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Report of the
Canadian Committee
on Women in Engineering
April 1992

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering
More Than just Numbers, Report of the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering, April 1992
Issued also in French under the title: Elles font une différence, Rapport du Comité Canadien des femmes en ingénierie, avril 1992

ISBN 0-9696015-1-4

Copies of More Than just Numbers, Report of the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering, are available at cost ($25, including GST and handling) from:
NSERC/Nortel Joint Chair for Women in Science and Engineering in Ontario
Carleton University
Department of Systems and Computer Engineering
3012 Minto Centre
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON
K1S 5B6

GST #108162025

Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering
dedicates this report to
the women
who shared with us,
in public and in private,
their personal experiences as
engineering students and engineers.

Table of Contents

Experiences of Women Engineers
1. Pink Blanket/Blue Blanket
2. Teaching Self-Esteem
3. Mathematics and Science for Girls Too
4. Career Guide to Engineering
5. Introducing Living Proof
6. Extra Activities
7. Women-Friendly Universities
8. Attracting Women Undergraduates
9. Undergraduate Support Structures
10. Bridges to Graduate Studies
11. Recruiting Women Faculty
12. Engineering Program
13. Cultural Change
14. Fairness in Recruitment and Selection
15. Developing Careers
16. Policies for Parents
17. Freedom from Harassment
18. Building Supportive Associations
19. Promoting Engineering
20. Outreach to Educators and Employers
A: Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering
B: General Bibliography
C: List of Initiatives
D: List of Recommendations


Hundreds of individuals helped the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering carry out its mandate. They organized and sponsored the six regional public forums and helped with the national conference (Appendix A). We thank you all.

Some individuals deserve special mention. For assistance throughout the entire project, we thank Heather Jones and Thelma Mofford of the University of New Brunswick Faculty of Engineering in Fredericton; and Catherine Ella, P.Eng., Alison Baignée, P.Eng. and Laurie MacDonald, P.Eng. at the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers in Ottawa. Special mention goes to Keith Richardson, Industry Science and Technology Canada, who conceived of the project.

The CCWE thanks the seven universities and six workplaces that participated in the research project. The universities were the University of Alberta, University of Guelph, University of Waterloo, University of Toronto, École Polytechnique, Universit6 Laval and the University of New Brunswick. The workplaces were the New Brunswick Department of Transportation, Canadian National, Hydro-Québec, IBM Canada Ltd., Energy Mines and Resources Canada and Nova Corporation Ltd.

We also acknowledge our major sponsors. Initiated by Industry Science and Technology Canada, the project was completed with funding from Employment and Immigration Canada under its Industrial Adjustment Service, and from ISTC. The Committee's work was supported by its four signatories: the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers and its constituent associations, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Canadian Manufacturers' Association. Financial support was received from Noranda Inc., The SNC Group, GE Canada, Dofasco Inc., Sandwell Inc., Cominco Ltd., H. A. Simons Ltd., Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd., John Labatt Ltd., The University of New Brunswick and the City of Fredericton.

Groups like the CCWE cannot begin to function without the active, committed involvement of their staff. The CCWE was certainly fortunate when Jeanne Inch agreed to serve as its coordinator in April 1990. Ms. Inch has proven to be an inestimable asset to the CCWE, tactfully keeping its activities on track and remarkably, on schedule. Without her enthusiastic commitment and ceaseless efforts on its behalf, the Committee's work would have been the poorer, and far less of the pleasure that it came to be. We are profoundly grateful to Jeanne for all of the activities she undertook and initiated so willingly on our behalf.


