CHAPTER 15: DEVELOPING CAREERS
The promotion of women in engineering must extend beyond scholarship programs to involve every step of their careers: equal success in academic training, recruitment without obstacles, and professional responsibilities that give them access to professional careers that are free from discrimination (Jeannine David-McNeil, École des hautes Études commerciales, Montreal Forum).
Studies show that women engineers are not promoted to supervisory and management positions as quickly as their male counterparts. In 1989, 36 percent of male engineers between the ages of 25 and 39 were in management positions, compared to 18 percent of women engineers of the same age (Table 21). Employers commonly cite youth and lack of experience as reasons why women are not in supervisory positions; the statistics suggest that other factors are at play.
An examination of the salaries of engineers in Ontario in 1988 showed women professional engineers earned on average less than their male colleagues who graduated In the same year (Table 22). Although engineers are not paid by year of graduation but by level of responsibility and type of work performed, this review demonstrates that women are not promoted as quickly as men and, therefore, are paid less.
A survey by l'Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec also showed that women with the same number of years of experience earn less than their male counterparts (Dagenais-Pérusse, CCWE Conference). The difference is approximately three percent for those at the lower salary scales, but greater at the senior levels. The variations in basic salaries and especially in the direct remuneration categories may be due in part to the fact that women tend to do less overtime and have less access to other forms of remuneration than men.
In a survey of women engineers in Ontario, many reported that job responsibilities are the biggest factor affecting salary increases (Women in Engineering Advisory Committee, 1989). Forty-six percent of the respondents thought that males are given responsibility more readily; many believed the relationship with supervisors to be a big factor in salary increases.
Other factors can contribute to the differences in wages between male and female engineers, including industry of employment and job function. The largest employers of engineers are government, resource industries, consulting firms and manufacturers. However, more men than women engineers work in the consulting industry while more women than men work in government (Table 23). The work activity of women engineers is quite similar to that of their male counterparts (Table 24). Women tend to choose disciplines such as civil, petroleum and chemical engineering rather than electrical and mechanical (Table 25).
In 1988, women represented 4.5 percent of the engineers employed by the public service. Over 63 percent of these women engineers were at the lowest levels, one and two. Women represented only 1.5 percent of engineers at level four, the level with the largest number of engineers. The number of women engineers had been increasing at the lower levels, but very little at level four. "These figures suggest that a number of female engineers leave the federal public service before reaching the senior working level" (The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, 1989).
Another reason commonly given by employers for the slower progress of women engineers is that they take time off to bear and raise children. However, a study by the Syndicat Professionnel des Ingénieurs d'Hydro-Québec refuted that argument.
This argument is not only unacceptable from any point of view (social, economic or personal), but also does not pass the test on a factual basis: women engineers take few leaves and they are generally of short duration (Syndicat Professionnel des Ingénieurs d'Hydro-Québec, Montreal Forum).
Clearly there are still elements of resistance to the promotion of women in the workplace. Personal stories told by women engineers support the results of several studies
The higher women engineers get in the hierarchy, the more visible obstacles are because promotion is no longer a matter of knowledge alone. It is style that is most emphasized. Since there are very few women in the high levels of the profession, the style of women engineers is judged by men who favour styles that resemble their own. Performance evaluation becomes very subjective.
A study by the Women's Advisory Council at General Motors of Canada Ltd. found that many male managers had preconceived attitudes and perceptions about women and their ability to handle overtime, shift work and the work environment. Male supervisors were recommending people just like themselves in the promotional and hiring process, and many managers repeatedly questioned the qualifications' of women to do the job (O'Sullivan, Ontario Forum).
A study by the equity branch at Hydro-Québec identified three factors causing poor mobility of women engineers: assignment of tasks, the supervisors' perception of the impact of pregnancy and maternity leave, and women's perception of male colleagues' resistance to their promotion (Équité en Emploi Hydro-Québec, Montreal Forum). The personal experiences of several women engineers support these findings.
I was inexplicably assigned to work as a tank watch during a winter shutdown on secondary upgrading. Standing outside a tank in -30 C weather while two technicians inspect the tank is not work for any engineer. Was it merely coincidence that the only two minority engineers received these lucky positions for two months?
Some women engineers postpone submissions for reclassification. The Hydro-Québec study found two reasons for their hesitation: they are told they are not quite ready for advancement, or they anticipate resistance from male colleagues and wait until they satisfy all the requirements before asking for upgrading (Équité en Emploi Hydro-Québec, Montreal Forum).
I've had plenty of paternalism in my career: mate bosses who really hamper female subordinates. They ask: 'Why do you want to climb up and down reactors? Surely you will get hurt.' They always want to protect me as though I am some sort of delicate flower. I don't need this kid-glove treatment. Women engineers want to be treated just like other engineers. That is what will allow them to develop fully in their career.
Thinking they will not be happy working in the plant or in the field, some supervisors give women engineers staff and office jobs. This treatment is often called "velvet glove" harassment. The CCWE heard from several women engineers who felt side-lined in public relations, personnel, marketing or other non-engineering areas. These women are not getting the valuable field experience they need for promotion.
Structured career paths
Most companies have an entrenched male management structure which, if left alone, will perpetuate itself forever. Female engineers must let management know of their management aspirations, and management must be encouraged to give women the same opportunities as men of comparable ability (Angela Wensley, P.Eng., MacMillan Bloedal Research, West Coast Forum).
