Retention of women in engineering is a necessary part of improving women’s participation in the profession. Despite the gains in the enrolment and graduation of women from engineering programs over the past decade, less than 14 per cent of practising engineers are women, a figure that has been relatively constant. Even though they are attracted to engineering and successfully complete rigorous programs of studies, some women do not pursue engineering licensure or leave the profession after obtaining their licence. While there is a lack of Canadian research on the reasons for this, many US-based studies have provided valuable insights, including the 2011 study, Stemming the Tide: Why women leave engineering. Among its key findings, Stemming the Tide found that:
- More than two-thirds of the women who left engineering ended up working in another field, and half of those rose to executive positions only five years after leaving engineering.
- Nearly half of women left engineering due to working conditions, such as too much travel, a lack of advancement, or low salary.
- Thirty per cent left engineering due to the organizational culture.
- Twenty-five per cent left engineering because they wanted more time with their family.
Retaining women in the workforce is something Canadian engineering regulators are working on through mentorship programs, workplace surveys, networking opportunities, improving human resource policies, and a variety of events.
Measures need to directly address the reasons women leave engineering at various points along the engineering continuum, such as, after graduation, during their EIT programs, before obtaining their licence, and one to five years into their engineering career. One area that is crucial to retaining skilled and valued talent is improving career transitions, especially when it comes to managing leaves of absence. A poorly managed transition, frequently experienced by women who traditionally take leave when they have children, is a contributing factor in attrition within the engineering profession.
To this end, in early 2016, Engineers Canada and Geoscientists Canada jointly published a planning resources guide, Managing Transitions: Before, During and After Leave, for employers and employees to better plan for and manage maternity and parental leaves in the engineering and geoscience professions.
EngiQueers Canada is a non-profit organization started by students studying engineering with the goal of promoting and advocating for the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students (and their allies) in engineering schools across Canada. EngiQueers provides training on diversity and inclusion to engineering organizations across the country.
Engineers Canada is also a signatory to Electricity Human Resources Canada’s Leadership Accord for Gender Diversity, which is a public commitment by Canadian employers, educators, unions and governments to promote the values of diversity and inclusion within their organizations.