TABLE 1Full-time fall enrolments in engineering (undergraduate), 1985 compared to 1989, Canada
TABLE 2Women registered as professional engineers in Canada, 1980-1990/year end
TABLE 3Percentage of first professional degrees awarded to women in Canada, 1975 and 1989
TABLE 4CCWE goals for participation of women in engineering faculties across Canada
TABLE 5Distribution of full-time faculty by gender and rank in Canadian universities, 1987/88
TABLE 6Seventeen-year summary of fall undergraduate enrolment of women in accredited engineering programs as a proportion of the total, 1974-1990
TABLE 7Ten-year summary of fall undergraduate enrolment of Canadian women in accredited engineering programs as a proportion of the total by academic institution, 1981-1990
TABLE 8Fall undergraduate enrolment of Canadian women in accredited engineering programs as a proportion of the total by discipline, 1985-1990
TABLE 9The proportion of women enroled in first-year engineering September 1990 compared to September 1991
TABLE 10Eleven-year summary of the enrolment of Canadian women in master's programs in engineering as a proportion of the total, 1980-1990
TABLE 11Eleven-year summary of enrolment of Canadian women in doctorate programs in engineering as a proportion of the total, 1980-1990
TABLE 12Total enrolment of Canadian women in master's programs in engineering as a proportion of the total by discipline, 1986-1990
TABLE 13Total enrolment of Canadian women in doctorate programs in engineering as a proportion of the total, by discipline, 1986-1990
TABLE 14Full-time faculty members by academic institution, September 1990
TABLE 15Engineering faculty members at Canadian universities by faculty seniority and gender, September 1990
TABLE 16Percentage of female professional engineers by province of residence, December 1990
TABLE 17Professional engineers by level of job responsibility, 1990
TABLE 18Bachelor degrees awarded to women in engineering by province, a forecast for 1992, including Foreign Students
TABLE 19Bachelor degrees awarded to women in engineering by discipline, forecast for 1992
TABLE 20Female and male professional engineers by age, 1990/year end
TABLE 21Level of job responsibility attained by female and male professional engineers in the 25-39 age group, 1989
TABLE 22Average base salary of female and male professional engineers and engineers-in-training in Ontario by year of graduation, 1980-1989
TABLE 23Female and male professional engineers by industry of employment, 1990
TABLE 24Work activity of female and male Professional engineers, 1990/year end
TABLE 25Professional engineers by discipline of work, 1990
TABLE 26Representation of women on the councils of associations of professional engineers, February 1992


Chairing the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering was an enlightening experience. For the first time, I saw another side of engineering. In my 20-year career as an engineer, I had few problems finding good jobs and interesting work. But I had also not stopped to reflect on the meaning behind some of my own negative experiences. I was the first female engineering student in Ottawa in the 1960s, and worked as a biomedical engineer before becoming holder of the Northern Telecom-NSERC Women in Engineering Chair at the University of New Brunswick in December 1989.

As Chair of the CCWE, I heard dozens of women engineers tell their stories at our six public forums and in private letters. As I heard the experiences of other women, I began to remember incidents of harassment and discrimination, the public insults and private apologies. This personal recovery from amnesia made it easier for me to understand the "denial" which is so prevalent among female engineering students and young women engineers who are just beginning their careers. Like many others, I had been so busy advancing my career that 1 had not taken time to recognise the negative behaviour and attitudes of some of my male colleagues. From other women engineers, I heard about isolation, lack of respect, discrimination in pay and promotion, and sometimes discouragement and despair. The reality is that there are still too many male students, professors and engineers whose behaviour subtly, but undeniably, shows a reluctance to accept women as equals.

I took heart, however, because I also heard women speak-with determination, humour and vitality about their love of engineering. I also heard men and women, and engineers and non-engineers speak about their concerns and describe their efforts to improve the situation. Many provided ideas on how to make the engineering community more gender-sensitive. Their vision and understanding gave us a sense that the situation could be improved.

The members of the CCWE, I am sure, went through a similar process of enlightenment as they listened to women recounting their experiences. The gender-balanced Committee included engineers, educators, employers and association representatives. The CCWE was one of the hardest working committees I have ever chaired. Throughout the two-year project, members organised public forums, participated in meetings, explored the research, developed strategies, made speeches and led workshops. As co-ordinator of the Committee's activities and media relations and sole full-time staff, Jeanne Inch worked beyond the call of duty many times.

The process was mainly consultative and took the form of public forums from Vancouver to Halifax, a national conference, a meeting of key stakeholders and a research project. Because of our limited resources, the effort was largely voluntary: dozens of individuals helped organise our activities. This willingness to contribute to the cause showed more than anything else that many Canadians care about the equality of women.

By themselves, the six public forums accomplished a great deal. Awareness of the issues was increased as demonstrated by one young woman engineer who, after hearing other people's experiences, gave a very different presentation from the one contained in her written brief submitted earlier. The forums generated initiatives, the most important of which was the creation of networks of women engineers, many of whom felt isolated in predominantly male workplaces. Another outcome was the sharing of coping mechanisms and ways individuals can improve the environment within universities, workplaces and associations.

Engineers, educators and employers of engineers are becoming more aware of the real issues facing women. What is needed now is the will and motivation to apply this awareness. The recommendations in this report are designed to break down the stereotypes that are so widely shared by women and men. They are guidelines for the creation of a harassment-free, comfortable engineering profession. Universities, companies and associations wishing to prepare for the 21st century will implement appropriate recommendations soon.

The most effective long-term solution is to hire more women to teach engineering, develop the engineering curriculum and contribute to engineering knowledge through research. Women faculty will demonstrate to girls and boys and young women and men that women are needed and belong in the profession.

Progressive individuals and organizations who want to speed up the process of change have created scholarships and programs designed to encourage women to choose and to progress in engineering. My advice to young women who are in secondary school, university and in the workplace is: Take these opportunities and use them to prove your ability as an engineering student and as an engineer. I also urge male engineers to recognize that these are temporary measures to address the current situation and to judge female colleagues on their competence alone.

We must build the bridges that lead to an increased participation of women in engineering. Women bring their own perspective which, when blended with the masculine, will enrich the technological solutions of tomorrow.

Dr. Monique Frize, P-Eng.
Chair, Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering


The Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering began its work from a simple premise: there is no physical or intellectual barrier to women entering the engineering profession. Yet, women represented just under four percent of registered professional engineers in Canada in 1991. Our mandate, therefore, was to uncover the social and cultural barriers responsible for the under-representation of women in engineering and to design bridges that will bring them as full participants into the profession.

The rationale behind the formation of the Committee in February 1990 was reinforced by the predicted shortage of engineers in Canada by the year 2000 (Dalcor Innoventures Ltd., 1990). The shortage is attributed to engineering's decreasing share of total enrolment in university programs (Table 1), the dwindling number of engineers immigrating from other countries, and economic growth.

One catalytic event gave our investigation great impetus--the murder of 13 female engineering students at École Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6, 1989. That single event in Canadian history jolted engineers and non-engineers alike into deep contemplation and open discussion about the very issues we were to deal with-namely, the status of women in the profession.

More women are becoming engineers; in the last decade, the percentage of registered professional engineers in Canada who are women increased from less than one percent to almost four percent (Table 2). However, the enrolments of women in university engineering programs compared with other male-dominated fields of study show that engineering is lagging far behind. Law and medicine have been attracting almost equal numbers of men and women students for several years. (Table 3).

The recommendations in More than just numbers go beyond attracting greater numbers of women into the engineering profession. Canadians must ensure that the learning and working environments welcome, support and appreciate women engineering students and engineers.

In formulating its recommendations, the Committee relied heavily on the personal testimony of women already in the profession. Accounts of experiences as a minority in high school mathematics and physics classes, in faculties of engineering, in the workplace and as members of professional associations brought the real issues to life. The experiences of these women were validated by the testimony of educators and employers of engineers as well as by our own research and the research of others.


