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Engineers Canada President talks gender equality at Status of Women roundtable

2018.09.06

On August 27, 2018, Annette Bergeron, MBA, FCAE, FEC, P.Eng. Engineers Canada President and Joey Taylor, Manager, Public Affairs attended a Status of Women in Canada roundtable discussion on engaging boys and men in gender equality. The discussion came as part of the federal government’s current goal, laid out in the 2018 budget, to develop strategies in support of an inclusive society.

The half-day discussion invited attendees to focus on three primary questions:

  1. What would be the core principles for engaging men and boys as partners in advancing gender equality?
  2. What are the barriers to increasing men and boys’ engagement in gender equality, and how do you address them?
  3. What are successful models or best practices to support engagement in advancing gender equality?

With regard to core principles for engaging boys and men, Bergeron’s  feedback was focused on the need for corporate leaders to drive change while recognizing diversity champions and educating leaders on misconceptions and unconscious biases. “We need to emphasize the economic case for women being more involved in all workplaces,” Bergeron says, “and ensure that men understand that women’s gain is not at their loss.”

She also indicated her opinion that the focus of discussions should be on inclusion rather than women specifically, as the framing may be more difficult to relate to for some men.

Concerning the question of addressing barriers to increasing men and boys’ engagement, Bergeron aimed to emphasize the need for human resource policies that protect diverse groups from workplace harassment and ensure adequate parental leave.

She noted, however, that the efforts can’t stop at the internal level for organizations.

“Leadership teams must also motivate and encourage employees by setting public goals,” she says, including the work Engineers Canada is doing to increase the representation of women within the engineering field through its 30 by 30 initiative. She points out that “numerous international initiatives by the UN and others are working to promote gender equality and LGBTQ2 rights,” adding that “such goals must be very visible to be successful.”

As to the specific language needed to work towards gender equity, Bergeron recommends avoiding words like “quotas,” which can be divisive, and instead using positive language that emphasizes the social and economic benefits of a diverse workforce. “When discussing gender equality for individuals who are unengaged or who are publicly against gender equality,” she says, “respectful and understanding language should be used so that they do not feel as though they are being judged.”

“In many such cases, it may simply be an issue of not completely understanding the issue.”

Regarding best practices, she points out numerous initiatives Canada-wide that are being rolled out to promote gender equality in engineering, including Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba’s Engineering Changes Lives initiative, and gender-inclusivity initiatives at York University, the University of Calgary, and McMaster University.

She also notes the role that the government must play in promoting client-driven change through, for example, applying a gender lens for NSERC grant applications. She says that “Boards and committees would ideally make commitments, as Engineers Canada has, to work towards gender equality in their makeup.”

Reflecting on the event, Bergeron remarked, “It takes a combined effort, working at all levels of institutions and society to achieve the kind of change the federal government wants. The goal of an inclusive society is one that benefits everyone, and developing specific strategies to engage men and boys are an important step in getting there.”

In addition to such stakeholder engagement activities, the Government of Canada is taking a number of large-scale actions to advance gender equality and support an inclusive society. This includes amending the Canada Human Rights Act to include gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination. Additionally, it has introduced numerous initiatives to reduce the gender wage gap, encourage diverse participation in political and business leadership roles, address poverty and lack of economic opportunity, support families to balance work and care responsibilities, and prevent and address gender-based violence.