Last year, Engineers Canada merged its outreach and engagement work with its work to promote equity, diversity and inclusivity in the profession. This new team, the belonging and engagement team, leads two of Engineers Canada’s 10 core purposes. To serve this goal, Engineers Canada’s belonging and engagement team leads several programs and initiatives and develops key resources for the profession. From the annual 30 by 30 Conference, and work towards reconciliation in engineering, to conducting national research and managing national programs and committees, this team plays a critical role in our efforts to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion in engineering.

Yasemin Tanaçan-Blacklock is a member of this team and serves as Engineers Canada’s Advisor, Equity and Belonging. In this interview, we take a look into Tanaçan-Blacklock’s work engaging with key stakeholders, and explore her role in helping to guide Engineers Canada’s external and internal efforts to champion equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Can you tell us about your role as Advisor, Equity and Belonging? What are some of your primary responsibilities?

As the title suggests, my primary responsibility is to advise on equity, belonging, and reconciliation throughout the organization. I organize our 30 by 30 groups and network, the Indigenous Advisory Committee, and the Decolonizing and Indigenizing Engineering Education Network, and lead research and the development of resources like the Supplement for Guidelines, the Land Acknowledgement Guide, and the National Membership Report. I work with our team on EDI strategies, like the development of the national research strategy and the employer engagement strategy. I also play a role in organizing the annual 30 by 30 conferences. I think the most important thing I do, though, is facilitate space and connections between people in the margins of the engineering profession. I believe effective EDI needs to reflect the community it serves, so being a contact for that community is an honour and a privilege.

How do you approach equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging work?

I approach my work with a few overarching themes:

Intersectionality: There is no one universal experience to any identity, and all forms of social oppression are interlinked and inseparable.

Unlearning: This requires us to acknowledge the way we currently navigate the world is shaped by systems of oppression, and we must self-implicate and shed those behaviours before they can be replaced with more equitable and just behaviours.

Personal: Equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging is ultimately about people, and how they work, live, learn from, and interact with one another. Centering lived experience ensures the right voices are at the forefront of this work.

Contextual: No profession or organization exists in a silo, everything is informed and shaped by broader society. Following broader social justice movements and shifts ensures the work remains relevant.

What inspired you to work in the equity, diversity, and inclusion space?

Growing up, feminist principles were instilled in me by practice, not necessarily by name. I did my degrees in politics and gender studies and focused on identity politics and systems of social oppression and power. I felt at home learning the language of feminist theory and related theories of anti-oppression (like anti-imperialism and critical race), and I’ve never looked back. I’m also a very persistent person, so this career is very suitable for that trait!  I feel very lucky that I was able to shape an education and career path that combines my passions, interests, upbringing, and personality, and can’t see myself doing anything else.

In what ways do you collaborate with engineering organizations, professionals, and educational institutions to advance diversity and inclusion in engineering?

This is a hard question to answer because all our work is based on collective impact…so in every way! Pretty much every resource, event, initiative, and report is done with the collaboration of many people, from all points in the engineering profession and beyond. Everyone has a role to play in social justice, from the regulators, to schools, to employers, and students, so ensuring our scope is expansive, yet specific to different positionalities, is important.

Could you describe a success story or a positive outcome that resulted from Engineers Canada’s efforts to promote equity and belonging?

Because our work is always ongoing and building on previous work, it’s hard to pinpoint just one outcome. There is always more to do and we still have a long way to go. I’d say I feel the most success when reflecting on the relationships we build with people whom our work impacts. To build trust among the people we are working in solidarity with, to a point where they are willing and open to sharing their stories with us is such a powerful feeling!

Looking ahead, what do you think could further enhance equity and belonging within the engineering profession?

Continuing to develop familiarity with the theory of intersectionality. Intersectionality was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, but the concept has been an important part of Black feminism for hundreds of years. Intersectionality is not the same thing as positionality, it’s not a descriptor of identity (there is no such thing as someone’s “intersectionalities”).

There are unique challenges that exist for women of color in engineering caused by the intersecting systems of race and gender. An Indigenous woman engineer will face different barriers in engineering than an affluent able-bodied cisgender white woman engineer or a Black trans woman engineer who immigrated to Canada after being trained abroad. Each of these three individuals have equal claim to the experience of womanhood, even if their womanhood is different from one another.  That’s one way of looking at intersectionality, as a lens to recognize each of those women have equal claim to the experience of womanhood, and therefore we must be mindful of race, class, (dis)ability, and other social categories when we construct initiatives for women’s empowerment.

When intersectionality is fully realized and understood, it is an immensely powerful tool in enacting social justice, because it demands we recognize patriarchy is racialized, racism is informed by class, class is shaped by (dis)ability, and such and so forth. If that understanding becomes more common, I think the engineering profession will sooner reach a space of equity and belonging.