This International Women in Engineering Day, we are proud to showcase the stories and perspectives of CWA’s talented and accomplished women. We believe that our company is strengthened by the depth and diversity of our personnel and that efforts to establish a more balanced representation of women in engineering will benefit the economy and society as a whole. In the reflections below, three of our female staff members discuss the importance of International in Women in Engineering Day, their path toward a career in engineering, and advice for the next generation.
Ann-Marie Giesbrecht, P.Eng. – Structural Engineer and Project Manager
International Women in Engineering Day is a celebration of the achievements of women around the world practicing in the field of engineering – a reminder of how far we have come, but also how far we still have to go. Women make up approximately 50% of the population in Canada but only 13% of the engineering workforce, so the gender gap is still very much present. This day is an opportunity to spread awareness of the engineering industry to attract more women to the profession but also a platform for highlighting the challenges and barriers faced by women currently working in the engineering field today.
I had no idea what engineers actually did when I applied for university and followed a friend into engineering. I enjoyed and did well in math and science in high school and a career represented by popsicle stick bridges and egg drops sounded alright. Little did I know what awaited me in my first year of university: goodbye evenings and weekends, hello calculator.
I signed up for the co-operative education program in my second year of university to gain relevant work experience and use my newly acquired knowledge. I was fortunate in my placements as I was able to work for both a contractor and a consulting firm. This is also where I had my first taste of being the sole woman on site. Despite feeling like the odd one out, I found that I enjoyed the work and decided to continue with my degree. Although there are days when I question my decision to become an engineer, the majority of the time I enjoy the challenges and opportunities available in the engineering industry.
If I could give some advice to the girls and young women of today, it would be to believe in yourself and your abilities! No one is perfect at everything, even with years of experience; each of us has different strengths and weaknesses. Engineering is all about working as a team and drawing on each team member’s strengths to produce the best possible outcome. As you gain experience, you will begin to develop an understanding of where you excel and where you need help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help when you need it. You’ll continue to develop and grow as your career progresses, and you will be put in positions that challenge you. You will make mistakes but that’s okay, because you will know better for next time.
Bing Song, P.Eng., Ph.D. – Structural Engineer
International Women in Engineering Day is meaningful to me because it celebrates the many great achievements of women in this diverse field, gives us the opportunity to share our experiences with the younger generation, and highlights the amazing career opportunities available to them in engineering.
Engineering was a natural fit for me since I’ve always enjoyed math and physics. My parents gave me an abacus in Grade 4 and learning to manipulate the wooden beads on the counting frame was fascinating to me. Every day I looked forward to math class, rattling my abacus as I walked to school. I practiced a lot and won math competitions at school and nationally, becoming very quick at making calculations. I loved solving problems.
This led me to be even more interested in math and in grade seven, physics became my second favorite subject. I was appointed as the physics representative and study committee chair at my high school. These achievements helped me to enroll in engineering studies at university and practice structural engineering. I later pursued my PhD in Canada. I love my career and have never looked back!
Despite a steady increase in the representation of women in engineering, both within the profession and in university engineering programs, women still remain under-represented in this field. I believe it’s important for the younger generation to have leaders and role models they can look to for guidance and inspiration. That’s why, over the years, I’ve volunteered to speak to young women in the Girl Scouts about my career in engineering. I want young women to understand that they are capable of anything and that there are endless opportunities waiting for them if they work hard and are not afraid to stand out and show their skills in math and science. I see no difference between men and women’s capabilities. Girls shouldn’t be afraid to try these courses. It’s all a matter of practice – anyone can do it!
I encourage and advise girls and young women to study in the fields of technology and science, where their efforts and contributions will be rewarded with many great opportunities to advance in their careers. It’s truly a great feeling knowing that I have played a role in showing these young women the many career possibilities out there waiting for them, encouraging them to be confident in following their passions and talents.
Theeruha Thevarajan – Mechanical Designer
For this year’s International Women in Engineering Day, I want to acknowledge the women who have gone before us to break down the stereotypes that discourage women from entering the field. I want to create a sense of community and support for those thinking about entering the field of engineering and the women who are here already. This is a day for all of us to shine and let the world know that we are strong together and that we will continue to break the stereotypes around women entering the engineering world.
I have a major passion for fast cars and saw a career in mechanical engineering as my key to working in the high-performance automotive industry. I didn’t realize until I began studying at BCIT that the mechanical engineering program was male dominated. I’ll admit that it was a little daunting at first being one of only two women in my section, but I didn’t let that stop me. I worked hard, pushed through school, and surprisingly found that the respect I received from the men I went to school with was unbelievable! Instead of looking down on me when I struggled, my male classmates were extremely supportive, taking the time to work with me through concepts I was struggling with. I felt like they respected me for having the courage to pursue my passion despite being the minority in class.
When I started working at CWA, I began to realize there is so much more out there than just the automotive industry and my knowledge and excitement for the mechanical world has since continued to increase. I want to grow and learn more at my company, and at the same time I’m excited at the prospect of eventually returning to school to obtain my degree in mechanical engineering.
I would tell other young women thinking of entering the field of engineering that you’ll be surprised, depending on the school and field you choose, at the respect you receive as a woman in the engineering world. Even if you feel moments of self-doubt or sometimes aren’t treated with the respect you deserve, know that you are not alone. Stay positive, stand up for yourself, maintain confidence in your abilities, and push through all the stereotypes. Reach out for support when you need it and you’ll likely find it. Be strong and don’t give up!
I’ve been working in this field for a year now and my project managers, who are mostly male, are realizing just how much I’m capable of. This, along with my positive attitude, has helped me to feel confident in taking on more responsibilities and to meet new challenges.