It is important for the future of women inengineering that we understand the arena in which individual and collective sexist behavior has occurred in the past, and how this has been dealt with in the university and elsewhere (Rose Sheinin, Vice-Rector Academic, Concordia University, CCWE Conference).

We begin with the global issue: How can universities--and individual faculties--meet their responsibility to create comfortable environments for women students, staff and faculty?

The under-representation of full-time women faculty in most disciplines demonstrates that women have not been encouraged, and may even have been discouraged, from entering graduate programs and moving into tenure-track faculty positions. In 1987-88, only 18 percent of full-time faculty members in Canadian universities were women. That same academic year, women represented only two percent of full-time faculty in engineering and applied sciences (Industry, Science and Technology Canada, 1991). More female faculty than male faculty are clustered at the lower rungs of the academic ladder as assistant professors and as sessional lecturers (Table 5). By contrast, women earned 53 percent of all degrees awarded by Canadian universities in 1989. If universities adopt women-friendly policies, increasing numbers of female undergraduates should soon translate into more women faculty.

There is a need for university-wide commitment to creating productive working and learning environments for all women. Commitment must come first from the senior levels of university management, but not just from top administrators. True organizational commitment involves everyone: university presidents, deans, faculty and students, as individuals and as representatives of university governance, through elected positions in faculty and student associations. Commitment must be demonstrated by word and deed, including the implementation and application of supportive programs, policies and procedures that touch every facet of university life.

Gender-sensitivity programs

The "chilly campus climate" has been well documented by studies conducted in Canada an d the United States that identify behavior that causes women to lose confidence, lower their academic goals, and limit their career choices. At public forums and in private letters, we heard from deans, professors and students of similar situations for women students in Canada. One woman student commented on the attitudes of faculty.

'The only blatantly sexist incident I remember was a comment made by a professor. He did not believe that engineering was a suitable occupation for a woman. He did not take this as far as to penalize our grades, but I think all the women in my class got the message.

Another woman engineer wrote about the attitudes of her professors.

Only a few of my professors were noticeably hostile.

In a 1991 University of Ottawa study, 38 percent of all female engineering students surveyed reported that the faculty displayed negative or sexist attitudes. As they continued in their studies, negative/sexist attitudes became more apparent to them; 58 percent of the respondents in fourth year indicated that faculty members and teaching assistants displayed negative attitudes by suggesting women did not belong in engineering, not taking women students seriously, and making sexist jokes, remarks and comments (Baignee, 1991).

In private briefs, several women engineers and engineering students wrote about their experiences. Their stories included the accepted telling of a sexually explicit joke at a faculty sponsored event, obscene phone calls from a classmate who had won a vibrator during engineering week activities, and male engineering students refusing to co-operate with their female lab partners. One woman student wrote about an engineering society meeting in 1991 where a group of men and a few women began shouting crude and sexist comments: "The speaker of the meeting only laughed, and asked them to keep it down." Another wrote about the role of student government.

The nature of the university environment as I experienced it (in the late 1980s) was one in which student government promoted sexist attitudes and behavior while hiding behind the name and 'tradition' of engineering.

There are signs, said one engineering student in 1991, that the environment is changing, but not necessarily for the better.

Although genuine positive changes regarding sexism in engineering have taken place, it is still very present and painful for some women. Today's sexism is much less visible and less generalized; rather, it is felt at the individual, personal level and is more hidden.

Most of the more blatant sexist activities such as the Lady Godiva Ride have disappeared from university campuses, often to be replaced by more subtle forms of sexism. Students, faculty, deans and researchers all agree that sexist activities and actions by engineering students discourage many women from choosing to study engineering and deter others from completing their studies. The Committee heard from women who said the biggest problems are ignorance and a refusal to acknowledge sexism exists in the faculty.

What I didn't count on was the denial of even the existence of sexism in the faculty from the men and women alike. Many female engineers refuse to be associated with feminism at all. Some refuse to recognize that there is a problem because they are managing all right in a male-dominated field and that is what counts. For some, to simply let things be is the easiest route to take. The men become defensive when discussions centre around feminism because they generally don't feel that they themselves are sexist.

Universities should examine their environments and implement appropriate gender sensitivity and awareness programs for all students, faculty, staff and administrators. Faculties of engineering must support these efforts by raising awareness of gender-related issues through conferences and workshops for engineering students and faculty. Such awareness is vital in faculties of engineering where women are so dramatically few in number.

Issues such as prevention of sexual and personal harassment and the unique difficulties women face as a minority in engineering need to be openly discussed by both men and women. Awareness programs should also recognize that some individuals may be unaware that their sexist or racist comments cause offense; others are quite aware of their bias and the impact of their behavior and derogatory comments.

