Accept that the world is always going to be different for women, if only because we still have to bear the children. Work within that constraint--recognize that it must be taken into consideration. There is no way that one cannot work for four to six months without it affecting anything. There is also no reason that this should destroy someone's career. We have to start providing more support for all of the husbands who want to be more involved with their families, and are supporting wives with careers.

Some women engineers have difficulty reconciling family responsibilities with professional aspirations, according to surveys of women members by their professional associations in Quebec and Ontario. Yet a survey of Canadian companies revealed that few have programs aimed at easing work and family conflicts. Such programs include the use of sick days for sick children, organization-paid maternity leave, and gradual return to work after pregnancy (Institut Hudson Institute of Canada, 1991).

Employers who offer flexible work arrangements and benefit packages will have a competitive edge in recruitment and retention. Supportive policies are important for both men and women because more families are dual-income, and more men are taking responsibility for household tasks and childcare responsibilities. Flexible work arrangements can save company dollars as well as reduce absenteeism, tardiness, stress and poor morale for both men and women due to family/ childcare problems.

Adopting supportive policies can increase productivity as well as attract women employees. According to one survey of engineering firms, the companies hiring women engineers tend to have comprehensive benefit packages and provide leaves for personal/health and family reasons (Spragge and Paschal, CCWE Conference). The study found that most of these companies experienced lower staff turnover, greater longevity and continuity on projects, lower rates of absenteeism, and equal or higher task output within comparable time-frames.

Alternative work arrangements

To accommodate our family needs, my husband and I (both engineers) have special arrangements with our employers. I work four days a week, and on my 'day off,' I attend to the children, household chores, grocery shopping, banking, appointments with teachers and doctors, and other errands. My husband works at home, two days a week, reducing his commuting and leaving only two days a week that we need after-school care.

Employers of engineers should adopt alternative work schedules and procedures such as jobsharing, permanent part-time, flexible hours, alternative work sites and contract work. By being flexible, employers offer solutions to the difficulties of balancing a family and a career. Part-time positions and job-sharing should be made available to both women and men; these options could be used for family or educational reasons. It is essential that employers alter the perception that people who work part-time are not ambitious or committed to their careers.

Women doing a job part-time are viewed not to be serious about their careers, their potential is downgraded and the climb up the promotion ladder is slow. Part-time professional women are often treated like second-class citizens (Judith Athaide, P.Eng. and Maura Graham, P.Eng., Esso (Calgary), Prairie Region Forum).

Companies with flexible hours allow employees to have different arrival and departure times, while maintaining a core period during which all employees must work. Flextime allows employees to co-ordinate work schedules with family demands such as childcare arrangements, school hours, parent/teacher interviews, and meal preparation. Such flexibility is especially important for single parents.

It is possible for engineering career paths to be modified to permit the integration of family and work responsibilities. Work schedules, procedures and policies must ensure men and women are able to develop their full potential.

Maternity/paternity issues

Just like that, while on maternity leave, I was out of a job. I think it was because maternity leave was looked upon as quitting and I was, therefore, the easiest engineer to lay off. My boss could understand that I was a good engineer, but he really couldn't understand that this wasn't just a nice little job that I did for pocket money until I had babies and then stayed home to let my husband support me. I now wonder if he ever took me seriously at all. No other engineers were laid off at that time or since, including my husband, even though he had had a baby, too.

Employers must ensure engineers on maternity leave are not laid off and that engineers with impending parental leaves are given challenging and responsible assignments.

Many young women engineers coming into the workforce will want to begin their families in the early stages of their careers. If possible, employers should consider offering on-site daycare at competitive rates. This is especially important in families where both parents are professionals and may work somewhat irregular hours. Alternatively, companies can provide access to a database that lists available child and eldercare facilities. As the number of elderly people increases, companies also should recognize employees who may be responsible for care of their parents and examine the feasibility of eldercare referral services.

Women's traditional role as 'caregiver' creates conflicts between home life and work. Companies will have to be more flexible if they expect to keep their engineers.

Employers should revise compensation and benefit packages to ensure they support the organization's objectives to hire, retain and promote women engineers. One option is a cafeteria-style benefit plan that offers a core of usual benefits such as pension, disability insurance and vacation, but could also include optional benefits such as childcare, eldercare and employee assistance. Employees can then design their own personalized benefit plans according to the changing needs of their families. Employers should also implement and active y promote progressive policies that are flexible and sensitive to employees' needs concerning sick leave, scheduled days off, leaves of absence and distress leave.


21. The CCWE recommends that employers of engineers adopt policies that support the professional, personal and family needs of all employees and ensure employees are able to balance family responsibilities with professional responsibilities and career development.

Schedule for success: