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Concordia prof explores the gender gap in engineering

Ann-Louise Howard’s upcoming two-part webinar seeks to illuminate discrimination in the field
February 22, 2023
A young woman wearing a sleeveless top and safety goggles, in a university lab with large mechanical equipment.
A student in Concordia’s Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aerospace Engineering.

When Concordia alumna and faculty member Ann-Louise Howard was a young engineer, she didn’t notice how much energy she needed to cope with the male-dominated nature of the profession. Howard recalls how she was painfully blindsided and blamed herself when her usual coping mechanisms failed her in a new work environment.

She did not enjoy the work as much as she had anticipated and ultimately left the field, she adds.

However, Howard now says her early, painful experience led to a deep curiosity about how the work environment impacts people. So she eventually devoted her doctoral thesis to studying women engineers’ lived experiences of the workplace.

Today Howard, MA 13, PhD 22, is an assistant professor in Concordia's Department of Applied Human Sciences. She says she wanted to contribute in a new way to the more than 50 years of research and intervention on women in engineering.

Through interviews, she explored women engineers’ lived experiences.

The focus of Howard’s thesis, “I Didn’t Know it was a Thing Either: Women Engineers’ Experience of Suffering in the Workplace,” opened up a window into the sometimes dangerous, covert, gendered dynamics of engineering that help maintain the status quo. She found that while many women navigate their gendered environments well, sometimes even effortlessly, they can come to have a profound effect on women engineers’ lives.

‘I am committed to making the gendered dynamics in engineering visible’

Smiling woman with short grey hair, wearing gold earrings, a gold necklace and a black shirt with small white polkadots Ann-Louise Howard

“Girls and women are encouraged to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). But in our efforts to recruit women, we are not talking enough about the subtle and pervasive ways women are excluded from the profession,” Howard notes.

“The numbers don’t lie. Compared to their male counterparts, they experience more burn out, leave the profession at higher rates and move disproportionately to ‘pink-collar’ engineering jobs.”

In her thesis, Howard deconstructs long-held notions about engineering as a “masculine” profession, where men are assumed to be competent, technology is seen as inherently masculine and rationality is valued over emotions.

Howard is sharing her research in a two-part webinar series called “Seeing” the hidden, gendered dynamics of engineering, presented by the Centre for Human Relations and Community Studies at Concordia. In the first webinar on March 8, she will discuss her research, which reveals the systemic discrimination faced by women engineers.

The second webinar, on March 15, is an opportunity for women engineering students and engineers to share and reflect on their own experiences. The goal is to highlight the systemic nature of the gendered dynamics in engineering and to imagine new ways forward.

“I am committed to making the gendered dynamics in engineering visible in order to improve the lives of women engineers and contribute to transforming one of the most male-dominated professions in the world,” Howard explains.

Meaningful support

Nadia Bhuiyan, Concordia’s vice-provost of partnerships and experiential learning and a professor of mechanical, industrial and aerospace engineering, says she is very familiar with the challenges many women face in engineering.

“Concordia has worked to provide women who are studying engineering at the Gina Cody School with meaningful support as they prepare for their careers,” she explains.

“One example is through mentorship programs like our Women in Engineering-Career Launch Experience, based at the Institute for Co-operative Education. More work needs to be done to ensure that engineering becomes a profession that is not only appealing but also truly welcoming to women.”

Learn more about the two-part webinar series,
“Seeing” the hidden, gendered dynamics of engineering.

Find out more about the Women in Engineering Career Launch Experience offered by Concordia’s Institute for Co-operative Education.



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