Experiences Of Women In Engineering

I recently read that only 22% of undergraduate engineering students in Canada are female. This was a bit surprising compared to my experiences in eng: my group of girl friends made the gender gap seem much less daunting, almost to the point of being forgettable. 

Often when thinking about studying engineering, young women have questions not about the content or workload but about the community. They want to know what it feels like to be among the minority in eng. Everyone’s experience is different, but in an attempt to find answers, I decided to ask some of my peers about why they chose engineering and what they think about being women in eng.

Sanah (3rd year Software Engineering)

Everyone (including teachers) in high school always thought that being good at physics and calc meant you were destined to be an engineer... and I fell for it. I was so focused on STEM courses. My school didn't have a lot of upper year social science courses, so I never got to explore those subjects in an academic respect. Biology was fine but my older sister was in med sci and I knew I would hate the competitive nature of science faculties.

There are two sides to "being a woman in eng". On the outside of eng, looking in, you feel almost powerful because women in STEM, especially with  eng being so male saturated, get so much praise and are highly looked at. There are many opportunities because engineering companies want to look diverse. It can feel like you have a leg up on your male competitors. On the other hand, you want to be given opportunities based on your work and skills, not based on your gender or gender identification. 

Because  women in eng are so few, the existing pool really comes together. Most of my friends in eng are other women, and although my friend group includes men, there unfortunately are some men in eng that won’t take women seriously unless we prove to be way more impressive than them or exceed expectations somehow.

Rebecca (3rd year Electrical Engineering)

I chose engineering because I really enjoyed calculus and physics in highschool. My older sister studied chemical engineering and she greatly influenced my decision as well. 

Although there are a limited number of women in engineering, it hasn't affected my ability to excel in my academics or feel at home.  All of my peers have been very welcoming and I look forward to the future when the gender gap between men and women within engineering will decrease. 

During my first year I felt discouraged by the lack of women in my classes, but I quickly befriended several girls who were very supportive of each other. These relationships have helped me to stay motivated in school and proud about being a woman within this field.

Julia (3rd year Mechatronics Engineering)

In high school, I was really interested in engineering even though physics was my worst mark. I was constantly being told that you have to like physics and excel in it to be an engineer. But I knew I wanted to do it regardless of my physics mark. I liked puzzles and building things as a kid and I never doubted that engineering was for me. 

As a woman in eng, I feel empowered. I feel like I have an advantage because if I do well it’s considered impressive. The fact is that engineering has a very small percentage of women and even then, chemical engineering is the discipline with the most women. So the fact that I am doing mechatronics engineering regardless of the challenges is very empowering to me. 

One thing that I have noticed is that during group projects, the girl is usually assigned the organizational side of things.This played to my strong suits because I'm more organization heavy but many women in engineering want to do all the technical things and it’s not fair to assume that they will be best at organizing. 

Linah (3rd year Software Engineering)

I chose to do engineering because during  high school, I enjoyed physics and math. I also really loved problem solving and engineering is perfect for that.

I feel like I am creating a legacy, and hopefully inspiring other young girls who are thinking of pursuing engineering. I want to drive them to actually do it and not be afraid of failing. 

I think that being women in engineering brings us closer together. Because there aren’t many of us, what ends up happening is that women band together and create groups that support each other. You automatically have at least one thing in common and it makes it easier to become friends. We all have similar experiences and we are all facing the same challenge.

Sahar (3rd year Structural Engineering)

Just like most people, I chose engineering because I liked math and physics in highschool. I didn’t see myself in any other program for some reason. 

Being a woman in engineering at university is not as bad as people might think. Yes there aren’t as many females in the program as you wish there was, but in engineering everyone supports one another! 

Don’t let others choose for you, if your only worry is being a woman in engineering, and you think it might be too hard for you, just do it, give it a try! Worst case scenario would be that you don’t like it, then you can switch out to a different program! The point here is that you will never know the answer unless you try.

In the moment we don’t notice the day-to-day challenges we face because we have found support from women within the engineering community. But as we look back, we take into account all the small details that make us feel apart or separated from the rest of engineering. There is definitely room for improvement within the engineering community but my hope for the future is that women who want to pursue engineering aren’t deterred by the statistics, but instead feel inspired by the tight knit community that is created through our experiences as women in engineering. 

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