The cultural influences that channel girls and young women away from non-traditional roles start with parents and other caregivers in the pre-school years. Once in school, many girls and young women continue to be discouraged from pursuing interests in mathematics and science and from considering careers in engineering by teachers and guidance counsellors who are not sensitive to gender stereotyping. Because there are so few female science and mathematics teachers and even fewer women engineers to act as role models, young women are not likely to meet and interact with them. These influences are compounded by the perception that engineering is a "male" profession, that high grades are needed to succeed in engineering studies, and that engineers only build bridges and roads.

Some young women who choose to study engineering have difficulty adjusting to the pervasive male culture of faculties of engineering and to a curriculum that does not reflect women's perspectives. Many never meet a woman engineer or engineering professor. Women who advance to graduate studies and aspire to academic careers are very few indeed. Many universities have yet to adopt flexible tenure procedures and other supportive policies that recognize the difficulties of balancing family responsibilities with the demands of an academic career.

Once in the workplace, women engineers encounter attitudes and activities that are systemically biased against women. Many face discrimination in hiring, promotion, job assignments and salary, and experience sexual harassment in their workplaces. Many have to cope with the isolation of being the only female. engineer in a company or on a job site. As well, not enough employers have policies that enable employees to balance family and career responsibilities.

Women engineers are also minorities in their professional associations. These associations have a key role to play in providing support to women members, creating greater public awareness of the engineering profession, and attracting more women to the profession.


The CCWE has made many recommendations in this report; most focus on changing attitudes and creating women-friendly environments. Six factors are crucial to their successful implementation.

1. Commitment from the top. Change in attitudes and the environment will not happen without commitment from senior management in the elementary and secondary school system, universities and workplaces. They will need to commit, in principle and practice, to attracting women to the profession and creating women-friendly environments.

2. Gender sensitivity and awareness. Real social change will not occur unless everyone understands and accepts that women deserve equal status as people and as engineers. This acceptance is especially important in faculties of engineering where some male students and professors still discriminate covertly against women students, and in the workplace where many women engineers do not have the respect of staff, co-workers and supervisors. Changing attitudes will take time, but will be accelerated by education and awareness programs that reinforce gender sensitivity.

3. Women involved in the process of change. In the elementary and secondary school system, more women must become mathematics and science teachers and be appointed as school administrators. In universities, more women must be seen in the ranks of senior management and as professors in faculties of engineering. In the workplace, more women must be named to boards of directors and promoted to senior management. In associations of professional engineers, women must sit on councils and committees at the national, provincial and territorial levels.

4. Co-operation from educators, employers and engineers. Co-operation is required from all those involved in the making of an engineer: parents, other caregivers, teachers and guidance counsellors; engineering deans, faculty and students; employers of engineers; and associations of professional engineers. By working together to change the image of engineering and to improve the learning and working environments of engineers, women will be convinced that the engineering profession offers a challenging and rewarding career.

5. Realistic and challenging goals. Organizations must set realistic and challenging goals for the attracting, retaining and advancing the careers of women engineers. To illustrate, the CCWE has set schedules for success as guidelines for implementing the recommendations. Individual organizations will need to set their own pace for change based on their own situations.

6. Mechanisms to measure and report on progress. Organizations that represent the key stakeholders in the elementary and secondary school system, universities, workplaces and associations of professional engineers must be made responsible for monitoring the implementation of the CCWE's recommendations and strategies. Such monitoring must include regular and public reports on progress.


Although this report is entitled More Than just Numbers, we do refer to statistics and set numerical goals for measuring success. Numerical goals and timeframes can be used to measure the success of our recommendations and identify future directions. Our recommendations aim to achieve the following in the next five years, by 1997:

  • Girls and boys will pursue mathematics and science in equal numbers, especially at advanced levels throughout high school;
  • Women will comprise 25-35 percent of first year students, 20 percent of master's students, 10 percent of doctoral students, and five percent of the professorate in faculties of engineering across Canada;
  • Women will comprise at least 18 percent of graduates from undergraduate engineering programs.
  • More women engineers will be in senior management positions and on boards of directors of companies employing engineers; and
  • More women engineers will be elected members of council and appointed members of committees of associations of professional engineers.

We propose this five-year timetable in part because there is a unique "window of opportunity" open to society. In this decade, large numbers of elementary and secondary school teachers and university professors hired to teach the "baby boomers" will be retiring. This turnover will open the teaching profession to new members who will receive their academic training in the next few years. The training, attitudes and gender of these teachers and faculty members will have a profound impact on the career choices of girls and young women for decades to come.

If these targets are met, the greatest rewards will go to society in general. For too long, the engineering profession has been deprived of the input and abilities of more than half the population. Attitudes that discourage women from considering the engineering profession deprive Canada of distinctive feminine perspectives on technological issues, and a considerable pool of expertise.


Why does Canada need more women engineers?

The CCWE heard dozens of answers to this question--from politicians, business people, educators and engineers, some of whom also happened to be women.

The [engineering] profession will have to adopt more and more values that are said to be 'female' values. Already engineers' social awareness is allowing the emergence of new values, such as protection of the environment, health and occupational safety. Engineers are more and more called upon to work in multidisciplinary teams. They work with economists, biologists, lawyers and leaders of Labour movements. They can no longer sell to their businesses or to their clientele products and services based on technical quality alone. They must be able to understand the needs of their environment and explain how they expect to meet those needs (Micheline Bouchard, P.Eng., VicePresident (Marketing), The DMRGroup, Montreal Forum).

The economic well-being of Canada and the development of its technological base depends to a great extent on the effective employment of engineers. In this period of global competition and rapid technological developments, employers cannot be satisfied with anything less than the very best engineers available, regardless of their gender.

In the future, businesses will be able to satisfy their labour needs only if they successfully confront historical barriers to those people presently outside the economic mainstream and empower them to take advantage of meaningful economic opportunities. The biggest single group in this category is women Felice Paimondo, Esso Petroleum Canada, Atlantic Region Forum).

Most engineers are recruited from the half of the population that is male. Without doubt, excellence and standards in the profession would improve by recruiting from 100 percent of the population.

How can Canadians tolerate this level of exclusion of women and their talents? We've been literally robbing Canada of 50 percent of its potential. Without the full participation of women who have developed their full potential, Canada will not be able to compete against other developed nations (The honorable Bernard Valcourt, Minister of Employment and Immigration, CCWE Conference).

A diverse workforce enables industry to compete more effectively in design, marketing and sale of their products and services at home and internationally. The profile of the work force is changing: more women, visible minorities, aboriginal people and people with disabilities are entering the workplace. By adjusting hiring and employment practices to meet these changes, employers will attract and retain the best employees.

The decision to make changes is not only a moral decision, but a necessary business decision (Leon Sorenson, Senior Production Engineer, Petro Canada, Prairie Region Forum).

Women engineers bring a different perspective to business decision-making. The current trend in management style is toward a participatory and consultative style of management to which women are especially suited.

Women constitute a major asset on the Labour market because they are capable of humanizing organizations. With their ability to communicate and establish personal relationships, with their rational and emotional management skills, with their professional awareness and their proverbial sense of responsibility, women have much to give to the world of business and industry (Charles Perrault, President, Schroder Investment Canada Limited, CCWE Conference).

The practice of engineering itself will benefit from the participation of women. Traditionally socialized to be nurturers, women are attracted to activities they perceive will help others and benefit society. The development of more humane and socially beneficial technology will be enhanced by their people-oriented approach.

It's the profession of engineering that suffers if we do not have the supply of women. Women bring a special sensitivity to the world of technology, a world in which there must be an intimate linkage of society with technology (Janet Halliwell, Chair, Science Council of Canada, CCWE Conference).

The profession of engineering will benefit by the full anticipation of women.

