What we want is a 'revolution' from the inside, thought of by and for women, with help from men in the profession. Then and only then will women have their place in the scientific and engineering world (Dominique Drolet and Louise Turgeon, Universit6 Laval, Montreal Forum).

Efforts to attract women students are wasted if women students cannot progress academically and socially with success and confidence. There is little comprehensive data on attrition rates of students, especially on attrition by gender. However, one recent study of attrition in Canadian universities found: women undergraduates overall have a lower rate of attrition than their male classmates; rates tend to be lower for undergraduates in specialized professional programs; and the national average for attrition from undergraduate engineering is 36 percent (Gilbert, 1991). Generally undergraduate attrition occurs before the second year of study and is voluntary.

To measure the effectiveness of retention efforts, faculties of engineering should establish and monitor the current level of attrition among men and women engineering students, and interview all withdrawing students to determine why they are discontinuing their studies. Students forced to withdraw or on academic probation should also be interviewed to determine why they failed academically.

The bulk of visible negative aspects to the participation of women in engineering have been eliminated by engineering schools. Deficiencies pertain mainly to the support and encouragement of women engineering students, as well as to their integration in the collective (social) life of their male colleagues (Réjean Hall, Assistant Professor, Université de Moncton, Atlantic Region Forum).

A four-year study of science, applied science and engineering students at the University of Guelph found that all students experience some drop in marks between high school and university; however, more women than men experience a considerable drop (Pomfret and Gilbert, CCWE Conference). This study concluded that many high-achieving women experience difficulty in dealing with the non-cognitive, social and value orientations of science programs, including engineering. Intellectually competent women may be leaving science partly because of pressures created by the differences between their personal values and expectations, and the educational environment's practices, realities and values.

A study at Universit6 Laval found that both male and female engineering students are motivated by the prospect of good employment possibilities and salaries, and by the challenge and subject matter of their studies (Drolet and Turgeon, Montreal Forum). The study also found that women tend to have particular characteristics which make it more difficult for them to "hang in" when they experience difficulties. It found the women studied were perfectionists, were harder on themselves than the men and attributed results to effort rather tha'n to talent. They also tended to prefer collaboration to competition and to place more importance on a supportive environment.

If women students are to be retained, the environment needs to be made more comfortable for them and respectful of their differences. Male faculty and students need to understand how they will benefit from a more complete participation of women in faculties of engineering.

Advisor to dean

Firstly, the support of the dean of engineering is critical [to the success of recruitment and retention programs]. This support entails the commitment of both human and financial resources. Secondly, the programs must be the responsibility of one individual. There is simply too much work to be done on a part-time voluntary basis. (Angela Plover, Committee on the Status of Women in Engineering and Computer Science, Concordia University, Ottawa Forum).

Deans of engineering should hire or appoint an advisor on issues of concern to women students. It is important that deans be aware of the special concerns of women students and of the need to integrate them into the faculty. The dean's advisor could be a staff or faculty member. In addition to advising the dean, a full-time staff member could develop programs to attract students, monitor and advise first year-students and act as a role model in faculties with few or no women professors.

An alternative to the dean's advisory is a Iiwomen in engineering committee" as recommended by the National Committee of Deans of Engineering and Applied Science in 1989. These committees, with a complement of male and female professors and students, advise on the development of retention programs and issues of concern to women, including harassment and discrimination. One university has created a women in engineering chair; her duties include advising the dean, teaching and research in engineering, and developing strategies to attract and retain women engineering students. The chair-holder promotes these strategies at faculties of engineering across Canada.

Voluntary mentorship Programs

As a woman engineering student, it has been my experience, and the experience of many other women with whom I've spoken, that the primary barriers for women in engineering are isolation and lack of encouragement.

Faculties of engineering should establish voluntary mentorship programs for men and women engineering students and train mentors in their roles and responsibilities. Mentoring and support programs should recognize individual student needs; some needs are common to all students while others are unique to women, especially since they constitute a minority. Mentors for first-year engineering students can be recruited among senior students, and for senior students from among faculty, working engineers and university alumni.

Both women and men engineering students will benefit from support, encouragement and advice from senior students or professional engineers. Mentor programs are especially important for first-year students who may have difficulty adjusting from high school to university. The benefits to women are twofold: they receive support and advice and isolation is reduced. If possible, women students should be matched with women mentors, so that they can share their experiences as women in a predominantly male faculty.

Speakers' series

Women and men students could benefit from hearing about the achievements of women engineers through speakers' series featuring women engineers, especially alumnae, who can address the special concerns of women engineering students. Guest speakers could describe nontraditional professions from a practical point of view and address the concerns of women students by talking about their working experiences, personal life, and aspirations. Organizers of speakers' series should try to attract men to their programs, but it is not always easy.

How do we avoid alienating men as we plan our activities? We feel that we must stress that these are often subjects not just filr women in engineering, but about women in engineering which therefore may be of interest to members of faculty as well as men and women students in engineering (Sian Morgan, Promotion of Opportunities for Women in Engineering, McGill University, Montreal Forum).

The National Committee of Deans of Engineering and Applied Science should compile and distribute a list of prominent women engineers who work in a variety of fields and workplaces across Canada.

Academic support

Your undergraduate training is a little like boot camp: No one gets any special privileges. If you can't handle the work, you won't make it. Everybody is identified by an ID number. There are other similarities too, like the importance of working in teams, knowing that someone is counting on you, knowing that no one is going to do your work for you (Jacqueline Morgan, Engineering Student Society Council of Ontario, Ontario Public Forum).

