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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2008

Proportion & distortion

In her reply, Penni Stewart says that “although many young women start out in science and engineering, a disproportionate number drop out and switch fields, suggesting that the climate remains problematic, (Letters, Bulletin, November 2008).” However, the national data for the
1996/1997–2005/2006 decade in­di­cate the average proportion of wo­­men who received undergra­duate engineering degrees was 20.3 per cent while they only repre­sent­ed 19.4 per cent of the total undergraduate en­gineering student enrolment.

Contrary to Stewart’s assertion, women do not drop out of engineering in “disproportionate” num­bers. The reality is that a larger pro­portion of female than male engineering students do complete their studies.

I do not dispute the fact that wo­men are underrepresented in engineering and I acknowledge that engineering schools and the engineering profession in general must do a much better job at making engineering a more attractive and rewarding post-secondary education option for women. But I believe it is equally important to set the record straight about the academic performance of female engineering students.

In general, these women tend to do better than their male colleagues and this is why a larger proportion of them do graduate. During my more than six years as dean of engineering at two different Canadian universities, I have also been struck by the large representation of female engineering students in student organizations — three of the seven presidents of engineering student societies whom I have worked with have been women — and by the fact that they also receive a large share of merit-based scholarships and awards.

It is unfortunate that comments such as those made by Stewart contribute to widening the gap between perception and reality when it comes to women in engineering.

Claude Laguë
Dean of Engineering
University of Ottawa
Chair, National Council of Deans of Engineering & Applied Sciences

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