From the classroom to the boardroom
Women in science promise to change the world
Meet Eve Langelier – mechanical engineering professor, big into the outdoors, mother of two boys and huge science fan.
As the Université de Sherbrooke’s Chair for Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE), in Quebec, Canada, she has dedicated the past five years to finding ways to encourage more young women into these fields.
We sat down with Eve to talk about how the world can get more women involved in science, from the classroom to the boardroom.
Ed: Eve, thanks very much for your time. Tell us how you came to choose a career in engineering.
Look, I had no clue what I wanted to do. When I was very young, I always saw myself in a house with a family and a dog, and going to university. I don’t know why.
I really enjoyed school, so for me studying was not a worry. I liked science and art. I was leaning towards a career in science and then my mum introduced me to a distant cousin whose job was to illustrate anatomy books. I thought that sounded great… but then I met a career adviser who said ‘you know, there aren’t a lot of jobs in that area’.
My father flew planes as a hobby, and so I used to spend a lot of time with him around the airport. I decided that I wanted to draw planes – design them. And so I went on to study mechanical engineering at university. While I was studying, I met an engineering professor who encouraged me to continue my studies. And now I am a professor researching ways we can better prevent and heal injuries. I love what I do!
Ed: Why is it important to bring more women into science and engineering?
Well, there are a lot of great career opportunities in science and engineering, but many women don’t consider them an option. That’s because we face many barriers from a very young age – from the way we are socialised, to how we interact at school and what we are taught. We need to remove the barriers so we can choose – really choose.
Also, engineering is about building the world of tomorrow. Women make up half of the world’s population, so if we don’t have women building the world of tomorrow, it won’t be built as we all perceive it, as we want it. We have to include the concerns and priorities of women.
And when we have different points of view, that often increases innovation and lowers the risk of group think. We know there is a link between diversity, innovation and company performance.
Ed: You mentioned the need to break down some of the barriers that women face, even at a young age. How can we do that?
We need to work with girls’ circle of influence, like parents and teachers. One of CWSE’s priorities is to improve how technology is taught to girls at school. So we provide teaching tools, and go into classes and show students women role models. We try and change not just the students’ perceptions about technology, but the teachers’ too.
Research tells us that you have to show girls the purpose and impact of the work. If you tell them it’s just to get a certain grade, that doesn’t interest them. But if you tell them that through their work they can solve a problem, that resonates with them.
We also know that women care about caring, but we often don’t see that side, with all the opportunities there are to improve people’s lives with science and engineering. And we need to do a better job of bringing out the more human side of engineering too – there is a lot of creativity, leadership and team work involved in the day to day of being an engineer.
Ed: What else can companies do to encourage more women into science and engineering jobs?
The first thing is to accept that you need to change. We need powerful leaders who believe in diversity and its benefits.
And then we have to change the way we do things. Like the way we recruit – how we interview and select candidates. We have to question our unconscious bias but we also have to rethink how we define excellence and performance. For example, you could be excellent at your job – but because you have a family and you cannot work 70 hours a week, people may question your ability to excel. And yet you could really bring something to the company.
We have to adapt to today’s realities. We need to rethink how we arrange work so that it is more welcoming for women. It’s also about making sure that women feel comfortable in their roles, that they are included and can progress. Sometimes we forget that part. If we do that and women are happy, they will talk to their friends and family – and it will help encourage more women into science and engineering.