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Women still staying out of engineering, NSERC report shows

A group of leaders in engineering and science met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on November 18 following a one-day summit in Ottawa. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Engineers Canada and Research in...


A group of leaders in engineering and science met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on November 18 following a one-day summit in Ottawa. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Engineers Canada and Research in Motion (RIM) held the summit, which was on “Maximizing Opportunities: Increasing Women’s Participation in Science and Engineering.”

At the event, NSERC issued a report on “Women in Science and Engineering in Canada.” The 84-page report includes a host of statistics and graphs showing that women are still poorly represented in science and engineering.

On page 29, for example, points out that in 2009 women represented 22% of the workforce in natural science and engineering. This was up marginally from 19.8% in 1994. However, females represent 40% of all those who hold bachelor degrees in science and engineering, suggesting somewhere along the way women turn to other careers.

Unemployment rates of both women and men in the fields is running side by side currently.

On page 23, the report offers cold comfort by pointing out that Canada is not alone in having a low number of female science and engineering graduates. “Virtually all countries in the world, to varying levels, have fewer women than men studying in the NSE,” the authors say.

At the same time, the report shows that relatively speaking, Canada ranks very low on a list of 30-odd countries in terms of how many females are getting science and engineering degrees.  On a graph  (page 23) that shows the ratio of female science and engineering graduates compared to the general population of female 24 year olds, Canada ranks only higher than Denmark and the United States, and lower than countries like South Korea, Poland, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.

The report’s authors point out from the start that they did not set out to investigate the reasons or remedies for the gender discrepancy. They write in the introduction: “Although the reasons behind gender differences in education and career selection are extremely important to consider, these issues are not the focus of this report. The academic literature on this subject is vast and does not offer conclusive results.”

Only in the last section of the report do they give space to possible reasons and remedies simply by citing brief quotations from a multiple of sources. One citation, for example, is taken from an article by G. Siann and M. Callahan in the Journal of Further and Higher Education, published 2001: “Scientific enquiry has until very recently been almost entirely conducted by men, the most fundamental aspect of systematic theory in the natural sciences have been pervaded by masculine perspectives deriving from masculine experiences”; “the salient characteristic of SET culture has been the intertwining of masculinity and technology so that technical competence has come to constitute an integral part of masculine gender identity and conversely, a particular kind of masculinity has become central to the working practices of technology.”

To view the report, click here.