Bridging the Gender Gap: Empowering Women in Engineering for a Stronger Ontario

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Bridging the Gender Gap: Empowering Women in Engineering for a Stronger Ontario

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, the demand for skilled engineers is ever-increasing. Despite significant strides in recent years, women continue to be underrepresented within the profession. It is crucial to address the growing need for a diverse engineering workforce, given how essential engineering companies are to the development of infrastructure projects. One such landmark investment is the first North American EV battery cell gigafactory in St. Thomas, Ontario.

As the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-Ontario (ACEC-Ontario) and Ontario’s Universities celebrate Women in Engineering Day, we are reminded of our unwavering commitment to bridge this gap and ensuring Ontario’s engineering companies are both robust and diverse.

The Current Landscape

As of the 2023-24 academic year, Ontario universities have seen a substantial enrollment in STEM programs, with 175,397 students pursuing studies across all levels. Of these, 40% (69,533) are women. However, within engineering programs specifically, the numbers tell a different story. Out of 68,458 engineering students, only 27% (18,668) are women. While these figures highlight progress, they also underscore the need for continued efforts to attract and retain women in engineering fields.

A Growing Interest Among Women

The past few years have seen encouraging trends in women’s participation in STEM and engineering disciplines. Between 2019-20 and 2023-24, the number of women in STEM programs at Ontario universities increased by 21%, rising from 60,837 to 69,533. Similarly, the number of women engineering students increased by 14%, growing from 15,419 to 18,668. These statistics reflect a growing interest and engagement among women in these critical fields.

“When I was in high school, I volunteered with an environmental conservation group that worked to help save a local endangered salamander population by constructing housing structures which aiding their breeding process,” says Navan Chawla, a Structural Engineer at Entuitive and member of ACEC-Ontario’s Women’s and Future Leader Networks. “It was here where I found my passion for building things that solve real problems. This is the same feeling I get now as a Structural Engineer where I design structures that make a real impact in the community.”

More Women Engineers Entering the Workforce

Moreover, in the 2022-23 academic year, Ontario universities saw 37,083 STEM graduates, with 41% (15,141) of those degrees awarded to graduates who were women. In engineering, there were 14,643 university graduates, and 25% (3,665) of those were women. These graduates represent the potential and promise of a more balanced engineering workforce.

“A diverse work force brings varied perspectives and experiences,” says Mary Wells, Dean of Engineering, Waterloo. “This leads to more innovation and creativity, increasing our capacity to solve the toughest problems. We need more women in engineering so that we can better represent the communities that we serve.”

The Role of Universities in Shaping the Future

Universities play a pivotal role in shaping the future of engineering in Ontario. By continuing to increase access to STEM education and provide the resources to support and increase the participation of women, they are helping more women succeed in engineering programs. This includes implementing mentorship programs, providing scholarships, and promoting women as role models in STEM fields. Universities are also working to break down stereotypes and create a culture where women feel welcome and valued in engineering disciplines.

“Intentional and consistent support allows women to build confidence and resilience. Effective programs and initiatives also provide networking opportunities, connecting women with peers, mentors and professionals in industry, helping them to navigate a traditionally male-dominated field,” says Mary Wells, Dean of Engineering, Waterloo.

In addition to these initiatives, universities are partnering with industry leaders, such as Toronto Hydro, Bruce Power, Linamar and many more to help bridge the gap between academic training and practical application, providing students with the skills and experiences necessary to thrive in the workforce.

“During my undergraduate time and through my post-graduate volunteering at various universities, I’ve pleasantly noticed a growing support for women in the industry,” shared Navan Chawla. “I’ve seen this in many forms within the universities, such as women in leadership roles who helped demonstrate the impact of women in STEM, advocacy and support groups for women in STEM, and industry mentorship programs and events. As an undergraduate student, I gained a lot of confidence and a feeling of camaraderie by participating in these events throughout the years.”

Building a Stronger, More Innovative Ontario Together

As we celebrate Women in Engineering Day, and look to the future, the importance of a diverse engineering workforce cannot be overstated. Women bring unique perspectives and solutions to engineering challenges, and their increased participation is crucial for the continued growth and success of Ontario’s infrastructure and technology sectors. Through sustained efforts and collaborative initiatives, we can create an environment where women in engineering are not just participants but leaders and innovators.

“Solving engineering problems relies on problem solvers with different points of view,” says Navan Chawla. “I’ve been fortunate to work alongside a diverse group of colleagues throughout my professional career, including many talented women in engineering. I understand the importance of community and want to offer that same support to the next generation of engineers. I have seen that greater diversity fosters more innovative ideas, which I believe will shape the future of engineering.”

The journey towards gender parity in engineering is ongoing, but the progress made so far is promising. Similar to its initiatives in the skilled trades, we encourage the provincial government in further collaboration with universities and industry to devise a strategy that boosts diverse engagement in STEM fields and promotes STEM as a rewarding career path. With continued dedication from universities, partners like ACEC-Ontario, and government, we can build a more diverse and dynamic engineering workforce, solving societies complex challenges.

Together, we are committed to not only increasing the number of women in engineering programs but also ensuring that they have the support and opportunities to excel in their careers. By addressing the gender gap and promoting diversity, we are building a stronger, more innovative Ontario.

This commitment not only benefits women in engineering companies but also contributes to the overall strength and resilience of Ontario’s economy and society. With that collective goal in mind, we will continue to work together to empower women in engineering, ensuring a brighter, more equitable future for all.

“It is vital that Ontario universities continue to collaborate with industry partners to ensure gender diversity in engineering,” says Mary Wells, Dean of Engineering, Waterloo. Incorporating the perspectives of all stakeholders means that we can deliver programs that fully prepare students for professional careers. Collaboration also leads to more opportunities for women through experiential education, where students can tackle real-world problems and learn from successful mentors. By working across sectors, we can reinforce gender diversity as a shared responsibility and a long-term commitment.”

Tags: engineeringontario's universitieswomen in STEM