Fifty per cent female enrolment by 2020 — that’s the goal of the University of British Columbia’s engineering department. While engineering programs have been traditionally very male dominated, attitudes are shifting.
Elizabeth Croft, an associate dean in the Faculty of Applied Science at UBC, said that the best and most effective teams are the ones that reflect diversity. Therefore, the department aims to attract the best and brightest students, including women.
“Engineers work in teams to solve problems facing people and society,” Croft said in an email. “We know from research the best, most effective teams have a diversity of people representing different ideas, genders and cultures.”
The faculty plans on conducting outreach programs targeted girls as young as grade six. The department hopes to demonstrate that engineering is a field that can appeal to all genders.
“We host hands-on activities for girls with female role models and mentors to get them excited about engineering, science and math, and to encourage them to take physics and math in Grades 11 and 12,” said Croft.
In addition, UBC hosts development workshops for Grade six and seven teachers in order to provide them with the resources needed to encourage boys and girls equally to pursue math and science.
The department currently has 22 per cent female enrolment, with the first-year enrolment increasing to approximately 30 per cent women over the past two years. Those figures have also increased over the past seven years.
“Our faculty members and, perhaps most importantly, our current students support inclusivity and diversity, and have been very receptive of the goal of 50 per cent women,” Croft said.
Croft stated that this is a team effort with faculty, staff, students, alumni and industry partners working together to achieve this goal.
This growth has been in line with the overall trend for engineering programs across the country at 18.6 per cent. Currently, Queen’s University is leading at 30 per cent female first-year enrolment.
Western currently has 22 per cent first-year female enrolment, which is an improvement from 17 per cent last year.
Lesley Mounteer, a spokesperson for Western’s Faculty of Engineering, applauds this goal and notes that it is the over goal for all engineering schools to achieve equal gender balance and diversity.
“We’ve made it for clear that our first priority in our strategic planning is to increase the number of female students in our undergraduate programs,” Mounteer said. “We haven’t set a specific goal but we are working very hard to increase the numbers.”