Encouraging Young Women to Pursue Engineering Careers
Mar 14, 2017
Christopher Davidson, a Surface Water Engineer here at Golder presented to local Ontario-area Girl Guides of Canada in recognition of National Engineering Month. The international World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts represents over 10 million girls in 146 countries, around the world. The focus of Davidson’s presentation was on encouraging young women to pursue a career in engineering. Often, young girls are not even aware of the range of career options available to them in the field of engineering and just how many ways they can make a difference in the world. Furthermore, few people are aware that Canada has a rich history of women in engineering, going all the way back to Canadian Elsie MacGill - the first woman to earn a degree in aeronautical engineering. Christopher Davidson is among a growing number of engineers who are working to create a more inclusive future for all engineers.
How is the field of engineering opening up more to women?
The growing understanding that women can (and have!) made outstanding contributions to engineering has helped. Attitude is everything, and increased recognition of women engineers’ achievements (for example Elsie MacGill was recently nominated to be the face of the new Canadian $10 bill, or the proliferation of stories such as “Hidden Figures”) moves us in the right direction. On a more local level, most Professional Engineering of Ontario chapters have active Women in Engineering officers on their Executive boards, and they are great front-line advocates for initiatives like the “30 by 2030” program (with a goal of raising the percentage of newly licensed female engineers to 30% by 2030).
When you speak to students, what gets young girls most excited about engineering?
Hands-on activities are still hands-down the best way to get girls (and boys) interested in engineering. When they are focused on a real problem in front of them, in small groups and away from peer judgement, they show amazing insight. Sometimes their interest shines through on its own; I was talking basic pulleys and gears with a Grade 4 class recently when a young girl put up her hand and calmly gave an explanation of mechanical advantage...which was not part of the talk, or even in her Grade 4 curriculum! I’m continually impressed by how much these young kids know and understand.
How has working with diverse engineers shaped your career?
The absence of barriers (figurative and literal) between groups at Golder makes it easy to grow beyond the disciplines written on our diplomas. Working beside the air group in Mississauga has led me to include more climate change impact assessment and mitigation measures in my stormwater designs; talking water budgets with geoscience teams has helped me understand soils and groundwater. Diversity has helped those collaborations by adding new perspectives and depth to my knowledge base.
What is the best way to get involved in encouraging young people, especially young women, into pursuing engineering?
I’ve been part of the Engineers in Residence (EIR) program for five years, and it has been fun and rewarding. EIR offers excellent resources including activities, materials, and ready-made classroom presentations. In the end however, just having young women know what engineering is about, and that it is an option for them, is huge. It starts the conversations that will ultimately benefit us all.
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