“It’s important for every girl to know that there is support,” said president of Women in Engineering (WIE), Riya Dutta. “I think it’s important to be able to encourage and empower women.”
WIE is a Concordia-based student association that aims to give female engineering and computer science students academic, social and professional support. They promote inclusivity, as their association and activities are open to men, and aim to provide students with the tools to foster growth.
As Dutta explained, this inclusivity is intentional – exclusivity would not help the cause of closing the gender disparity gap seen in engineering programs.
“When everyone notices there is an issue, that’s when things will get resolved,” said Dutta.
According to WIE’s website, only 20 per cent of students enrolled in engineering programs across Canada are women, and only 12.8 per cent of those students become professional engineers.
“The gender disparity within engineering is huge,” said Dutta. “It’s important for women to know there’s a place for them in engineering, and it’s important to show young girls it’s possible.”
There are two levels to WIE’s activities. The association does in-house work, where opportunities are brought directly to the students by social and networking events. For example, on Feb. 6, WIE will be hosting a Power Networking event where attendees will have the opportunity to have several short one-on-one chats with female industry representatives. Dutta described the event as “speed dating, but with companies.”
The second tier is an outreach program dedicated to reaching women and girls of all ages through educational activities at primary and secondary schools and CEGEPs in Montreal. For example, on March 7, WIE will be hosting an event called “WIE Inspire WIE Empower,” which is a day of hands-on STEM workshops at a highschool for students between secondary one to five. The day is hosted by industry leaders such as Google, which will touch on several engineering fields. There will also be female guest speakers from the STEM field who have made impactful contributions, such as Gina Cody.
WIE also hosts coding workshops in elementary schools.
“We try to inspire them to learn science and to get into engineering,” said Dutta. “It’s such a great feeling when young kids learn.”
Through workshops and other activities, Dutta noticed some young women in CEGEP are worried about the gender disparity in Concordia’s engineering programs.
“We always tell them that getting more women in the field, and in these programs is how we are going to (close to disparity gap),” said Dutta.
Dina Khalesi, a software engineering student, sees the value of having a student association that offers support to female engineering students.
“WIE certainly affected me at the beginning of my journey,” said Khalesi. “They gave me the initial push to join Software Engineering through one of their conferences.”
“I think it is important to have these types of associations in a field mainly dominated by men,” continued Khalesi. “Knowing there’s a group of women going through the same struggles as you and knowing that they are there to support you inspires more confidence to stay and perform well in engineering.”
Graphic by @sundaeghost