Gender Gap In Engineering And Physical Science In Canada Essay Sample

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Women, Engineering, Canada, Science, Education, Participation, Students, Study

Pages: 8

Words: 2200

Published: 2020/10/11

[Class Title]

This paper would like to investigate the progress of Canadian women in the field of physical science and engineering. It is quite noticeable that majority of the participants in the field of science and engineering are men. While there are also notable women in the field of science and engineering, such professions have been unarguably densely populated and dominated by the male gender . It is only logical to think that because of the enormous number of participants, success and prominence in the field of science and engineering has also been more lopsided towards the male gender. Does it imply that women are less inclined to join the field of engineering and physical sciences as compared to men? But why are women less inclined in the physical sciences and engineering? By studying the progress of Canadian women in engineering and the physical sciences, we wish to determine the status of women’s participation in engineering and physical sciences. It is desirable to find out if there is indeed a disparity between men and women in the physical science and engineering profession; the reason behind the disparity; and how to mitigate the perceived issues so that women will become more motivated to join male dominated professions. It is understood that by studying the progress of Canadian women in engineering and the physical sciences, a generalization can be made on the current status of women in these fields on countries that has similar level of development and cultural background as with Canada.

The Gender Gap in Canada

In Canada, despite the fact that the country is one of the most developed in terms of gender equality; there is still a noticeable difference in women participation in science and engineering. Just like the United States, Canada is a country of settlers and immigrants. Historically, the region have been occupied by the French, the British and the Americans that were loyal to the crown during the American revolution. Gender gap was quite apparent in the early Canadian society when Canada become an independent nation in 1840’s. According to observers, women who join universities to pursue higher education in science and engineering were percieved as only whilsting away their time while waiting to get married . For the same reason, early achievements of women in the field of science and engineering in Canada have been poorly documented. Also, universities and colleges seemed not to take women participants seriously because of this perception. As a result, only a few institution responded positively and eagerly to women’s demands for admission. One of the percieved reason for this decline in the misogyny that pervaded Canadian campuses during these years . Scholars believe that this ideology of female inferiority and subordination can be traced back into the values and cultures of early European societies that may have influenced the migrant population of Canada. Because of the prevalence of this perception, most women as well as men accepted it without noticing that it existed . While there is no formal limitation for women participation in the natural sciences and engineering, male students are still preferred. Queen’s University, for example, began to accept women in 1880 only to reject them shortly. Participation of women in the academies in Canada significantly increased during a surge of feminism in the early 1900’s. Colleges and universities began to accept women in the arts and social sciences. In just a few decades, women enrollees began to outnumber men in the social sciences although the number of women who participated in engineering and physical sciences remained small. Because of this trend, social sciences, humanities, education and life sciences became densely populated with women while career paths such as engineering, physics and other natural sciences remained male-dominated. For the same reason, women are grossly underrepresented in the physical sciences, computer sciences, engineering and mathematics, which reflects on why there are few women professionals on these fields.