All students need access to academic support and advice. Academic recovery programs will help first-year students who have difficulty adjusting from high school to university. Students who require special upgrading because of inadequate or insufficient academic background need special courses, and students who require extra help need access to free tutorial services. Workshops on study skills, report writing and time management will also help students. The emphasis in all academic adjustment programs should be the development and support of students, rather than a process of "weeding-out" those who are not performing well.

Many women students need assistance in planning their careers because they do not have a clear image of themselves as professionals (Drolet and Turgeon, Montreal Forum). They tend to see their university education as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end. Women students especially need to see the link between engineering studies and the workplace. Mentoring programs and counselling that includes job search techniques, advice on handling job interviews, and preparing job applications will help. Faculties should also provide access to free counselling for social and personal difficulties. Recognizing these needs, some universities have organized support groups and peer counselling programs.

Financial support

A survey of University of Ottawa undergraduate students in 1991 found that the greatest barrier to men and women completing their degrees was a lack of financial support. The second greatest barrier was difficulty of school work, followed by outside responsibilities such as part-time work to support their education (Baignée, CCWE Conference). A 1990 survey of engineering students at Simon Fraser University found that three times as many women as men rely on parttime work during the school year, and more men than women rely on money from summer work (Dench, 1990).

Faculties of engineering must ensure financial support is available to students in the form of scholarships and awards. Canada Scholarships are awarded about equally to male and female first-year students in science and engineering. An evaluation of the scholarship program found that 69 percent of female scholars and 42 percent of male scholars thought the program was effective in helping more women succeed in undergraduate studies in science and engineering (Young and Wiltshire Management Consultants, 1991). Scholarships may also act as incentives to study engineering; the study found that 80 percent of female scholars and 55 percent of male scholars think the Canada Scholarships are effective in encouraging more women to study engineering and science.

Code of behavior

Creating a positive environment for all students in engineering faculties is the responsibility of students, professors, staff, deans, and university administrators. Engineering students need to be made aware of this responsibility and to understand what behavior is acceptable and what is not. Faculties of engineering should adopt, publish and implement a written code of behaviour to govern the acts of all students and to prevent homophobia, racism and sexism. The code will be more effective if students are involved in its development and enforcement.

Deans must take prompt and appropriate disciplinary action whenever activities violating the code occur within the faculty. Disciplinary action needs to be spelled out in the code. The minimum would be reprimands, community service, or probation; the maximum, expulsion for repeated or serious offenses. Should faculties of engineering fail to obtain the co-operation of their students, the NCDEAS recommends assistance of universities and provincial associations of professional engineers be sought.

Several universities have adopted codes of ethics or behavior for students; others have formed task forces to examine non-academic activities of engineering students, including orientation activities and engineering songs.

Orientation programs

Orientation programs are most often the main introduction for students to university studies and the engineering profession. Effective orientation programs introduce new students to faculty members and advisors, and include a blend of both academic and social events. Orientation week is an ideal time to introduce new students to mentors.

Deans of engineering must ensure engineering students involved in orientation activities understand the need for equality and respect for all students, regardless of gender, race and sexual orientation. The traditions surrounding orientation and initiation of new students are based on the belief that new students develop class spirit by being singled out and hazed. Such activities have undoubtedly caused humiliation and unease among some new students and perhaps more so among women students. The CCWE recognizes that many universities have altered their orientation activities.

Student newspapers

For years, engineering student publications could be counted on for producing the most graphic, offensive, blatantly sexist, and often racist and homophobic material on campus, and in society. As society began to focus on the profession, these publications were often cited as evidence of the discrimination and prejudice rampant in the profession (Paul Koros, Canadian Federation of Engineering Students, Ontario Public Forum).

Engineering student newspapers should have a formal editorial policy and a gender-balanced editorial board to ensure adherence to the engineering students' code of behavior. Such an editorial policy should define unacceptable material and provide guidelines for appointment of student editors. Editorial boards should be comprised of faculty and students, and should review the contents of every issue prior to printing. Such guidelines need to apply also to student handbooks, posters and other materials.

Community service

Since the massacre of 14 young women at École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989, the media have been especially vigilant in covering incidents that hint at sexism on university campuses across Canada. Media attention has not been exclusively focused on engineering faculties, but some of the reported incidents have involved engineering students.

To ensure the public receives a balanced picture of engineering student activities, deans of engineering should recognize student participation in student government, volunteer work, charity fund raising, and other community activities and encourage local and national media attention to activities that improve the environment in engineering faculties and schools. Awards and other ways of formally recognizing positive and community-minded efforts will encourage engineering students to continue these activities.

Engineering students have established and organized summer camps such as Science Quest, make contributions to food banks and blood donor clinics, and participate in school visit and mentoring programs. They participate in open houses, student-shadowing programs, enrichment mini-courses for high school students, and professional development programs for teachers.


11.The CCWE recommends that faculties of engineering establish academic adjustment and social support programs for undergraduate students and especially for women students.

Schedule for success:

  • Voluntary mentorship program by 1993.
  • Mechanism to monitor attrition by 1993.
  • Advisor to the dean by 1994.

12. The CCWE recommends that faculties of engineering create an environment that ensures the physical, emotional and psychological security of all students, and contributes to a more positive image of engineering students.

Schedule for success:

  • Written code of behavior for students by 1993.
  • Editorial policy and editorial board for student publications by 1993.