How Did One Engineering School Break So Many Gender Gap Records?
Shawn Wasserman posted on February 03, 2015 |

Number of female U of T engineering students in first year hit record high. Left to right: Julia Filiplic, Christine Bui and Molly Gorman. Image courtesy of Roberta Baker.
The University of Toronto (U of T) has broken a slew of gender gap records, with women accounting for 30.6% of their first year engineering cohort. This record also surpassed all other universities in the Canadian province of Ontario.

U of T attributes the higher female ratios to their targeted recruitment. In fact, their numbers show that enrollment of female engineering undergrads has jumped 21.3% in as little as 6 years.

Currently, about a quarter of the school’s undergraduate populous is female, while the province has a ratio of 19.7%. Across Canada and the US, those percentages are 18.9% and 19.9% respectively. However, in 2013, only 11.7% of all professional engineers in Canada were women. The hope is that the growing number of females taking up engineering will help to reduce Canada’s engineering gender gap.

Dean Cristina Amon said, “U of T Engineering is a rich environment for talented, bright women to become engineering leaders … Diverse perspectives are the foundation of our culture of excellence in research, education, service and innovation. This achievement is encouraging as we continue our proactive efforts to foster diversity within the Faculty, among universities and across the engineering profession.”

She added, “Amidst the increasing numbers of women entering Engineering programs, there is more work to be done in attracting women to the diverse and rewarding field of engineering … We have re-imagined engineering education by introducing program innovations, new resources for students and outreach activities to continue to attract an even more diverse range of applicants, including women.”

Some of the school’s programs to encourage women to take up engineering include:

Teressa Nguyen is president of the faculty’s engineering society and a fourth year civil engineering student. She said, “It’s exhilarating to be part of such a diverse and talented student community … At U of T Engineering, it doesn’t matter what your background is – it’s about the ideas, expertise and reasoning you bring to the table.” She isn’t kidding about the school’s reputation for diversity; their first female engineering society president was elected in 1975.

First year chemical engineering student Molly Gorman added, “My experience at U of T Engineering has been even better than I expected … It’s incredible being a part of Canada’s best engineering school – and living in a city filled with so many opportunities!” For the record, Gorman had been thinking of attending U of T since before high school.

The growing female contingent at U of T doesn’t stop at the students. The faculty has seen the number of female faculty rise from 21 to 44 between 2006 and 2014. In fact, the female faculty percentage at U of T (17%) is significantly higher than the province (14%) and overall Canadian average (13%). These numbers are expected to rise even further in the near future, as 27.8% of the school’s tenure-track associate professors are women. In Ontario and Canada those tenure-track percentages are 15% and 15.7% respectively.

Professor Susan McCahan is U of T’s new vice-provost. She was also the school’s first female faculty member in mechanical engineering. McCahan said, “Engineering has changed significantly from when I began at U of T several decades ago … It is increasingly recognized as a vibrant and innovative profession: one that encourages broad perspectives and collaboration to drive positive changes that improve our world.”

Perhaps if the US and the rest of Canada were to model their targeted student recruitment on U of T’s methods the gender gap would significantly reduce in all of North America.

Source University of Toronto.

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