Engendering Engineering Success
Written by: Natalie Lim
Before the NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (BC/Yukon) came to Simon Fraser University, it was held by Dr. Elizabeth Croft and her team at the University of British Columbia. From 2010-2015, the UBC WWEST chapter worked on a number of projects in order to attract, recruit, and retain women in STEM careers. One of these projects, entitled Engendering Engineering Success (EES), was a joint research project between UBC, the University of Alberta, and the University of Guelph. EES conducted two separate studies, and recently released their findings in the form of White Papers. This information is incredibly valuable to women working or considering a career in engineering, and we are thankful to the whole EES team for the time and energy they put into their research.
Study 1: Organizational Policies and Practices
This study was conducted by Dr. Michelle Inness, and its objective was to figure out what kinds of human resource policies would create an inclusive workplace culture and maximize the retention and advancement of women engineers. Participants in the study needed to represent a Canadian organization that employed at least three female engineers, and information was gathered through a 20-minute online survey and a 30-minute telephone interview.
EES found that women were paid less and had a shorter average tenure than men at all career levels, across the 39 companies that were involved in this study. However, they were able to identify a number of practices that helped to recruit and retain women. For example, organizations that provided women with training and mentorship had more women leaders, and women tended to stay longer at workplaces that offered paid maternity and paternal leaves. Furthermore, it's important to note that gender-inclusive policies will benefit both men and women, and therefore the company as a whole. If organizations want to strengthen their diversity, they need focus on implementing policies such as woman-to-woman mentorship, training, and fair promotional practices. For more information, you can read the full White Paper here, and the full project report here.
Study 2: Employee Experiences
This study was conducted by Dr. Toni Schamder, Dr. Michelle Inness, Dr. Valerie Davidson, Dr. Elizabeth Croft, and Dr. William Hall, and its objective was to track the relationship between gender inclusive workplace policies and key employee outcomes, such as commitment to the organization. EES collected data from over 250 professional engineers, both men and women, about the number of gender inclusive policies at their workplaces and how much they felt that they benefited from those policies.
Their overall findings were that working female engineers felt less committed to their job and less valued by their organization than their male counterparts. Specifically, there was a correlation between strong implicit stereotypes (automatic, involuntary associations that people make between a social group and a domain or attribute) and a lower feeling of belonging. The EES study suggests that the gender difference explored here might be caused by these implicit stereotypes - i.e. the belief that engineering is a more of a "man's" job - although EES notes that their findings are correlational, and further research needs to be done on how implicit stereotypes can impact workplace cultures. You can read the full White Paper here, and the full project report here.
Although these studies were conducted specifically in the field of Canadian engineering, they are reflective of a larger overall trend in STEM - women continue to be underrepresented and undervalued in STEM fields, even though it's been proven that more gender diversity is better for everyone. In fact, Study 2 found that both men and women reported benefiting equally from all categories of gender inclusive policies. As WWEST moves forward, we hope to build on the work of the UBC WWEST chapter and advance gender equity initiatives in workplaces of all kinds. And we hope that you will join us.
Excitingly, the research produced out of EES is only the beginning. Engendering Success in STEM, a new project developed by the EES team, is going to build on EES research and conduct new research on topics such as implicit math biases, promoting rising inclusion and STEM motivation, shaping inclusive network cultures, and realizing identity safe environments. WWEST is proud to be supporting this consortium, and our chair, Dr. Lesley Shannon (NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, BC/Yukon Region), is joining the team as a STEM expert! You can learn more about Engendering Success in STEM by visiting the official website.