Canada’s high-tech sector is an engine of economic growth. Observers recently celebrated the increased enrolments in engineering and related technologies reported by Statistics Canada.
But the picture is not entirely rosy — the number of females enrolled in these disciplines has declined since 2002. Enrolment in mathematics, computer science and information sciences have fallen by 29.1 per cent between 2002-07, with female enrolment declining even faster.
The Montreal massacre on Dec. 6, 1989, focused attention on women in technology as never before. The killer targeted aspiring engineers at l’Ecole Polytechnique for achieving what he could not.
The Canadian Council of Professional Engineers then released a report — More Than Just Numbers — that revealed the barriers inhibiting women from entering and excelling in engineering. It recommended a wide range of interventions to address “the chilly climate” for women and spawned “women in technology programs” by well-intentioned companies, associations, schools and universities.
Almost 20 years and millions of dollars later, we have to face the unpleasant truth: The piecemeal approach is not working. A review of more than 50 programs showed few had formal evaluations or could demonstrate significant impact.
High-tech employers can help by encouraging girls to pursue technology careers, developing recruitment and retention strategies to support women and reinforcing positive messages in their procurement and marketing strategies. They also need to ensure they match skill requirements to the tasks, to consider alternative routes to the profession and to create a workplace climate that is inclusive.
Teachers, professors and guidance counsellors need to ensure they present the full range of options and consider female friendly pedagogy and examples.
As the 20th anniversary of the Montreal massacre approaches, there is no better time for Canada to develop an integrated and sustained strategy to weave the pieces together.