Female mechanical engineering trainees learn the basics of precision filing at the Siemens training center in Berlin, Germany.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images files
Women remain greatly under-represented in the field of engineering. For instance, just 12 per cent of engineers in B.C. are women.Interesting work, competitive pay and limitless opportunity. So why aren’t more women applying for these great jobs?As a life-long engineer, I’m growing increasingly concerned about the gender disparity in such a stimulating and diverse profession. It’s something we need to change.March is National Engineering and Geoscience Month, and as president of Engineers and Geoscientists B.C. my goal is to spark an interest in science, exploration and discovery amongst today’s youth — particularly girls and young women.People like Christina Noel, an environmental engineer-in-training working in Vancouver. At age 13, she entered a popsicle-stick bridge-building contest in Kamloops. She worked for hours constructing a bridge entirely out of popsicle sticks and glue, then watched anxiously as it was put to the test under more and more pressure. Eventually, it bore a load of nearly 300 pounds before collapse, earning her first place in the contest.Even better, it ignited a passion for problem solving that fuels her to this day.Christina and others like her are helping push our province forward, diversifying workplaces and creating innovative solutions to our most pressing challenges.The problem is there are too few Christinas. Today, women remain greatly under-represented in the field of engineering. Just 12 per cent of engineers in B.C. are women. We can do better and we must.Why? Research has shown that men and women create knowledge differently. When more diverse viewpoints are represented within a group, the better the overall output is likely to be. In turn, this helps increase innovation while providing a greater return on human resource investment.
Kathy Tarnai-Lokhorst, president of Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia.
Roop Jawl Photography
At Engineers and Geoscientists B.C., we are working to attract more people to these professions with a particular focus on young girls and women.We have endorsed a Canadian strategy called 30 by 30, which aims to raise the percentage of newly licensed female engineers to 30 per cent by the year 2030. Through career outreach, school presentations and mentorship, we know this is achievable.This month, events will be held across British Columbia to inspire young people to explore science, technology, engineering and math. Through friendly competition and outreach events, we hope to encourage young people to consider careers in engineering and geoscience.These are professions that touch nearly every part of our lives and sector of the economy.I began my mechanical engineer career designing and building airplanes. But engineers also design our transportation infrastructure and ensure our schools are seismically safe. New health care solutions are being developed by biomedical engineers, while electrical engineers are securing our electricity grid against cyber attacks.Geoscientists are equally important to our economy, helping us understand the earth and its resources, protecting us from floods and other natural disasters and helping us sustainably manage our supply of fresh water.They are diverse careers that share one key feature: growth. The number of job opportunities is increasing but the number of candidates to fill them isn’t growing nearly as fast. When it comes to engineering, it is estimated that about 30 per cent of engineers are 55 or older. It is a worrying trend because it indicates a skill shortage is looming as older engineers retire with too few people to take their place.Governments and universities have recognized the shortfall and are committed to additional training. But the solutions belong to all of us.The coming decade will be marked by rapid change, a wave of retirements and further economic disruption. For British Columbia’s economy to continue to flourish, we all need to embrace strategies that inspire more women to pursue rewarding careers in engineering and geoscience.Kathy Tarnai-Lokhorst is the president of Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia, which regulates and governs more than 35,000 professionals working in every corner of B.C. National Engineering and Geoscience Month takes place throughout March at events across B.C. To learn more, visit egbc.ca/negm.Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at email@example.com.CLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.