Status of Women Participation in Engineering and Science in Canada

Statistics have shown that before 1950’s Canadian women participation in bachelor study on the field of science and engineering is less than 10% while it sits below 5% in PhD’s . In general, the participation of women in science and engineering studies crept slowly and stabilized since 1950s and settled below 40% after the year 2000 . However, there are also specialized field of engineering discipline where varying percentage of women participation are observed. Environmental engineering, for example, is on of the engineering discipline that has the highest share of women as compared to other engineering disciplines. A survey in 2011 showed that environmental engineering has a female participation of 41.1%, biosystems engineering with 39.5%, geological engineering with 38.1% and chemical engineering with 33.7%. On the other hand, engineering disciplines that are percieved to be labor and physical skill oriented such as Electrical engineering, computer engineering and mechanical engineering are among the engineering specializations that have the least women participation. These engineering disciplines have a participation rate of less than 12 percent
Unlike in the field of arts and social sciences, the number of women who take a career path in the natural sciences and engineering are stalling and even gradually declining. In other professions such as medicine and law, women’s participation have significant gains over the last 125 years but in engineering and physical sciences, women participation in Canada has remained low. According to studies, the annual increase of women engineers in Canada is only 0.3%. As a result, women are underrepresented in Canada’s engineering work force. Researchers also believe that among those women who are pursuing university courses in the field of science and engineering, only 20% will proceed to practice their professions. The reason behind this is the regulatory practices of Canada in the field of engineering profession. Of all the licensed engineers in Canada, only 7% are women. It is also worth noting that a substantial portion of Canada’s practicing engineers are immigrants. In Ontario alone, the number of immigrant women engineers is at 6,066 individuals in 2000 . By comparison, the number of migrant engineers exceeded that of Canadian educated engineers in Ontario whose population is only 5,291. The country’s slow or non-recognition of talents is also one of the strongest barriers for the progress of women in engineering and science professions in Canada. One particular example is the case of Ivy Zeng, a mechanical engineer who migrated to Canada in 200. Zeng, who is currently working in China, designed a key component for the successful Chinese rocket. However, she was largely unsuccessful in her attempt to find a suitable engineering career in Canada. While looking for an engineering job to suit her profession, she ended up making cinnamon buns in one of the fastfood franchises of the country. After a while, Zeng decided to go back to China following a frustrating Canadian experience. A lot of women who have pursued engineering and science profession in Canada end up like Zeng. Studies have shown that engineering women in Canada are straying out of their career path while their male counterparts are enjoying excessive demands in their field of expertise. As obseved by Ranson, almost 19% of women engineers find themselves working on odd jobs that is far from their profession. As a result, these women do not realize their full potention because they were not given an equal chance and opportunity to practice their specializations. Evidently, the unequal and limited opportunities for women in the engineering profession has significantly contributed to women’s fall out in these professions. As a result, younger women see less opportunity to pursue the engineering and science professions as compared to men who are exceedingly represented and rewarded.

Disparity between Male and Female Participation in Engineering and the Physical Sciences

In the quest for equality, women have sought for equal representation and participation in fields that were once dominated by men. However, it is quite observable that in some field of studies, especially in the field of engineering and the physical sciences, there is still a big difference in the number of male and female participants. Evidently, the field of engineering and the physical sciences are quite demanding in terms of intellectual and analytical skills. Regardless of gender, anyone who wishes to take a career path in engineering and the physical sciences would have to possess basic skill set encompassing physics, calculus, (and) chemistry at the fundamental levels in order to succeed in the engineering and sciences profession. These scientific skill set mentioned by Doherty is not easily developed. In fact, in order to have a solid foundation in these basic skills set, one has to start from an early age. For the same reason, it is only logical to think that children who start strong in these areas of study are the ones who are most likely to pursue a career in engineering and the physical sciences. One might think that males are dominant in the field of sciences and engineering because they are more interested in mathematics and science at an early age. However, studies have shown that there is no noticeable disparity between male and female students in terms of science and mathematics in their elementary years although interest in these areas tends to wane for females as they grown older . According to a study conducted by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, it was found that the odds of a female child enrolled in 1st grade going on to receive a Ph.D. in the sciences or engineering are approximately 1 in 286 (the odds for a boy are 1 in 167).

