work styles.

Women gain responsibility and higher positions in the organization by emulating men, and therefore hide their individuality in order to fit in. Organizations do not support diverse management style or even dress.

Accepted behavior.

Women who are outspoken and candid are labeled 'aggressive' women. Men who are similarly outspoken would be labeled as 'being on the move' 'smart' and 'capable'.

Attitudes towards women engineers.

Some remnants of attitudinal barriers do remain in the minds of some making hiring decisions, such as engineering is not an appropriate profession for women, women will not commit to the profession once they begin a family, women should not be taking jobs away from men.

Attitudes towards working mothers.

To be accepted in the male-dominated environment, women engineers feel that they must respect the male engineer model. Therefore, women engineers are tempted to delay maternity. But as the years go by, their responsibilities increase and maternity is still not accepted by the environment. Women engineers are then faced with a dilemma.

Attitudes towards dress.

To work, I wear loose-fitting coveralls, no make-up and hair plainly tied back. I want to look the least feminine as possible. I have to do this so that I am considered and treated more as equal.

Attitudes towards women project managers and supervisors.

It was very difficult to give instructions to the middle-aged men on site. It took quite an effort on my part to establish the respect, trust and credibility that is essential for a normal working relationship between my superiors, myself and the work crews.

Events open only to men.

One difficult area for a female engineer to address is the informal activities that male colleagues participate in. This can include sports activities or fraternal organizations such as Rotary, Lions. You could be denied access to some of the channels of communication that may aid your mobility within the organization. These informal networks can cross both departmental and managerial levels.

Once systemic discrimination is identified, organizations can make plans to remove it. Activities and membership in organizations that exclude women must be discontinued. More management flexibility regarding hours of work, work styles and even styles of dress will result in a more comfortable working environment for women. The greatest change, however, will be achieved by altering attitudes that stereotype men and women.

Sensitize employees

It took a period of adjustment for the all-male force at the mine to feel comfortable with a woman in their midst. As a woman, patience and self-confidence are the key because male co-workers (in the words of one of mine) 'need educating.'

Many women engineers face the prospect of being the first woman engineer at a mine site or a remote plant. Their initial adjustment period to a new workplace is often longer and tougher than that of male engineers. Employers have a responsibility to prepare their workforce to welcome women engineers into the workplace. Employees can be prepared by training and awareness programs that promote the value of increased diversity in the workforce, and the benefits of a gender-balanced workforce.

Effective gender awareness seminars and workshops sensitize employees to the subtle ways women are devalued and discriminated against. Awareness programs should also relate the need to get the best from all resources, including human resources, to meet the increasing demand for industrial and international competitiveness. Such programs should address workplace harassment (Chapter 17). Work-group dialogue and focus groups for all staff, including management, create open discussion of the issues. Awareness programs must also explain the rationale behind employment equity programs, and other initiatives that address inequity in the workplace.

I was hired through an affirmative action policy to increase the number of native and women employees in the professional sector of the federal government. This opportunity was definitely an asset in the hiring process, but it initially hampered the working relationship with my peers. There were preconceived notions that I was there for reasons other than my ability. It took much effort to establish a working relationship in this environment.


The practical problems are diminishing; they include items such as lack of female washrooms or showers in some of the compressor stations, work boots or clothes that were too big for me and probably other women.

Employers of engineers must ensure that suitable safety equipment, clothing and facilities are provided to women at work sites. As more women begin working in the field, companies are resolving problems such as work boots and clothes that are too big for women, machinery and protective clothing designed by men for men, and the absence of female washrooms.

Extend human resource policies

In dealing with men outside the profession, sales people and suppliers, I do encounter men who are patronizing and chauvinistic. Occasionally they can make it very difficult for me to get the information I need to do my job properly and it can be very frustrating when you are not taken seriously. Luckily, these occasions are not too frequent.

Employers should extend human resource policies and procedures to companies and contractors who supply human resources under contract. If human resource policies are not extended beyond the company boundaries, some companies may circumvent the internal policies by using outside engineering contractors.


18. The CCWE recommends that all employers of engineers develop and implement corporate strategies and policies that demonstrate commitment to the hiring, promotion and career development of women professionals, especially engineers.

Schedule for success: