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Preparing for takeoff

New partnership between Bombardier and Concordia fosters next generation of women in engineering
March 12, 2021
By Joseph Léger, BA 15

Gina Cody, MEng 81, PhD 89, with Marco Beaulieu, head of university collaboration at Bombardier, at Concordia’s 2020 Engineering and Commerce Case Competition

2020 was a year of change for Bombardier, Quebec’s longstanding manufacturing giant. It began with the arrival of new president and CEO Éric Martel, DSc 19, in April and culminated with the announcement of the sale of Bombardier’s rail division to Alstom and its repositioning as a pure-play business-jet global leader. While these were some of the headlines making waves in the business world, other changes were on the rise with major implications for the future of women in engineering and the aerospace industry in Canada.

“There has been a real culture shift at Bombardier since Éric arrived,” says Maya Sheikh Alsouk, MA 16, diversity, inclusion and talent advisor at Bombardier. “We have a new diversity and inclusion strategy and we have a CEO who is taking a stance and saying ‘I want to make a difference. I want to promote diversity and inclusion and I’m committed to making it happen.’ We are all inspired and empowered to make a difference!” 

‘Unique program’ debuts 

One of the more significant diversity and inclusion measures taken by Bombardier was to become a key partner in Concordia’s Women in Engineering — Career Launch Experience (WIE-CLE) in the fall of 2020. The initiative combines paid internships for women studying engineering with an individualized mentorship program. Created in partnership with Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education, Bombardier adopted the template for WIE-CLE to create its own customized Women in Engineering internship program. The first cohort of 10 interns were all students from the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Anna Sommer, BFA 94, MBA 16

“Bombardier has been an amazing partner,” says Anna Sommer, BFA 94, MBA 16, program coordinator at the Institute for Co-operative Education. Sommer created the WIE-CLE template for Bombardier. “They wanted to do something much more concrete and this was a great way to start — as far as we know this is a completely unique program.” 

Jade Dagenais, BComm 20, the Women in Engineering internship program lead at Bombardier, agrees. “This is a very special program because of the mentorship and networking aspects,” she says. “Our interns have their work supervisors, but we also match each of them with their own mentor. Through roundtable sessions, interns get to connect and speak with various people in engineering.” 

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, all internship activities are being held virtually. Participants are given full access to Microsoft Teams, including private channels for interns and mentors to network and discuss the program. Interns additionally have access to the LinkedIn Learning platform to benefit from a wide variety of courses and workshops. 

While the situation may not be ideal, Dagenais says every effort is being taken to give the interns a rich and fulfilling experience. “Our program is new, so it is still flexible,” says Dagenais. “Our team is very open and we’re giving the interns the opportunity to tell us what they want from the program. If they want to meet the vice-president of Engineering, no problem, I’ll make it happen.” 

For their final project, the interns were tasked with identifying systemic barriers for women in engineering at Bombardier.

“We asked our interns to look for any barriers they may have experienced or seen during their internships and how they impact the role of women in engineering,” says Dagenais. “We also wanted to know what they recommend be done to ameliorate or completely remove these barriers.” The interns presented their final project to senior management on December 8, 2020. Company employees attended the virtual presentation as observers, and recordings of the event were shared internally to raise awareness and encourage others to join the program as mentors. 

Closing the gender gap 

Jade Dagenais, BComm 20

Engineering has one of the biggest gender gaps of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, with women making up less than 13 per cent of working engineers in the country, according to Engineers Canada. This is especially troubling because, as the organization notes, the country could be short by as many as 100,000 engineers by 2025. 

“The industry needs more talent,” says Sommer. “Women’s enrolment in engineering programs is already quite low and that number drops off intensely as they enter the industry. “Through this Women in Engineering program, Concordia is looking to create a happy bridge between the two and help female students succeed.” 

Sommer believes WIE internship programs will help attract more women into university engineering programs and improve the industry’s ability to recruit and retain women engineers.

Sheikh Alsouk adds that an internship has the power to either inspire or alienate women from wanting to work in the industry. “A lot of organizations are good at hiring women or minorities, but once they are hired there are few measures in place to make them feel welcomed and valued,” she says. 

“Having done an internship myself, I understand how the experience can mould you. It has the potential to give you strength and inspiration, or it can kill your ambition. That’s why we prepared our mentors to support our interns and help them thrive in our organization.” 

Genesis of the program 

The idea for the WIE program came from Claude Martel, BA 85, MA 92, PhD 09, director of the Institute for Co-operative Education. 

“Claude recognized that there was a shortfall of talent in the area of diversity and that women have a hard time entering the engineering industry,” explains Sommer. “I think it was in August of 2019 that he asked me if there was a way of creating a program to help address this issue.

“I researched the topic extensively and developed the structure for a program that would help bridge the student experience from education into the workplace. This would allow them to go into their early careers with more confidence and a better understanding of the barriers they might encounter.”

Maya Sheikh Alsouk, MA 16

Once the template for the program was developed, Sommer began reaching out to various industry partners to see if there was any interest. “Bombardier was one of the first organizations I contacted,” she recalls. “I spoke with Marco Beaulieu, head of University Collaboration at Bombardier, and right away he saw the value of the program.” 

Jade Dagenais had just finished her own internship at Bombardier and had been hired by Beaulieu to work on the company’s extensive internship program — a collaboration with some 30 post-secondary institutions with the goal of supporting 1,000 paid internships per year — when Sommer approached them with the WIE-CLE program. 

“As soon as we saw Anna’s program, we knew it would make a great addition to our existing internship program,” says Dagenais. “After that, it was just a matter of figuring out how to make it work for our needs.” 

Bombardier’s WIE program officially launched on October 1, 2020. The virtual event featured Gina Cody as the keynote speaker and had more than 300 attendees. When asked about her future hopes for the program, Sommer replies: “At some point, I hope we don’t need it anymore. I hope that we achieve equality and then we can focus on other areas of need. I don’t expect it to happen quickly, but it would be nice to see that one day.”

Meet 3 interns in Bombardier’s Women in Engineering program

Mohona Mazumdar is a second-year undergraduate Co-op student in software engineering

“In CEGEP, I was studying health sciences and our classes were gender balanced. When I got to university, I was surprised by how few women there were. But I’m very happy I chose this program. I like how a software engineer can build something just as important and valuable as a bridge or plane in the form of an app. 

My goal is to work for a company that aligns with my values where I can come up with something that helps people, even if it’s a small application. 

For my internship, I’m working as a data analyst for human resources with the University Collaboration team at Bombardier. I love this program and I like how Bombardier and Concordia are committed to changing the situation for women in engineering. I think this program is really going to have a huge impact.”

Doria Bouzerar is a second-year undergraduate Co-op student in mechanical engineering

“For my internship, I am in the project engineering change group. Our team oversees projects to make changes to existing aircraft. I love the environment and the team dynamic — I’ve felt really welcomed since the first day and it makes me want to work hard and be involved. This internship program is a great initiative that reaches more people than you would expect. Many people think it’s just about women in engineering, but it’s also about increasing diversity. 

The beauty of being in mechanical engineering is that it is a broad field — I can work in aerospace, in the biomedical industry or in robotics. I would like to have the knowledge to apply my skills to help my community and change society in a positive way.”

Lejia Li is a third-year undergraduate Co-op student in industrial engineering

“My internship is in Aircraft Reliability Database and Report Development at Bombardier. My team has been very supportive and helpful. I’m encouraged to ask questions and solve my own problems. Both Concordia and Bombardier have been very supportive. 

The mentorship is the biggest advantage of this program. I have a one-hour meeting with my mentor every week and I learn a lot from her. 

I’m considering pursuing my master’s degree after working for two to three years. I want to stay in industrial engineering because of exciting topics like Industry 4.0, and I want to study things such as AI and smart manufacturing — I think that is the future. 

It’s also a field that focuses on optimizing processes and efficiency, which we can use to help people and create a more balanced society.”

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