Narrowing the Gap

Despite the gender barrier in pursuing a career in the sciences and engineering, several Canadian women made a remarkable participation in this field, which implies that if given the right motivation, women can become as successful as men are. Among the first Canadian women to excell in science is Harriet Brooks, the first Canadian woman to become a nuclear physicist. Brooks studied at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University in England in 1901 and worked in the Laboratory of Marie Curie. However, in 1907, Brooks gave up her carreer to focus on her family as it was customary for Canadian women not to work after marriage during her time. Helen Battles Hogg-Priestley was another Canadian woman who excelled in the scientific field. An immigrant from the U.S., Priestley became an astronomer and professor in the University of Toronto in 1936. Priestly made a significant contribution to science that a minor planet was named in her honnor and was the first to win the Klumpke-Roberts Award. Another Canadian woman to excell in the field of science and engineering is Elizabeth Muriel Gregory. She was the first Canadian woman to earn a degree in electrical engineering when she graduated from the University of Toronto in 1927. Although these women have made significant contribution to Canada’s scientific and engineering profession, they constitute only a small fraction of the women population of the country. Indeed, there is a lack of role models for young women to look forward to and there is that air of uncertainty of whether engineering and physical sciences are the right choice considering the limited success of women in these fields. Unless mitigations are made, women will become less motivated to pursue science and engineering professions. As a result, women will become grossly represented in these professions. Although the disparity between men and women in the field of science and engineering does not constitute a social issue for that matter, it limits the opportunity of women to explore their potential. In order to address the gap, mitigation strategies should include:
Early guidance and motivation. As observed by studies, girls does not differ much from boys when it comes to mathematical and science abilities at an early age. For some reason, girls tend to become demotivated as they grown older most likely because educational institutions lack the motivation and push factors that would motivate girls to pursue their interests in subjects related to science and engineering.
Providing equal opportunity for women. Most engineering profession are percieved as physically challenging, therefore most employers and clients prefer males due to the percieved physical challenges of the job. Contrary to this common perception, scientific and engineering profession requires more research work than strenous physical work. This means that gender does not pose a challenge in becoming successful in these fields.
Rewards and recognition. The lack of role models is considered as the major drawback on why women are less likely to participate in engineering and physical science careers than in other careers. This lack of role model can be attributed to inadequate rewards and recognition of women in these fields. Also, the disparity between the income of women as compared to men in a similar profession can also become another demotivating factor for women to pursue a career in these fields. In order to promote equality between gender, equality in reward and compensation should be pursued.


Feminism has come a long way from struggling for an equal right to suffrage to participating in previously held male-dominated professions. Unfortunately, equality for women in the field of engineering and the physical sciences is still a work in progress and appears to be difficult to penetrate considering the trends of how women participates and being represented in these field of studies and profession. The field of engineering and physical sciences have been commonly percieved as a gendered profession. For the same reason, it is quite unusual for women to participate in these field of studies. As a result, they tend to become less motivated in pursuing engineering and physical science related professions even at an early age. This phenomenon is evident in Canadian women. Despite feminine movements that promoted university education for women in Canada, the engineering and physical science professions has remained low in women participation as compared to the social sciences. Despite their small percentage of participation, women have excelled in these fields in their own right, which implies that if given equal opportunity and motivation, there is a huge chance that women will realize their true potential in these area of studies.

Works Cited

Atamanchuk, K. An Analysis of Female Participation in Engineering in Manitoba. September 2013. November 2014 <>.
Cech, E., Pecenco, L., & Blair-Loy, M. Science and Technology Professions: The Status of Women and Men. 2013. November 2014 <>.
Doherty, K. The 5 Hardest College Majors. April 2013. June 2014 <>.
Faulkner, W. GENDERS IN/OF ENGINEERING. March 2006. November 2014 <>.
Jones, S. The Sexes and the Sciences. 2010. November 2014 <>.
Millar, A. Synthesizing Current Research: Women‘s Higher Education and the World Wars. n.d. November 2014 <>.
Monroe, D. Famous Canadian Women Famous Firsts. 2013. November 2014 <>.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada . WOMEN IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING IN CANADA. 2010. November 2014 <>.
Ranson, G. Beyond Gender Differences: A Canadian Study of Women's and Men's Career in Engineering. January 2003. November 2014 <>.
Slade, B. Increasing the Number of Women in Engineering:The Common Interest of CanadianEducated and Immigrant Women Engineers. n.d. November 2014 <>.
The Council of Canadian Academies. Strengthening Canada’s Research Capacity: the Gender Dimension. n.d. November 2014 <>.
Women In Canada. n.d. October 2014 <>.

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