Employers should consult with women at all levels of the organization regarding their career plans, training requirements and ambitions, and then institute appropriate structured career paths. By providing structured career development programs, employers can encourage women to obtain the experience required for managerial positions as they become available. With increased numbers of women in the workforce, more should be reaching the ranks of management. The appointment of women to senior management cannot be left to chance; succession planning must include fair numbers of women.
To ensure women engineers are not overlooked for career opportunities, some companies develop master lists of women professional engineers and distribute them to managers throughout the company. Women who have been identified as having a potential for and interest in management can be further developed through management and executive development programs. Career development strategies built into such programs ensure the women participants acquire self-confidence and develop a plan of action for career advancement. Management development programs can also include developmental assignments to prepare women for senior management positions in operating functions.
[Management development programs that facilitate networking] may be of particular interest to groups such as women in engineering [who] are often faced with the difficulties of being female in an historically male environment and the difficulties of breaking out of a professional stream into a management role (Jan Sanderson, Manitoba Civil Service Commission, Prairie Region Forum).
Mobility and progression of women engineers should be part of the company's career development program and not a separate program. The variety of tasks and the level of responsibility would then be assigned as part of that person's development and would not be perceived as a reward for being a woman. It is essential that management not only promote women because they are qualified, but also communicate confidence in their ability. This message would help dispel the myth that women engineers are somehow less qualified than their male counterparts, or that women are subject to preferential treatment.
The right experience
First-hand, basic experience which permits a sound understanding of fundamentals is irreplaceable. Obtaining field experience is an important first step in becoming a successful contract administrator, design engineer, project manager or plant manager (Chuck Baird, Senior Vice-President, NB Power, Atlantic Region Forum).
Employers should ensure women engineers are given experience in the field and in line jobs. Non-engineering tasks must be assigned to women engineers only when they indicate a preference for these tasks, or require experience in these areas for career development and advancement. Sometimes experience in non-engineering jobs can be beneficial; exposure to personnel, finance or other areas can help prepare women engineers for management. It is essential that managers give women mandates or tasks with responsibilities that enhance their professional development.
It is also important that women engineers be given on-loan or temporary assignments in different departments of the organization to broaden their experience and enhance their skills. Companies could also consider allowing staff engineers to accept part-time teaching positions in faculties of engineering.
It is the responsibility of woman engineers to look for career development opportunities.
Sometimes volunteering for a job that doesn't seem like much at the time can open a lot of doors. Make sure your skills in speaking, writing and making presentations are good. Engineering is not just being good technically. You have to be able to sell your ideas to others and to management.
Mentor and support systems
Imagine for a second that you are in a minority situation. Let's say, for example, that you have to work or live in a foreign country. You will quickly understand that in those circumstances, one suffers from isolation. There are few benchmarks, few reference points to measure the acceptance of our behaviours and attitudes by the majority. We feel more closely watched, more readily seen and more quickly judged and assessed. That is why the network is so important. That is why mentorship offers the stability that enables the person to go from isolation to integration (Micheline Bouchard, P.Eng., Vice-President (Marketing), DMR Group, Montreal Forum).
Employers of engineers should institute mentorship programs that match senior managers with women engineers who have demonstrated an interest in and potential for management. Mentorship programs for engineers-in-training and new employees should be organized to help them adjust to the workplace. Whether mentorship programs are formal or informal, they should enable women to meet, share concerns in a safe environment, and encourage each other. As few women are senior managers, mentors could be men and women.
Mentoring programs can help women attain more senior positions in their organizations by increasing their visibility, introducing them to key personnel in the organization, and creating career development opportunities. Mentors benefit by exposure to new ideas and increased awareness of new talent in the company. Prospective mentors should be trained in the roles and responsibilities of a mentor before they are matched with compatible protégés. The success of the mentoring relationship could become a factor in performance reviews of managers.
[MY mentor] has enabled me to become involved in policy development, participate in up-and-coming projects, liaise with senior staff, and attend senior management meetings. In effect, he has given me opportunities typically not available to relatively junior staff. He has encouraged me to develop, refine and test my skills in debate, conflict resolution, solving technical problems and project management.
Often the best mentorship programs are the informal ones created by people with complementary personalities, motives and goals. To ensure such relationships are generated, senior management needs to promote the benefits of mentorship throughout the organization.
Employers of engineers should also create opportunities for women to develop networks inside and outside the workplace. Several studies support the personal testimony of women engineers that a major concern is isolation and being outside the "old boys network." The solution is networking. Networks help people understand and succeed within the company culture. Companies should also support and recognize women engineers who are active in their professional and technical associations.
Despite the importance of this type of support, few companies have instituted such programs for women. A survey of companies in Canada in 1991 showed only seven percent had or were planning mentor programs and only six percent had or were planning to have women's support programs (Institut Hudson Institute of Canada, 1991).
Employers of engineers should provide leaves of absence and financial support for educational or training purposes. Employers can help women develop their careers by sponsoring education and training to become engineers or to further their education at the graduate level.
Regardless of whether leave is taken for educational or maternity/childcare reasons, employers should establish mechanisms to enable engineers to maintain contact with their department during leaves of absence. Engineers on leave can keep up-to-date with technology by sharing technical papers and journals. To keep in contact, absent employees can also be appointed to committees and invited to departmental staff meetings.
20. The CCWE recommends that employers of engineers institute career development and promotion strategies to prepare women engineers for management, and to ensure the promotion of the best-qualified and most productive employees.
Schedule for success: