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An interdisciplinary project looking at engendering success in engineering June 24, 2013

Posted by Jane Fritz in Uncategorized.

The article below is taken from a recent press release from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of British Columbia. What is particularly interesting about it is that it describes a new federally-funded research project in the Social Science and Humanities realm, to be undertaken by an interdisciplinary team from applied science and social science, to look at success and glass ceiling issues in engineering – and hopefully they will look at IT as well, at least through software engineering. The history for IT isn’t so much that there is discrimination at the top; it’s just that there are so few females coming along to consider management positions. The percentages shown below for engineering graduates and practitioners is very similar for computer science graduates.

Engineering prof receives social sciences grant to study gender barriers in the profession

Professor Elizabeth Croft of the Department of Mechanical Engineering has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to study why few women reach senior management in engineering firms. Along with an interdisciplinary team with expertise in women in engineering, organizational policy, social psychology and human resources, she will investigate Engendering Engineering Success with $193,732 of SSHRC funding over three years.


Photo by Martin Dee.

The low representation of women in the engineering profession remains a persistent problem in Canada. The most recent data from Engineers Canada indicates that 18% of engineering graduates and 11% of licensed engineers are women but very few reach senior management in engineering firms.

Surveys conducted by the NSERC Chairs for Women in Science and Engineering confirm that at graduation female students are equally committed to entering the engineering workplace as their male peers. However many more women than men leave the profession within 5 to 10 years of career start.

Recent Canadian and US studies identify workplace culture as a major barrier to the retention and advancement of women in the engineering profession. The loss of qualified women is a significant cost to employers in terms of lost intellectual capital and the need to recruit and retrain. The reduced numbers of the technically skilled workers in Canada impacts our ability to compete in a global economy.

The Engendering Engineering Success research intends to bring sustained change in the retention and advancement of women in the engineering profession through a unique partnership of social science researchers, women in engineering and their advocates, professional organizations and key industry stakeholders across Canada.

“The team recognizes there have been efforts to develop organizational policies to address retention and advancement of women in engineering,” says Professor Croft, NSERC Chair for Women in Engineering. “These are important steps, but they are not sufficient to change workplace culture and practices, particularly in a male-dominated profession.”

The interdisciplinary team collaborating with Croft includes co-applicants Professor Michelle Innes of the University of Alberta School of Business; Professor Emerita Valerie Davidson, PhD., P.Eng, past NSERC CWSE (Ontario); UBC Professor of Psychology Toni Schmader, Canada Research Chair in Social Psychology; and collaborators Courtnay Hughes of the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), and Lianne Lefsrud, P.Eng, VP Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology (WinSETT). Partner organizations are WinSETT, MiHR, Engineers Canada, the Network of NSERC CWSEs, WorleyParsons and Enbridge Pipelines Inc.

“We envision women as full participants in the Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology fields, and workplaces which are inclusive and respectful of all their employees,” says Margaret‐Ann Armour CM, PhD, FCIC, founding president of the WinSETT Centre.

With expertise in engineering, organizational study of workplace dynamics, and social psychology of implicit bias, the research team aims to better understand and dismantle the obstacles that workplace culture can create for women in engineering. Engaging directly with practicing women engineers as well as managers and industry leaders, they will systematically examine current policies and practices and identify successful strategies. Partners from industry and professional organizations will be engaged in both data gathering and result dissemination.

“Through a combination of research, pilot implementation and evaluation, we will ensure that the policies, practices and interventions that are developed are practical and reflect the real situation of women working in engineering,” says Croft. “We believe that workplace cultures that support diversity are key economic drivers and will allow women to participate more fully in the technical workforce.”


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