By Leah Coppella
Elsie MacGill’s story is etched into the fabric of Canada’s engineering history. In 1927, MacGill became the first Canadian woman to receive an engineering degree and in 1929, she became the first aeronautical engineer in the world. Since then, thousands upon thousands of other women have become engineers and shaped what the profession is today.
However, this enriching history comes with hard truths that systemic roadblocks are still faced by many women pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Stereotyping, difficulty entering the workforce, wage gaps, lack of accessibility, women mentors, leadership roles, practical training, and upward career progression all play active barriers for women in STEM. Carleton University and the Faculty of Engineering and Design have made tangible commitments through our EDI Action Plan and Women in Engineering and Information Technology (WiE&IT) Program to address these systemic roadblocks.
In 2021, we launched the inaugural WiE&IT Program, a first of its kind in Canada, supported by 16 industry and government partners, as we work towards combatting and closing the gender gap in STEM. Through partnerships built with Trend Micro, CAE, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin, Amdocs, Blackberry QNX, CIRA, EllisDon, Ericsson, Fullscript, Nokia, Ross, and Solace, we are now celebrating two successful years of program impact.
Learning Through Connection
“By collaborating with a variety of partners through this initiative, we helped connect women students to professionals and equipped them with the tools and knowledge to succeed in the workplace. This is what it means to foster inclusion in engineering and IT,” says Larry Kostiuk, the Dean of Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design.
The program is unique, not only because of its opportunities based in practical skills, but also because of its commitment to and encouragement for women from all backgrounds and identities to join. Through intentional and collaborative approaches, we committed to creating spaces that are welcoming and supportive to women of all backgrounds, intersecting identities, and experiences – including racialized women, women with disabilities, Indigenous women, etc.
Over the course of the academic year, hundreds upon hundreds of women students in engineering and IT accessed monthly networking, and mentorship events; company tours; and soft-skill-building opportunities with close to 100 working women professionals and allies. Many of them coming back to participate in more than one event.
When the program first launched, Carleton University was working in a completely remote environment due to COVID-19. All of the planning, coordination, and promotion happened online. After operating for a full year remotely, the organizing team transitioned the program to a hybrid model to offer women students’ flexibility with when and how they connected with industry leaders. In November 2022, the team held its signature event, the Women in STEM Career Fair, in person. Would there still be interest from students to attend these events in-person? The answer was a resounding yes.
One staff member recalls 15 minutes before the official start time seeing a line-up of women down the hall and around the corner, eager to network. The event was a huge success as the room was filled with women students and women professionals networking and bonding with one another. The event received high praised from attendees and cemented the value of the program in everyone’s minds.
Daphne Papadatos, a second year Aerospace Engineering student, was originally looking for women in engineering clubs at Carleton, when she found out about the program. “I was really interested in the one-on-one discussions with women leaders.
I thought it was really cool and original. I’ve never seen anything like this, where you get this one on one experience with these very successful women in the workplace,” she says.
“You don’t normally get that in a conference when it’s just speakers, you can’t actually have a conversation with them or ask them questions directly. With the WiE&IT Program, we got to hear their stories and how they ended up where they are and the obstacles they had to face.”
Students found one of the most valuable parts of the program to be the mentorship conversations – an event for up to eight women students to connect with a company representative and learn how they transitioned from university into the workforce. “One of the System Engineers I met from Lockheed Martin is now one of my role models. We added each other on LinkedIn, and to this day we have stayed in touch,” Papadatos says. “She’s been a great help, always giving me phenomenal advice that I wouldn’t normally get if I hadn’t joined this program. It really is such a privilege to be getting that kind of advice and access.”
Wendy Olo, a third-year student in the Optical Systems and Sensors program, offered by the School of Information Technology, has attended a variety of WiE&IT Program elements. “When I heard we’d actually be hearing from women that work in engineering roles and companies, I was very intrigued by the idea and loved it,” she says. “I love to sit down and listen to intelligent women.”
For Olo, the most valuable part of the program was the Trend Micro Open House. “We went to Trend Micro, which is a cybersecurity company headed by a woman. We got to talk to software engineers, product managers and heard from a recent graduate on how she started working there,” she says. “That was one of the few companies I’ve toured and my favourite, it was really nice seeing the different sections and how they work together.”
“I think this program is so important because someone might talk about a role that you didn’t even realize you were interested in. I heard from a woman in project management and it made me realize that I want to explore that,” Olo says.
Not just Daphne and Wendy found their peer and mentor community through the program:
- 76% of women students who participated in the program said it helped them develop a network of women connections in STEM.
- 77% of women students who participated in the program said they are now aware of organizations who create an inclusive space for women professionals to thrive in.
We also received valuable feedback from our partners that they are seeing real change in the workplace.
“Gastops is a proud partner of Carleton’s Women in Engineering and IT Program,” said a representative for the company. “We appreciate how the program has enabled us to connect with students in different ways with small and large events, enabling better and sustained engagement. The results speak for themselves – we have hired two students whom we met through the program and we have had more women applicants to our co-op positions, some of whom we connected with through the program and directly encouraged them to apply.”
Papadatos points to the WiE&IT program’s ultimate aim: “At the end of the day, the mentors we get to connect with are just other human beings who wants to share their life stories with similar people. Eventually, don’t we all want to do that someday? I think the WiE&IT Program is helping us get there.”
We look forward to announcing the next iteration of the program in the fall – with new events and opportunities to empower our women students – building upon two years of program success.
Want to learn more about the WiE&IT Program? Get in touch by emailing us at: email@example.com.
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