Women must be encouraged to enter engineering because it must be shown that engineers respect social and economic equality and because it is an opportunity to which they are entitled. No major profession can be satisfied with our low percentage of women, a fact which may question our status as a major profession (Patrick Quinn, P.Eng., Principal, Quinn Dressel Associates, Ontario Forum).

The whole complex issue can be described simply.

Without science and engineering, women lose. Without women, science and engineering lose (The Honorable William Winegard, P.Eng., Minister for Science, CCWE Conference).


This report is divided into four main sections, each addressing the responsibilities of a particular sector. Our major recommendations and schedules for success (guidelines and timeframes for implementation) are numbered and summarized at the end of each chapter. Throughout this report, there are personal accounts of women engineering students and women engineers as told at public forums and in private letters to the Chair. To ensure the privacy of the women who shared these experiences with the Committee, their names have been omitted. We acknowledge our gratitude to them; they have demonstrated, more than any recommendation or statistic, that change is necessary. (The italicized quotes are from women engineering students and women engineers.)

Laying the Foundation (Chapters 1-6) addresses issues concerning the socialization and education of girls and young women in the pre-university years. We begin with parental and social influences, and discuss the role of educators and others in developing the interests and talents of girls and young women in science and mathematics as prerequisites for engineering.

Education For and By Women Engineers (Chapters 7 - 12) outlines how universities and faculties of engineering can create womanfriendly environments, and attract and retain women in undergraduate and graduate engineering programs. Great emphasis is placed on the recruitment and career advancement of women faculty and on the development of a curriculum that is relevant to societal needs and appealing to women.

Designing Engineering Workplaces (Chapters 13 - 17) discusses how employers can change the corporate culture to ensure support for women in non-traditional roles. Specific strategies to recruit and advance the careers of women engineers are proposed, and policies that support men and women in the workplace are outlined.

Support by Association (Chapters 18 - 20) describes the role of associations of professional engineers in the promotion of engineering as a viable career for women. It also outlines how associations can support women members and co-operate with educators and employers of engineers.

Making it happen proposes ways to monitor, measure and report on the implementation of the CCWE's recommendations.

Appendix A outlines the mandate, membership and activities of the Canadian Committee on Women in Engineering. Appendix B includes the general bibliography. To recognize progress, Appendix C lists many initiatives now underway to attract and retain women in engineering. Appendix D lists the recommendations.


The CCWE's six public forums became a platform for women to recount their experiences as engineering students and engineers. By sharing their experiences, women lessened the isolation felt by women engineers, many of whom are the lone woman engineer in their companies or at remote work sites. Hearing the stories, women realized that others have felt discouraged as members of a minority in a male-dominated profession. At the Ontario Forum, one woman engineer expressed her delight at being among the majority for once.

'When I saw the line-up for tonight's speakers, it was the largest group of female professional engineers that I had ever seen. I am very impressed. Usually, a woman engineer must face all of this alone. She has very few peers to compare with, particularly at work. She is at best a minority, and at worst an oddball.

We heard many different stories. Most women said they love engineering and the challenges and rewards its brines to them.

Designing a structure in a remote site such as the West Coast Trail in Pacific Rim National Park or for the Cape St. James Weather Station in the Queen Charlotte Islands is definitely a rewarding experience. The enrichment that a career in civil engineering has contributed to my life has certainly been beyond what I imagined.

Others spoke of their responsibility to promote engineering for women by example.

I prefer to do my part by making myself visible, by earning a reputation as a capable engineer and businessperson within the [mining] industry, by obviously enjoying my work and by promoting the mining industry to women and women to the mining industry whenever possible.

It would appear that the younger the women, the fewer their negative experiences. It may be that engineering faculties have become more supportive. It may also be that young women with only a few years in the workforce have not yet hit the so-called "glass ceiling," an invisible barrier to senior management that women cannot pass through. Many women with over 10 years experience expressed their frustration at discriminatory practices in hiring and job assignments, sexist attitudes and difficulties in balancing career and family responsibilities. Some of these women no longer work as engineers.

