Yukon's female engineers are looking to 'make a few waves' in gender diversity

Women make up less than 12 per cent of Canada's engineering profession. Now, a group of Yukon women are looking to do something about it.

‘I think the whole country has their work cut out for ’em,’ says Sandra MacDougall, an engineer in Yukon

Bosma is currently a water engineer-in-training in Whitehorse. (submitted by Katy Bosma)

Katy Bosma helped her parents construct and design a boat at the age of 13.

That's when she knew she wanted to be an engineer.

"From when I was a little kid, I loved playing with the water in the sandbox," said Bosma. "My mom always said, I would play with water on the beach instead of swimming."

She later enrolled in the University of Ottawa's civil engineering program — a place where women are a minority.

"There were definitely moments when I would be writing an exam and I'd look up and look around and realized I couldn't see another girl around me," she said. "It was just me. It was quite striking."

Bosma doing inspections when she worked as an engineer in Northern Ontario. (submitted by Katy Bosma)

Today, Bosma is a municipal water engineer-in-training, and is one of the youngest female engineers in the Yukon.

She's also a part of a new 30 by 30 program — an initiative that aims to see an increase in newly-licensed women engineers in Canada to 30 per cent by the year 2030.

That's a 13 per cent increase from the current national average of 17 per cent, according to Engineers Canada, who began the initiative. That number has been stagnant since 2014.

The national average for newly licensed women engineers in 2015 was 17 per cent. It was the same in 2014. (Engineers Canada)
"I certainly don't want to see a woman or girl that's limited in her choices based on an impression that you're supposed to be skilled at something only," said Sandra MacDougall, a Whitehorse engineer who's helping kick start the program in the Yukon.

"Different genders can carry out all of those (skills)."

Engineers Canada, a group that regulates policies for engineering associations in Canada, will provide funding for groups who participate.

"I think the whole country has their work cut out for 'em," said MacDougall.

Girls generally like 'helping' professions, says engineer

There are 1,100 registered professional engineers in the Yukon. Of those, only 130 live in the territory. And of those, only 18 are women, according to MacDougall.

A group of women engineers in the Yukon in 2015. Each year the women’s center in Whitehorse recognizes ongoing violence toward women and hold a ceremony around the anniversary of the 1989 shooting at École Polytechnique in Montreal. (submitted by Nathalie Gionet)

In Canada, less than 12 per cent of practicing licensed engineers are women, according to Engineers Canada.

"We're thinking about what attracts people into the profession. Historically, it's been boys," said MacDougall.

"If you think historically about what attracts girls to professions, it's about helping. Girls have been attracted to those helping careers, like teacher, doctor, nursing."

That's why MacDougall wants to change the message she delivers to young girls in school.

"What if, instead of the use of drones in military combat... [they] were developed for the use of delivering medicine in areas that are remote and can't be accessed because of an earthquake?" said MacDougall.

I'm going to try my darndest.- Sandra MacDougall

"It's about bringing attraction to all the different facets of engineering where you can make a difference to people's lives."

The program's other aim is to keep women working in the field.

"That's a big issue too. Women who graduate from engineering don't [always] start practicing engineering or don't stay in the field," said Bosma.

"I'm going to try my darndest," said MacDougall. "I think we can make a few waves."

Gender diversity profitable, says research

A study done by the Westcoast Women in Engineering, Science & Technology from the University of British Columbia suggests that there is a correlation between gender diversity in organizations and success.

"Gender diversity is linked to employee satisfaction, improved governance and innovation. It is also associated with financial benefits, including a positive impact on firm value," it says in their 2014 report. There are global surveys that suggest the same.

"Analysis of a global survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries suggests that the presence of women in corporate leadership positions may improve firm performance.

"This correlation could reflect either the payoff to nondiscrimination or the fact that women increase a firm's skill diversity," it says in a 2016 journal article from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

with files from Leonard Linklater