Determined to do their part to help retain more women in the engineering field, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) launched its Let’s Break Barriers in STEM project, thanks to funding from Status of Women Canada.

OSPE’s project aims to identify systemic barriers that contribute to the underrepresentation of women in STEM, and to increase the participation of women in STEM careers. To this end, OSPE conducted focus groups and surveyed over 3,000 men and women in STEM fields. The survey found that women face various obstacles, including pay inequities, discrimination, harassment and/or bullying, the underutilization of technical ability, and a lack of mentorship or role models.

According to Shelly Deitner, P.Eng., Board Director and Chair of OSPE’s Women in Engineering Advocacy Champions Task Force, the benefits associated with diversity in the workplace are clear. “However, employers need to take decisive action to ensure that women entering STEM workplaces are supported and are not set up to fail,” Deitner notes.

Retaining women in STEM

Based on the data from OSPE’s 2018 report Calling all STEM Employers, offering flexible work arrangements, mentorship opportunities, and parental leave to both men and women, as well as instituting strong harassment and discrimination policies, are just a few ways employers can attract, retain, and advance women in STEM industries.

It’s also a good idea for organizations to have a champion among the leadership team to encourage inclusivity and diversity in the workforce.

“Our recent surveys and focus groups have confirmed that barriers to women in the STEM workplace still exist,” says Kathy Lerette, Breaking Barriers Project Leader and Senior Vice-President of Business Transformation at Alectra Utilities. “We’re going to help employers improve the culture in the workplace by introducing a commitment to change, and tools–including a new digital app to help facilitate that change.”