Many women acknowledged that the profession will become more comfortable for women as more women become engineers.

I believe that life has been made easier for me because a few women in the previous generation have made a dent in this male dominated profession. To continue to make progress and to achieve full equality in the workplace, we must encourage more women to enter the profession. I am sure that life will be that much easier for my daughter when she enters the workforce and if she chooses this profession.

At every forum, we heard that attracting women to engineering must begin very early and that parents play a crucial role.

My mother is a very capable lady who at an early stage showed me that women are able to do what they set their minds to. If we needed a garden table, she would simply make one. And if a receptacle needed to be repaired, she would do so. My father quietly encouraged me. I have fond memories of doing everything from chemical experiments to chopping wood together with my father.

We heard that many girls simply do not have the academic prerequisites needed for engineering studies.

My first experience in being a woman in science occurred when I walked into my Physics 12 class and realized I was the only female left. The other girls had slowly but surely migrated to biology or chemistry to fulfil their science course options.

For some women, the discouragement begins in high school.

Although I had always chosen academic electives such as sciences and foreign languages and was one of the top two or three students in my class, my counsellor (a woman) told me that physics was too hard for me and that I should consider taking home economics instead. I ignored her and registered for Physics 12 anyway, where I was one of two girls in a class of eighteen.

Many women engineers spoke of the absence of role models in primary and secondary schools.

There were plenty of male science teachers, male math teachers and male engineers, so it stood to reason that gender was some sort of requirement for these professions.

There are even fewer role models in engineering faculties.

I would really have liked to have had a female engineering professor in university. Somehow there is a big difference between knowing that it is possible [to become an engineer] and seeing that someone has really done it. I get the same hunger for a real role model from my female undergraduates today.

The Committee heard about adjusting to the male culture of engineering faculties.

Some women in engineering tried so hard to be one of the guys that I felt they subjugated their femininity, their femaleness, and often lost the respect of their male peers. Consequently, I always felt that being a female in engineering was a balancing act, a struggle to maintain my femininity and the respect of my peers yet still participate and feel comfortable.
You soon stop asking, for help if a professor cannot look you in the eye--and he feels uncomfortable being alone in a room with a woman student.

Other students had positive experiences.

The best part about being in engineering was, for me, the sense of camaraderie between classmates. I found that the guys were very supportive of their female peers. And the engineering undergraduate society, despite some of their more notorious events, never made me feel like a second-class citizen. Some of the best friendships I have now were made with the men I went through engineering with.

But, sexist attitudes are still accepted in some engineering faculties.

I was surprised and shocked when an industry representative was encouraged by senior students to end his discussion with a sexually explicit joke. I found this quite unnerving and very inappropriate. As one of two women in a group of approximately 50 male students, professors and professional engineers, I felt intimidated. The open expression of such a joke at a department-sponsored event indicated acceptance and promotion of engineering as a boys' club.

One young woman gave practical advice for recent graduates such as never turning down field work and being in good physical shape.

To avoid serving coffee in the field office, bring your own thermos. To avoid serving coffee in the corporate board office, tell everybody you a) don't drink coffee; b) don't know how to make coffee; or c) you're drinking tea.

The Committee heard concerns about fairness and the need for special initiatives such as scholarships and mentoring programs for women.

The formation of the committee [to attract women students] produced hostility in the college from many of the women and a few of the men who did not support the mandate. There was a clash between those who felt they had made it through without help and those who felt there was a problem which needed to be addressed. There were valid concerns that this would become a women's club and further segregate women in the college. The group formed to address women's issues was being opposed by women.

Several young women told us about positive experiences in the workplace.

I didn't face any major obstacles in landing my job. I saw no prejudice in the selection process or in dealings with my colleagues and employers since. The progress of my career has been the same as, if not better than, that of my fellow male engineers in the office. Our employers give us all ample and fair opportunities to progress to whatever levels we aspire to.

