Maryse Belanger, Senior Vice President, Technical Services for Goldcorp, and Elizabeth Croft, NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering at UBC (Photo credit: Martin Dee)
Goldcorp marked International Women’s Day in 2014 with a $500,000 gift supporting efforts by University of British Columbia to recruit more women into the engineering profession.
The new Goldcorp Professorship in Women in Engineering at UBC’s Faculty of Applied Science will promote engineering to high school students, parents and counselors. Part of national efforts to address a looming shortage of engineers, the professorship will help the faculty increase representation of women from 20 per cent at present to 50 per cent in five years.
Recently, Maryse Belanger, Senior Vice President, Technical Services for Goldcorp, and Elizabeth Croft, NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering at UBC, discussed their thoughts on the Goldcorp gift.
Q: Please tell us about the reasons behind Goldcorp’s announcement, and what the corporation and the university expect it will accomplish.
BELANGER: The direction that Elizabeth wants to see UBC take is very consistent with what I believe in, and is consistent with Goldcorp’s position. Engineering should be promoted as a profession where you can make a real difference in the world. We’ve never used that kind of sales pitch for young women in the past. I think we’re changing the dynamic a little bit and also the face of engineering.
CROFT: There is a general benefit to Canadian society from having more women involved in engineering. More than 50 per cent of the people going to university — and at UBC it’s closer to 60 per cent — are women, but they’re not coming into engineering and we are missing out on highly qualified, bright people who could be participating in our industry.
Q: What kinds of opportunities are available for women in mining engineering?
BELANGER: Right now there are opportunities all over the world. Over the next 20 years, if we want to fill all of these engineering and technology positions we must support diversity, bringing more women into the profession. The view on engineering has to move away from the perception that it’s geeky science. Its capacity for problem solving, making a difference in people’s lives, finding better ways of doing things –these are thing aspects that make it an exciting field.
CROFT: Engineering jobs are great jobs. They offer high returns: they pay well, they are interesting, and engineering is stable employment. We are always going to need more engineers. The mining industry is particularly interested in bringing in women, so this announcement is a big win for the mining industry as well.
Q: Please tell us about the UBC Women In Engineering Program, how it works to benefit female students
CROFT: It’s about educating high school teachers and councilors on what engineering is. We will be creating an ambassador program, using our own students to reach out to high school students and connecting them into UBC. We will be working on opportunities to enable women students to participate in camps, and to gain a better sense of what it is to be an engineer.
Q: What kind of messages does Women in Engineering seek to communicate to prospective women students?
CROFT: Engineering is about brain power, not horsepower. Engineering is actually quite a people-focused occupation. We work in teams and our role as engineers is to serve society by providing the infrastructure, the opportunities, the jobs in the resource sector, by making sure that while we extract resources we steward the environment and keep it in the way we want it to be. Engineering hasn’t had a good reputation in these areas and we need to do a good job in explaining to women and to their moms and to their teachers that this is what engineering is about.
Q: Why is it important to get women thinking about engineering as a profession?
BELANGER: We believe that women bring not only the brains and the skills to be outstanding engineers; they bring another dimension in terms of teamwork, cooperation, and a very collaborative approach to solving problems. That’s a bit of a new kind of leadership style in engineering as far as I’m concerned.
Q: Leadership is a skill set in itself. What’s the best way for a female engineering student to acquire those skills?
CROFT:By setting up the Goldcorp Professorship and other activities at UBC that have women as leaders, it changes the expectation of who a leader can be. I think the number one thing women can do is network. You are trying to break into a culture where you don’t exactly fit. Making sure we have great opportunities for networking is something that is front and centre.
Q: What are some of the obstacles for women to overcome in order to pursue career as engineers?
BELANGER: I think most professional women have debates with themselves about their work-life balance: ‘I am feeling really guilty about whether I’m spending enough time with my children.’ At some point it’s good to have somebody to talk to, somebody who has been there. I think what’s important for [employee] retention in engineering is the mentoring, being able to have those conversations, being able to get that once-in-a-while sounding board.