CHAPTER 20: OUTREACH TO EDUCATORS AND EMPLOYERS
As the central source of information about the engineering profession, associations can assist educators and employers of engineers in their efforts to attract and retain women in the profession. By developing close working relationships with faculties of engineering and employers, associations can support and guide engineering students and engineers-in-training beginning their careers.
I don't regret my choice of career. I just wish I had felt more support in the beginning so I could say with enthusiasm that engineering is a good field for women to go into. There are more than just technical challenges to be met when a woman enters engineering in the 90s, and I think the technical challenges are enough to handle.
In surveys and through personal testimony, women engineers and engineering students have identified role models and mentors as important, even though most of them did not have the benefit of either. Mentorship is especially important for women engineering students and ElTs just beginning their careers (Chapter 9). Mentors can show young women the link between engineering studies and engineering careers, support them as they begin engineering studies and careers, and assist in career development.
Mentoring, career advisory programs and support groups may help reduce the attrition rate of engineering students and may encourage more engineering graduates to join professional associations.
Associations of professional engineers have the resources to offer career advisory or mentoring programs. Professional engineers should be carefully matched with engineering students and EITs to ensure beneficial relationships. In matching, consideration should be given to technical background and field of engineering, hobbies, sports, interests, and family background (optional).
In my early days at the university, the male-to-female ratio of students led to feelings of isolation. The first six months were particularly difficult due to program demands and the lack of a supportive peer group. Coping with the dominant and public persona of engineering was difficult. The simplest coping mechanism was to ignore student publications and activities while developing relationships with mature students.
Women advisors should be matched with women students and ElTs wherever possible so they can share experiences unique to women. Certainly, the preferred gender of the advisor should be left to the discretion of the student or EIT.
Associations need to screen advisors and provide training on their roles and responsibilities that include gender sensitivity, issues of concern to women engineers and career information. Such training will ensure advisors provide unbiased and informed guidance.
The creation of career advisory programs for engineering students and ElTs will require close co-operation of provincial associations, deans or directors of engineering schools and faculties, and engineering student organizations. All parties will need to promote career advisory programs to engineering students and EITS. Some associations of professional engineers already support mentoring programs at local faculties of engineering by recruiting women members to act as advisors (Appendix C).
Liaison with engineering educators
Students who enter our faculties of engineering should be embraced from day one as student members of the engineering profession and informed of the expectation that they will govern themselves by the foundations of professional codes of ethics. These are integrity, competence, devotion to service, advancement of human welfare and that actions should enhance the dignity and status of the profession (F.D. Otto, P.Eng., Dean of Engineering, University of Alberta, Prairie Region Forum).
Studies show that the "macho" image of engineering students can deter women from choosing engineering studies, and the male environment in faculties of engineering can create adjustment difficulties for women students. Although faculties of engineering have adopted policies and programs that are gradually eliminating sexist activities, subtle forms of discrimination and harassment still exist.
Associations of professional engineers can help faculties of engineering ensure engineering students accept their responsibilities to the engineering profession and understand their role in creating a positive image of engineers. Future engineers need to know and understand the importance of ethical and fair behavior.
Association representatives should be preparing students for the workforce by explaining the professional code of ethics and its application in engineering practice. Presentations can be made during orientation of new students, in engineering ethics and profession courses, at special student events, and at the Iron Ring Ceremony. Associations should also offer to help faculties of engineering develop a code of acceptable behavior for students and faculty.
Associations can also help engineering students and editors of student publications deal responsibly with issues such as homophobia, racism and sexism. Communication between association representatives and deans, student leaders and student newspaper editors should be regular and frequent. An association representative could sit on the editorial board of student newspapers and handbooks. Prior to placing advertisements or providing financial support for student publications, associations should ensure publications have an editorial policy that reflects the code of behavior for students.
Associations also have a direct impact on the education of engineers through the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board. The CEAB sets the minimum criteria for undergraduate engineering degree programs and provides engineering schools with the means to have programs validated.
Liaison with employers
Although I don't want to perpetuate sexual stereotypes, I do believe that women are generally superior communicators which is an invaluable asset in any profession and a skill, which is often lacking in the engineering world. I believe women have strong organizational and management skills that are essential to the engineering profession. I believe women have something to offer: a different point of view, a fresh approach, a catalyst for change in a very tradition-bound profession.
In the Introduction to this report, we discussed the many reasons why women should be encouraged to become engineers. By informing employers of the different perspectives and qualities women bring to engineering work, associations will encourage employers to hire and promote women engineers. Employers who have hired women professional engineers will find that the presence of women engineers can alter the workplace environment for the better.
Women have changed the image of project and estimating offices. Attitudes have improved, language, presentation and demeanor are better--all A+ as a professional image is portrayed at all levels. Boorish attitudes by males can still be heard, but generally the majority interface in the defense of women (J. L. MacDonald and M. J. MacDonald, Black and McDonald Ltd., Atlantic Region Forum).
With their access to information about the status of women engineers in the workplace, associations can also help employers set realistic and challenging goals for hiring and promoting women. By sharing the results of member surveys on attitudes and practices in the workplace, associations can help employers understand and address issues of concern to women engineers.
27. The CCWE recommends that associations of professional engineers develop voluntary career advisory programs to provide support and guidance to young people who are just beginning engineering careers.
Schedule for success:
28. The CCWE recommends that associations of professional engineers develop close working relationships with faculties of engineering to ensure engineering students are aware of the associations' expectations regarding fairness and equity.
Schedule for success:
29. The CCWE recommends that associations of professional engineers make employers aware of the different perspectives and qualities women bring to engineering work.