Some women engineers take a long-term approach to employment equity.

I was told by my fellow workers after I arrived at my first engineering job that I was hired 'just because I was a woman,' because my employer had a quota to fill. I thought, 'What the hell' because I felt the pendulum had swung one way for so long that it was fair that it went the other way a little too far before settling into equilibrium.

We heard what it is like to be the first woman engineer at a job site or in a company, and the pressure placed on them to succeed.

Only after a woman had proven herself capable did they say they would hire a woman again. The thought of always being 'the first woman' may be an unattractive-but very realistic trait--of engineering to women. This is added pressure that a male peer or most women in many other professions would never have to face.

Some women engineers adapt themselves easily to the male environment.

Since there were very few women on the [contractor's camp] property, I lived co-ed with standard male bathrooms. You have not lived until you have stepped out of a shower stall only to be greeted with a cheery 'good morning' from a guy standing at a urinal. It takes a little getting accustomed to, but I quickly reached a point where I did not even notice any more.

We were greatly concerned that some women engineers do not appear to recognize forms of discriminatory practice and therefore resign themselves to it. A 1989 graduate wrote that her male co-workers "acknowledge and respect our opinions and suggestions. They have confidence in our abilities." She goes on to describe how she copes in a male environment.

I have to be tough and aggressive. I have to not mind dirt, mice, the smell of chemicals and getting dirty. I have to be less bothered about the working environment than a man; automatically, if I were to complain, it would be said that it is because I am a woman. I try as hard as I can to do certain things out in the plant without asking for help so that the plant operators and staff have confidence in my abilities.

We heard humour.

Since completing my engineering degree, I have returned to work as an engineer in Refinery Process Technology. In 1991, there are six Professional women in the refinery-and only 300 men.

Some women spoke of lack of respect on the job.

I have worked in situations where technicians assigned to my project have not wanted to work for a woman engineer. My boss has brushed it off with a grin and an 'Oh, they're from the country,' as if that was to excuse them. My opinions have been considered cute or interesting but of no real value, or they were second guessed with an 'Is that right?' directed to a REAL engineer present.

Others described feelings of isolation.

As a woman constantly surrounded by men, I often feel somewhat isolated because there is no one to compare the experience with, no one to let off some steam to without having it taken personally, no one to confirm or deny my observations. It can be a lonely feeling.

Over and over again, we heard about the difficulties women engineers have balancing their career and family responsibilities.

The last transfer has been most traumatic: we lived 1000 miles apart for over a year. My husband had a business which he couldn't sell at the time of my transfer. I moved down to the city with my daughter and had to put her in a daycare when I was at work. Since my job involved a certain amount of travelling, I had to make arrangements with my relatives to look after her.

We heard from women who had changed employers or left engineering because of discrimination. One woman left her company after experiencing salary discrimination.

I changed jobs for several reasons, but the largest one was the realization that my value could never be judged on the same scale as that of my male colleagues within that company.

We heard many voices, but perhaps the most discouraging came from women who have come to realize that they cannot recommend the profession to other women. One woman with a master's degree in engineering left the profession because of discrimination in salary and job assignments. She said she would never recommend engineering to her daughters. Another woman has heard other women engineers speak of lack of opportunities for professional development, sexual harassment and even sexual assault.

All of these have been so disturbing to me that I asked myself whether I am indeed doing anyone a favour by encouraging women to join this profession.

These personal accounts bring us to the ultimate question: Are we being fair to girls and young women in the school system and in universities when we say engineering is a viable career for women? We believe the answer is "yes," but a qualified "yes."

There is no reason that engineering cannot be transformed into a profession in which any woman would be happy and proud to work or study. Engineering must be made a woman friendly profession. Changes are required in attitudes and in learning and working environments. It will require energy and dedication to adopt and enforce policies, practices and procedures designed to ensure the full participation of women. The ultimate solution is a change in social attitudes, and that involves more than just numbers.