Even though I was taking the prerequisites for engineering in grade school, I really had no idea what it would be like to be one. I didn't even meet a woman engineer until the end of my final term at university. A female mentor or role model during grade school would have helped me battle my insecurities. She also could have satisfied my pre-teen curiosity, like 'Do women engineers wear skirts or do they dress like guys?' I had to wait until I started work to discover the answer to that one.

One of the messages heard most frequently by the CCWE was the need for living proof: real, live women engineers to demonstrate to girls and young women that women belong in the profession. A range of role models are needed, including women who teach mathematics, science and technology enthusiastically and effectively. By meeting women engineers, scientists and mathematicians, girls and women will quickly learn that they have career options other than the traditional occupations of teacher, secretary or nurse.

A lack of female role models compounds the problem. Science and mathematics teachers are predominantly men. Working scientists, mathematicians and engineers rarely spend time in schools. Most girls have never met a female engineer, let alone understand what she does. Their perception of scientists and mathematicians is often one of the stereotypical male: rational, cold, intellectual, and uncaring. This image negates what girls value, and may be one of the strongest deterrents to girls when they consider a science-related career (Elinor Nicoll, Halifax District School Board, Atlantic Region Forum).

All across Canada, women scientists and engineers are being invited into classrooms in increasing numbers to talk about their work, the required education and their family and personal lives. School visits by women engineers, engineering students and professors should be made on a regular basis; without continuity, the benefits of such visits are minimized. School visits can be reinforced through career/job-shadowing days, or tours of local industries, consulting engineering offices, and colleges and universities that employ women engineers. Boys and young men also need to meet women engineers so they will understand the contributions women make to engineering.

Our very ambitious goal is to help make the next generation of men comfortable with the possibility of working with or for women in the technical fields. To achieve this, we encourage the schools to pair young men with our [female] members for mentoring days, we speak to mixed classes for career days and we judge science fairs (Gabriella Szasz, P.Eng., Ottawa-Carleton Chapter of WISE, Ottawa Forum).

Many faculties of engineering, employers and associations of professional engineers have lists of women who are willing to participate in school visits programs (Chapters 8,14 and 19), and have role model registries (Appendix C).

More female teachers

Right across Canada, women teach; men administer. More men than women are secondary school teachers; far more women than men teach in the elementary schools (Ruth Rees, Faculty of Education, Queen's University, CCWE Conference).

Very few teachers in science, mathematics, technology and engineering are women. Most school administrators are men. Subtle messages are given to female students when they see only male mathematics and science teachers, and school principals.

A three-year study of the success of male and female students in physics classes at a Nova Scotia high school found that, when taught by a female physics teacher, more women students passed the course and continued in the high school physics program (Matheson and MacDonald, Atlantic Region Forum).

Women with backgrounds in science, mathematics and technology should be encouraged and receive support to enter teacher education programs and to teach in elementary and secondary schools. Faculties of education can support the career development of women science and mathematics teachers by offering appropriate courses at convenient times. School boards can create more role models by appointing women as mathematics, science and technical education teachers, and as administrators. It would be useful to have national data on the participation of women as science and mathematics teachers, and on the academic backgrounds of teachers of mathematics and science.

Women teachers with experience in engineering can promote the profession with ease and confidence. Interested teachers should be provided with opportunities and release-time to gain first-hand experience by working temporarily in an engineering field. We recognize that many school boards will find such an initiative difficult because of the need for supply teachers to cover for the teachers when they are away from their classes; however, such experience would be invaluable.


6. The CCWE recommends that educators introduce girls and young Women to role models in the fields of mathematics, science, technology and engineering so that they realize women have career options in non-traditional professions.

Schedule for success: