Full acceptance of women [engineers] requires changing attitudes within the profession. It implies the full support and encouragement of members of the profession for women engineers as women and as engineers. Women's role in the profession must be equal in all respects--and this includes the freedom to participate in reshaping the profession and its roles and responsibilities (Garry Wacker, P.Eng. and Art Opseth, P.Eng., Assistant Deans, College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan and the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Regina respectively, Prairie Region Forum).

It is the responsibility of associations of professional engineers to ensure women in the profession are supported and accepted as equals. As the number of women entering the engineering profession increases, so does the need to ensure they are welcome in the profession. The CEHRB projects that women will receive 14 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees in 1992 (Table 18).

As long as women remain a minority in engineering, associations of professional engineers will need to support women members and raise awareness of issues of concern to women engineers, including: salaries, career advancement, maternity leave, continuing education, re-entry, role models, mentoring, and networking.

Women's Advisory Committees

'[The barriers are] sexual discrimination, out-of-date attitudes of both men and women towards women in professional roles, and both overt (and more dangerous) concealed prejudice. I believe it is up to the men and women in the profession to actively break down these barriers, which will also weaken and disappear as more and more women enter the engineering field.

The concerns of women members must be heard and acted on by association councils and executives. National, provincial and territorial associations of professional engineers must immediately establish committees with a broad mandate to address issues of concern to women members. It is important that such committees include men and women engineers. With a clear understanding of the issues, associations can institute supportive programs internally and encourage educators and employers of engineers to do the same. Some provincial associations of professional engineers have created committees to address issues of concern to women (Appendix C). The responsibility for organizing special events and networking opportunities for women should fall to the division or committee within the associations.


Working with a group of professional women was a novel experience for most of us. We formed new friendships and cemented old ones. We were able to share gripes and be understood on a level that was new to us. This support was very rewarding. You soon learn that the day-to-day occurrences , which you feel are unique to yourself, are actually shared by many. And this is a very good feeling It says to you, 'I'm not the only one after all.' and it validates your feelings (Karen Savage, SCS Engineering, West Coast Forum).

This was the experience of one woman who helped organize the CCWE West Coast Forum. At that forum and others, several women engineers said they had thought they were the only ones experiencing difficulties and were relieved to hear that other women engineers had similar experiences.

A main concern of women working in nontraditional roles is isolation; the solution is networking according to a study by the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (Heikkila, Ontario Forum). Until more women enter non-traditional jobs and the isolation decreases, women will need networks to help them put their experiences into perspective.

To facilitate networking and sharing of information, associations of professional engineers should sponsor and support special events for women engineers. Such events are especially important for women who are the sole female engineer in their company, department or work site. Associations can easily organize meetings of women members because they have access to mailing lists.

Associations of professional engineers should also designate an individual or institute a mechanism to encourage women members to approach their associations with concerns and to address these concerns. Because women engineers are a minority in a profession with strong male traditions, they need access to someone who can advise them on how to handle problems of discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This is where associations of professional engineers can help.

Gender awareness programs

It is your turn to personally take a stand and change the image of our profession and the attitude in our profession. This change in attitude is needed at all levels, be it in the field or the office, and is especially important at the managerial level. It is time for you to change and not accept the dinosaur attitude of prejudging women (Michael O'Kane, Engineering Student Society, University of Saskatchewan, Prairie Region Forum).

Most male members of associations of professional engineers employ, supervise and work for and with women engineers, many of whom feel isolated, experience lack of respect and lack support in the workplace. To increase awareness among their members and ElTs, associations should use their existing continuing education structure to offer workshops on topics such as employment and pay equity, the changing demographics of the workplace, managing diversity, and the definition and prevention of workplace harassment.

Such workshops should explain the application of the engineering code of ethics to harassment and discrimination, and make women members aware of their rights in the workforce. Specialists in human resources and managing change can be invited to address annual meetings and to lead awareness sessions.

Associations should also explain issues of concern to women and the benefits of a gender-balanced profession through publications, trade papers and newsletters. Women members should be encouraged to submit articles that address issues concerning the education and employment of women engineers. Such publications should also include information on training, development and promotional opportunities.

Member surveys

Before associations can establish programs to help women members, they must understand their concerns. Regular member surveys can define the characteristics of the working environments for engineers, attitudes of coworkers and the unique difficulties of women engineers. Differences in the experiences of men and women engineers in terms of levels of responsibility, assignment of tasks, scope of field experience, educational levels and salaries can also be determined. Such surveys can and should be used as to measure progress towards implementation of recommendations in this report.

A survey of women members by the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario found that most women engineers are satisfied with their careers, but experience pressures that their male colleagues do not (Women in Engineering Advisory Committee, APEO, 1989). Eighty-five percent of the respondents reported pressures balancing a career and family and 72 percent reported stress from being the only woman on the engineering team. In a survey of its members by the Ordre des Ing6nieurs du Qu6bec, 70 percent of the respondents reported career satisfaction; however, some reported difficulties reconciling family obligations with professional obligations and experiences of discrimination in the hiring process (Dagnais-Pérusse, CCWE Conference).