We need to make people become more aware that they have made a comment that is insulting or that makes the listener uncomfortable. We can do this by letting the speaker know immediately that their comments are unsuitable. By letting a comment pass, the speaker may never realize they've been offensive (Mike Hollingshead, Engineering Science Undergraduate Students Society, Simon Fraser University, West Coast Forum).

Faculties of engineering need to continue to monitor their environment for students and faculty, and to consider the ethical consequences of failing to provide comfortable environments for all students and faculty.

Independent researchers should expand the knowledge base about environmental factors that affect the attraction and progression of women engineering students and faculty, and investigate and develop constructive ways to sensitize professors to discriminatory behavior.

Harassment prevention

If they have not already done so, universities should adopt and implement a clear university-wide personal harassment policy that defines harassment, outlines procedures for lodging, assessing and resolving complaints, and includes a method for reporting outcomes. The policies should also address the concerns of students in work-experience programs (Chapter 12). According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, more than half the students, faculty and staff in Canadian universities in 1991 were covered by harassment policies.

The presence of such policies sends two messages: one, that discriminatory behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated; and two, that those in numerically weak positions have recourse. All members of the university community need to feel safe in approaching harassment officers with concerns or complaints. There must be a guarantee that complainants will be protected from reprisal as a result of reporting harassment.

The harassment policy should be explained in orientation programs for all new students, staff and faculty. The CCWE also suggests that each faculty be fully responsible for ensuring that all its members--administrators, academic and support staff and students--are aware of the harassment policy and the reasons for it. Copies of the harassment policy must be readily available from the dean's office, department heads, student advisors, individual professors, and recruitment and retention officers.

Employment equity

Universities should commit to the principle and practice of employment and pay equity and develop mechanisms to ensure actual implementation. By doing so, universities will demonstrate their commitment to hiring and promoting women faculty and administrators. Several of the 33 universities in Canada with accredited engineering degree programs fall under the Federal Contractor's Program which require them to implement employment equity for four designated groups: women, visible minorities, aboriginal people and people with disabilities.

Employment, pay and promotion equity are indivisible; they are central to the issue of equality and one is not likely to be achieved fully without the other. Just as there is a need to ensure employment equity, so there is a need to ensure that women, once hired, are compensated fairly. Each faculty needs to implement mechanisms to ensure pay equity for women.

As part of the implementation of employment equity programs, universities should consider adopting a process that evaluates the performance of vice-presidents, deans and department chairs regarding hiring, promoting and fair treatment of women faculty.


Universities should provide on-site childcare at cost for faculty and subsidized for students. Students should have access to subsidized affordable childcare and/or to bursaries. While we acknowledge the high cost of providing onsite childcare facilities, especially in times of restricted budgets and decreasing government funding, it is a vital service for both students and faculty with children. An option would be to provide referral services for childcare.

By instituting childcare, universities will recognize the reality of single-parent families and two-career couples and will demonstrate their commitment to students and employees. Access to on-site childcare facilities will allow women and men to realize their academic ambitions.

Gender-inclusive language

How language is used sets a tone; it is part of the atmosphere of the classroom and the campus. In particular, it contributes to the atmosphere in which learning takes place. It can indicate whether women are accepted and whether they are expected to do well. It reveals what kind of image women have in the engineering community (Sue Whitesides, Professor of Computer Science, McGill University, Montreal Forum).

Language that excludes women can discourage them. When a professor consistently refers to engineers as "he," and textbook examples refer only to men, women students get the message that they do not belong in engineering. Universities should adopt a policy of gender-inclusive language and promote the policy for use in all faculties. Such university-wide policies need to apply to all university publications, activities and ceremonies, as well as written materials such as lab reports, textbooks, administrative documents and research papers for publication in scholarly journals.

Campus Safety

Universities should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that all students have safe access to libraries, computer rooms and laboratories on weekends and evenings, and that they feel comfortable using these facilities after hours. Access to laboratory and library facilities in the evenings and on weekends is important to students, as is the need to ensure students' physical, emotional and psychological security in the university community at all times. Lighting and access to emergency telephones help ensure safety.


8. The CCWE recommends that universities create attractive environments for women and commit--in principle and practice--to the recruitment and retention of women faculty and students, especially in faculties of engineering.

Schedule for success:

  • Harassment policies and procedures by 1993.
  • Regular compulsory sensitization programs on harassment for all students, faculty and staff by 1993.
  • Employment and pay equity programs by 1993.
  • Gender-inclusive language policy by 1993.
  • Gender-sensitivity programs for faculty, staff and students by 1995.
  • Childcare referral system by 1995 and on-site childcare facilities by 1997.