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The Work of Champions: APEGS and University of Saskatchewan

2019.04.25

group of 30 by 30 champions30 by 30 is a multi-faceted goal, encapsulating numerous aspects of awareness, attraction, and retention. In the words of Margaret Anne Hodges, 30 by 30 Champion for APEGS, “The engineering profession, including geoscience, needs to speak to girls of all ages, young women, and career women, as well as the people in their lives that influence their life decisions, which is no small task.” Hodges, along with Dena McMartin, University of Saskatchewan’s 30 by 30 Champion, share their observations and experiences on working towards 30 by 30 in their province.

What are some highlights from your 30 by 30 work would you like to share with us?

Dena McMartin (DM): One of the most important achievements of the 30 by 30 initiative is that we have opened the door for networking across the country, and on a provincial scale, through the APEGS creation of the “Dream It, Believe It, Be It” brand and campaign. Both the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina engineering programs and summer experience camps for youth include girls’ programming that are sponsored or promoted and supported by APEGS. The work of the province’s 30 by 30 Champions is directly intertwined.

Margaret Anne Hodges (MAH): APEGS has recognised the importance of demographic focus groups and has initiated activities for all groups. We are well positioned with a structure of boards and committees that play their part. Highlights include activities planned around the IMAX film Dream Big, including Girls Night Out, in partnership with the Saskatchewan Science Centre. During past Engineering & Geoscience Week we invited APEGS members to go into elementary and high schools across the province to talk to kids about engineering.

For the last couple of years, the Student Development Committee has worked with the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina to host mentoring events bringing students and women professionals together to talk together about the advantages and challenges of a career in engineering and geoscience. APEGS is also pleased to support initiatives started by women engineering students, such as Gear-UP, intended to give women students at the University of Saskatchewan a hands-on experience in Shop and Drafting. Even if students missed these subjects in high school, these programs mean there’s no reason to worry. What a great way to build confidence!

For professional members, the 30 by 30 Champions Group has worked with the Professional Development Committee to find PD programing that addressed things like unconscious biases, grit, and psychologically healthy workplaces. Along with a wine and chocolate evening hosted by Women of APEGS and the informal networking activities taking place in Regina and Saskatoon, there are many opportunities to connect. 

What do you see as the key barriers to achieving 30 by 30?

DM: There are several perceived barriers to achieving 30 by 30, as well as a few structural challenges that are embedded in the profession and day-to-day activities of students and those in the workforce.

MAH: Ironically a significant barrier to reaching 30 by 30 is young women that can choose to go into engineering can also choose many other paths. When men are asked why they have chosen engineering, a common answer is they weren’t certain what to pursue, but because of their strong ability and interest in math and science, career educators recommended engineering. While the same interest in math and sciences is common among women entering the field, there is strong evidence that those same women have stronger verbal and written skills, which gives them the opportunity to consider and be recommended into other careers. We need to provide a compelling reason to choose engineering, and again that is a multi-faceted challenge.

What are the most important things you've learned as a 30 by 30 Champion that others would benefit from knowing?

DM: Sharing information and ideas for high impact practices has been the best part of the 30 by 30 Champions role. The network of exceptional professionals and staff who really care about increasing diversity in the profession is truly inspiring. To design solutions to the actual problems faced by young women in engineering, ideas shared by early career engineers about their career experiences and the barriers (both real and perceived) that exist for young women in becoming an EIT and eventually a P.Eng. are extremely important.

MAH: Having served as APEGS 30 by 30 Champion the last few years, what I have noticed is women in the professions welcome the opportunity to address 30 by 30. There is a great deal of desire to help and participate in 30 by 30 activities. With more women serving as role models and creating more opportunities to connect one-on-one with girls, there is added hope in making a difference.

I am also happy to say that as Champion I see a great deal of interest and support from our male colleagues, whether they be in private practice, at universities or within the regulator community. The desire to make change is real and the Champions community can help their colleagues really see what isn’t obvious to them and where there are challenges and barriers. In this way we can partner and engage male engineers to help solve the problem (that’s what engineers do) so they are able to be part of the solution and feel good about it.

What do you think it will take to achieve 30 by 30 nationwide?

DM: We need to be focusing on engagement of women and men across all ages and stages of their careers and across the continuum of education, development, career preparation, and career progression. It means supporting educators in the way that engineering concepts are taught in the K-12 system. It means making sure guidance counsellors understand what an engineering career encompasses. It means ensuring that requirements for enrolment in post-secondary programs are designed to include everyone interested in an engineering education. In the recruitment phase of the continuum, there needs to be a clear strategy, including roles for K-12 partners, university recruiters, and the regulators. Those roles need to work in concert to ensure the greatest level of involvement across the province. It can be too easy for some groups of students to have 5 or 10 interactions and opportunities to learn about engineering, while many more never have the privilege of seeing what’s possible.

MAH: There is definitely an increase in the number of women pursuing engineering. Thirty years ago, in Saskatchewan, it was possible for women engineers to actually know most other women engineers in the Province. That’s no longer the case. So, the profession can attract women, but to significantly increase the number of girls interested in engineering, engineering will need to go to where the girls are. The girls that like math and sciences also have other interests, including activities like music lessons, dance class, and gymnastics. Ask around and you will be surprised how many professional women are involved with the performing arts.