A paradigm shift: Leveling the playing field

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paradigm shift

“Diversity in engineering is not just important, it’s necessary,” says Vanessa Jones, pictured here with her protégée, Ilana Haddad. Photo: Owen Egan

 

At 25%, women’s enrolment at McGill’s Faculty of Engineering ranks near the top of Canadian engineering schools. That figure, however, includes a very high percentage of female students at the School of Architecture. So Vanessa Jones (BEng’17) tells us how POWE (Promoting Opportunities for Women in Engineering) is leveling the playing field at the Faculty even more.

Is engineering still a man’s world?

Vanessa Jones: Today the numbers are still low, and that’s why POWE is so active: because we really want to change this. Engineering should be as diverse as possible, but for some reason it’s still mostly men that go into it. POWE believes that it shouldn’t just be half of the population that is designing, building stuff and solving problems. We think that diversity in engineering is not just important, it’s necessary—because everyone has different backgrounds and different ways of thinking.

Why don’t women choose engineering?

quote paradigmJones: I think it starts really young. Once you decide in high school that you don’t want to do math, it’s over. I think women today still think like they are imposters. They feel they’re not good enough. If they do bad on a test, women tend to take it harder. They say, ‘Oh, I am not good in math, I am not good in physics…’ And for some reason, girls don’t know about engineering in high school. I didn’t know about it; my friends didn’t know about it. Young girls get drawn away from engineering because there is still a societal misconception that applied sciences are for men and social sciences and biology are for women.

POWE was voted “Best Club of the Year” this year; you are co-hosting the Conference on Diversity in Engineering in 2016; you have a successful speakers series; you do field trips to industries; you run the Conference for Future Engineers; you recruit in junior colleges and high schools. You’re incredibly active.

Jones: We’re changing the mentality; we’re changing the community. We also have a mentorship program for first and second year students. They’re paired with a senior student who acts as a mentor. I think some people need that community. POWE is there for them. We have ‘Shadow Days’ where junior-college girls come and experience the life of an engineering student. This year a girl named Ilana came from a junior college and shadowed me. A month later she sent me a text that said: “Vanessa, I got accepted in software engineering at McGill!” I just helped her make her schedule last week. It’s really fun to see that what we do actually has an impact.

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