An Alberta organization plans to conduct annual surveys to gauge the experience of women in the field of engineering technology, specifically the barriers and discrimination that they may face.
The Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET) recently completed a survey of women across the province working in engineering technology; approximately 200 women responded out of the roughly 2,000 female members of the organization.
The organization said women make up 12 per cent of ASET’s total membership of 18,000 technicians and technologists.
ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh said the survey focused on anecdotal information and a couple dozen women reported negative experiences – findings that he said were more disappointing than surprising.
“There was a concern about their professional qualifications being respected. They felt they were being treated less than respectfully in the workplace,” he said.
“Occasionally, they were seen in that, I hesitate to call it anything other than what it is, that sort of Mad Men attitude of fetch of the coffee.”
Cavanaugh admits to being taken aback when he heard the results of the survey.
“I thought that kind of attitude had disappeared from the workplace 30 years ago,” he said.
Tara Chahl knows that experience all too well. The Edmonton woman was in the military for nine years before she transitioned into engineering in 2009. She is currently a project manager for a pipeline company.
Chahl said that when she first started out in the industry, it reminded her of her male-dominated military days.
“It wasn’t a surprise. It almost seemed normal at the time,” she said of her work environments.
“I did find that, even in the laboratory, it was very male-dominated actually so a lot of raises or promotions of special projects were often awarded to the men over the women.”
Chahl said in her first job out of NAIT, she was consistently asked to do overtime.
“I did feel it was because, maybe not necessarily just being a woman, but being a woman without kids. You’re taken advantage of,” she said.
While her work situation has improved over the course of her career, Chahl said it was a learning experience.
“A lot of the examples that I would have were very early on when I was a lot younger and just now knowing you have that empowerment to stand up for yourself. That’s been the biggest thing I learned throughout my career,” she said.
ASET is encouraging those who work in the industry to help improve work conditions for women.
“If you see something, say something. Better yet, if you see something, do something,” Cavanaugh said.
“This attitude, this disrespect for our fellow employees, fellow technologists can’t be tolerated. These are very skilled, very qualified professional people. If they identify it as a problem, it is a problem.”
Cavanaugh said companies can encourage their female workers to network, talk about their issues and make recommendations to better their workplace environments.
ASET is also offering a women in technology working group, hosting teleforums for female members and including women in technology courses and events.