By Dan Rubinstein
Photos by Fangliang Xu
Environment and Climate Change Minister, Catherine McKenna, sat down with a couple dozen students from Carleton University’s Faculty of Engineering and Design on Sept. 5, 2019, for an informal conversation about the value of equity, diversity and inclusion.
“Inclusiveness is really important, and it requires thought — it doesn’t happen by accident,” said the federal minister, whose Ottawa Centre riding includes the Carleton campus.
“These conversations matter, but it matters more that we act on them.”
The value of equity, diversity and inclusion
The gathering, motivated by a desire to encourage more women to enter science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, was moderated by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Prof. Cynthia Cruickshank.
“I’m hoping that today’s discussion will help us come up with some new ideas and initiatives,” said Cruickshank, who recently received $5.1 million in support from the NRCan Energy Innovation Program and Ontario Research Fund to develop new building envelope technologies that can make Canada’s buildings more energy efficient and less greenhouse gas intensive.
Topics covered in the hour-long roundtable in the Minto Centre for Advanced Studies in Engineering ranged from leadership and mentorship to work-life balance and what the path forward might look like for Indigenous communities and other under-represented groups in STEM.
“In different contexts, it might look a bit different,” McKenna said about leadership, adding that how a leader engages their team and ensures there is space for everybody to contribute are both important factors.
“It’s important to get feedback and to have frank conversations about what you can do better,” she said, “but you also need to feel confident in your abilities.”
When the conversation turned specifically to women in STEM, one Carleton student noted that there’s a generational difference — many of her peers are women while most of her professors are men — and another shared an anecdote about doing roadway density inspections and talking to contractors who directed their questions to her male assistant.
Eliminating Barriers & Increasing Diversity
There has been progress in this area, McKenna said, but lots of work remains, especially around eliminating barriers to women of colour, women with disabilities and women from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.
On the work-life balance front, McKenna said there’s no magic bullet solution, stressing the importance of prioritizing and taking steps to minimize time lost to social media.
Regarding mentorship, she noted that informal support can be just as powerful as structured mentorship programs — a point echoed by several students who talked about the value of leading by example and relationships in which the mentor and/or mentee don’t necessarily grasp the value of their exchange until months or years later.
When Cruickshank asked about engaging Indigenous and other under-represented groups in STEM, McKenna widened the lens to talk about the challenges and opportunities of reconciliation as a
Engineering Dean Larry Kostiuk talked about being born in an Indigenous community on the shore of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories, where his family was a minority, and how he later helped start an organization called Engage North that sends people with STEM backgrounds to live and work in Indigenous communities, where they have to adapt and learn how to incorporate traditional Indigenous knowledge with western science.
“Innovation is about getting outside your comfort zone,” said McKenna, adding that “one of the greatest challenges in Canada is not just saying we’re diverse — it’s living it It’s not just saying we’re all different. It’s learning from one another.
“The thing that gives me the most hope is young people,” she said in conclusion.
“You guys see the world differently. I’ve got great faith in you and I challenge you all to use your degrees to help fight climate change.”
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