Increasing numbers of women engineers are entering the job market. In 1989, women represented 12 percent of recently qualified engineers (under age 25). The Canadian Engineering Human Resources Board (CEHRB) projects that women will receive 14 percent of undergraduate degrees in engineering in 1992; more women will graduate in some provinces than others (Table 18) and from some disciplines than others (Table 19). Still, several companies with proactive recruitment programs to attract women engineers say engineering schools are not graduating enough women.

Recently, the competition for female engineering students and new graduates has been fierce. There is a fixed supply of female engineering graduates and they, especially the top candidates, are being actively pursued by corporations (Heather Scott, P.Eng., Petro-Canada, Prairie Region Forum).

Companies serious about attracting and retaining women engineers will need to demonstrate they offer a welcoming and stimulating working environment.

Realistic hiring objectives

Employers of engineers should set realistic but challenging objectives and time-frames for hiring women engineers. As part of business strategy, these objectives can be used to measure the employer's ability to attract, develop and promote women engineers. Setting objectives does not mean setting arbitrary quotas that must be met; instead, realistic targets are based on the pool of available candidates whether they are recent women graduates, women engineers in the Canadian labor force, or those already on staff. One approach for entry-level positions is to match the percentage of women engineers hired with the percentage of women graduating in each discipline of engineering faculties and schools.

To avoid laying off disproportionate numbers of women engineers, the same approach can be applied in downsizing. The majority of women engineers have not been in the workforce for long (Table 20); if seniority is the only fact considered, they can be the first to be laid off in times of restraint. Other considerations are the performance, potential and abilities of employees, and the need for the employee's position.

Employers should establish current baseline data and produce regular statistical reports to monitor representation, hiring, terminations and promotions. Several factors need to be monitored: the percentage of women candidates interviewed for jobs, offered jobs, and accepting offers. The number of women given special developmental assignments and attrition rates for both men and women needs to be monitored and compared as well. Confidential documentation of the reasons men and women leave the company will help senior management develop mechanisms to retain valued employees.

Fair selection processes

When I graduated, I really wanted to work in the mine environment, but the man who interviewed me was quite frank about not wanting to hire a woman. The conditions were too harsh and the men too rough.

This young woman did not get a job in mining because of discrimination. To avoid such discrimination, employers of engineers must develop and establish fair and objective hiring and selection processes, and mechanisms to ensure guidelines have been applied strictly and equitably. Companies should begin by examining existing systems for possible inequities.

To find new recruits, employers should use gender-neutral job postings, a skills bank system, and a clearly defined advertisement policy. Organizations that advertise all positions in newspapers and within their own workplace will ensure women engineers are aware of new positions.

Some companies rank applicants for entry-level engineering positions on university grades, work experience and extracurricular activities. Candidates with qualities most required for the job, including personal sensitivity, are selected. In the case of two essentially equal candidates, some companies give preference to the individual who is a member of an equity group at all stages of the selection and hiring process.

When I arrived at the interview, my interviewers were very shocked that a woman was sitting in front of them and were quite open about expressing this. They had mistaken my name for a man's name. I was obviously qualified enough to make it to the interviewing stage when I was a 'man' but now that my secret identity was revealed, they were very hesitant in accepting the information on my application.

Selection and interviewing committees should include at least one professional woman, and all members should be trained in fair job-posting and interviewing techniques, objective hiring procedures, and human rights legislation. Training that heightens sensitivity to gender issues is just as important as having a woman involved in the selection process.

The appointment of representative selection committees or interview panels can reduce gender bias in the selection process and provide a variety of perspectives, including technical expertise and sensitivity to issues of concern to women. Whether selections are made by a committee, or by a department/ section head, the selection process needs to involve several people with different expertise and backgrounds. All participants in the selection process should be involved from the beginning.

Recruiting engineering students

I went into engineering quite by accident. Originally I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but my summer job with a consulting engineering firm changed that. The work the engineers did at the engineering firm appealed to me and at that time, I thought there was no reason why I shouldn't pursue it.

Employers of engineers should recruit and hire women engineers for summer employment and initiate work-experience programs. At the very least, men and women engineering students should be hired in proportions equal to their representation in engineering schools. Summer employment enhances students' qualifications and increases opportunities for future jobs. Women students benefit especially from a gradual introduction to the workplace offered by work-experience programs and summer employment (Chapter 12).

My summer jobs progressed to the point that I spent my last summer working as an electrician in a remote underground mine in the High Arctic. This experience increased my self-confidence immensely and made the academic work far more rewarding and relevant.

Employers of students gain first-hand experience of their skills, abilities and potential. Experience with women students may help convince some employers that women belong in the engineering profession as much as men, and that they will be competent, productive employees. It is important that all engineering students be given tasks that involve engineering. Above all, companies must not assign clerical duties and low-level vacation relief jobs to women students.

Attracting young women to engineering

Each Grade 4 class was invited last spring to visit the coal mine site. I guided these full day tours and was encouraged by questions posed and the students' enthusiasm. Most cousin at the mine, but it was certainly an eye-opener to see a woman in the field.

Employers of engineers should take a long-term, proactive approach to recruitment and begin working with educators to encourage girls and young women to study mathematics and science in high school and to advance to engineering studies in university. Some corporations support and participate in teacher development courses and programs for guidance counselors. Others organize in-house career days, tours and job-shadowing programs, and support science and mathematics competitions. Some have sons-and-daughters programs to help their employees influence their teenagers' course selection and choice of career; others have adopt-a-school and adopt-a-community programs in rural areas (Appendix C).

Girls and young women can be encouraged to become engineers by meeting role models and participating in extracurricular science activities (Chapters 5 and 6). Many women engineers are active in mentorship programs for female engineering students, and elementary and secondary school visit programs. They also judge science fairs and participate in job-shadowing programs. Women engineers who participate in such activities should be supported and rewarded by their employers. Support can come in the form of time off to prepare for and participate in school visits and career days. Employers can also provide logistical support for science fairs and release-time for engineers to act as judges.

By encouraging women engineers to demonstrate they have interesting and successful careers, corporations will create an image of an organization that is supportive of its employees' efforts to balance careers and family responsibility.

Employers should also initiate scholarships/ bursaries for engineering students, and award them in equal numbers to men and women. As discussed in Chapters 8 and 9, many undergraduate engineering students need financial support. Companies can provide this support through endowment programs for women in engineering and other non-traditional fields, awards programs that provide both scholarship and bursaries, and scholarships that include summer employment during university studies.


19. The CCWE recommends that employers of engineers develop recruitment practices to attract women engineers, and ensure the hiring of the best-qualified and most productive employees by creating a selection process that is fair, objective, and free of gender bias.

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