Employer associations such as the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada and the Canadian Manufacturers' Association should survey their member firms to determine the percentage of their engineering workforce that is female, the levels of responsibility of women engineers, the existence of harassment prevention and family-friendly policies, and the availability of recruitment and career development programs.

Professional associations, educators and employers can use this information to develop strategies to correct gender imbalances in participation rates at various levels in the profession, and to determine appropriate support programs for women members. Employers of engineers can use the data to identify inequities in levels of responsibility and salary.

In co-operation with provincial and territorial associations, the Canadian Engineering Human Resources Board collects and publishes comprehensive demographic information annually on the participation of women in engineering programs and fields. Associations can also track salaries of male and female professional engineers. If widely publicized in a clear and concise way, this information will guide both associations and employers in their efforts to attract and retain women engineers.

Women on council

It is important to have more women in leadership roles in the profession. To get a balanced debate on important association issues that reflect the perspectives of women and men, we need more women on our committees, on our council and as chapter executives (Marta Ecsedi, P.Eng., Women in Engineering Advisory Committee, Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario, CCWE Conference).

Just as women engineers need to be seen as engineering professors and senior managers, they need to be seen on governing bodies of their professional associations. Associations can improve the image of the profession by developing action plans to increase the participation of women members in elected positions on councils and appointed positions on committees. This will provide women engineers with an opportunity to refine their leadership skills and demonstrate that they are competent, capable and interested in their profession. Most associations of professional engineers have at least one woman on council (Table 26).

Nominating committees are urged to seek women candidates for council and committee vacancies and to encourage them to stand for election and to sit on committees, and not just on public relations and student liaison committees. Every committee should have at least one woman member. Associations also need to increase the number of professional women on staff, especially in positions that handle licensing and employment-related issues.

Attract women members

Engineering has not been a happy experience for me. After I had worked for two years, I applied for registration as a professional engineer to my provincial association. However, my application was delayed and eventually refused, even though I had fulfilled all the criteria. Eventually, after telephoning the Human Rights Commission and after painful discussions with the association, my application was approved after three years.

Associations should determine why women engineering graduates are less likely to register with a professional association than men and take action to encourage women to join. The percentage of women engineering graduates registered as professional engineers in 1988 was 48 percent, compared with 72 percent of male graduates. Between 1974 and 1988, twice as many women earned engineering degrees as were registered as professional engineers in Canada in 1988 (Baignée, 1990).

Gender-inclusive language

An association gave me an award which included a plaque 'in recognition of his standing in....'

In a review of association documents and papers, the CCWE uncovered several examples of language that failed to recognize that women are engineers. In 1991 an invitation to a major event in the engineering community read: "Dress: Business Suit". Another association publication states: "It is essential that a company's management recognize each engineer for what he is, namely a man who…" The codes of ethics for some provincial and territorial associations of professional engineers still refer to engineers as "he." Such exclusion in language sends a clear message that women are not welcome in the profession.

Associations of professional engineers must begin using gender-inclusive language immediately in all documents, publications, awards, ceremonies, meetings and activities. Associations should change the name of awards such as the APEO Order of the Sons of Martha award. The CCPE, for example, recently changed the name of the Canadian Engineering Manpower Board to the Canadian Engineering Human Resources Board.

Engineering code of ethics

Professional engineers shall conduct themselves in an honorable and ethical manner. Professional engineers shall uphold the values of truth, honesty and trustworthiness and safeguard human life and welfare and the environment. In keeping with these basic tenets, professional engineers shall conduct themselves with fairness, courtesy and good faith towards clients, colleagues and others; give credit where credit is due and accept, as well as give, honest and fair professional criticism (Excerpt from the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers Model Code of Ethics).

This new model code of ethics guides the professional practice of engineering and should also guide the behavior of professional engineers towards others, including women. Adopted by provincial and territorial associations, such codes should be interpreted to mean that associations of professional engineers do not sanction workplace harassment or discrimination in hiring and promotional practices.

Associations of professional engineers should investigate the application of their codes of ethics to instances of personal harassment and discrimination and define sanctions for behavior that is considered professional misconduct. For discrimination and harassment, such sanctions must be designed to change attitudes as well as behavior.

Committees that review complaints and discipline members should consider implementing rules and sanctions that can be used to deal with complaints of personal harassment and discrimination lodged against their members. Appropriate action must be taken when professional engineers are found guilty of sexual assault or sexual harassment. It is important that each professional association have women engineers on the conduct committee that reviews complaints and on the discipline committee.

A review of the codes of ethics for other professionals such as lawyers and doctors would provide insights, especially since there is increasing public pressure to withhold or withdraw licenses for professional misconduct or criminal offenses.


23. The CCWE recommends that associations of professional engineers develop and institute programs for all members and engineers-in-training to ensure full acceptance of women engineers in the profession, and to eradicate harassment and discrimination against women members.

Schedule for success:

24. The CCWE recommends that associations of professional engineers improve the information base on equity and human resource distribution, particularly as it pertains to women engineers, by expanding regular member surveys.