CTV: Can Waterloo’s women-only residence help close the engineering gap?
Marcia Friesen, an associate dean of engineering at the University of Manitoba, has been working to boost the number of women in engineering at her institution. Thanks in part to outreach programs, the numbers have improved, but only from 14 per cent in 2009 to 20 per cent in 2015.
Friesen says that not only do women face discrimination in the workplace that causes them to leave the industry, but they tell “horror stories” that discourage some girls from applying.
While she calls it an “extreme example,” Friesen says that men at a local engineering firm recently organized an after-work golf outing and didn’t invite any female colleagues. That’s not only offensive, but it keeps women out of informal networks that can advance people’s careers, she says.
Other barriers are less subtle. They may include bosses who don’t understand that mothers are often forced to stay at home with sick children or more likely to take career-interrupting maternity leaves.
In that sense, there’s only so much that universities can do.
Friesen says the University of Manitoba has considered building a special women’s lounge in the engineering school, but female students turned them down, saying they would feel more singled-out.
“Women already feel that they stand out by virtue of numbers and don’t want to do anything to exacerbate that,” she says.
She will be watching Waterloo’s experiment closely.