The gender gap

Despite numerical majority, women still marginalized in some areas

Caroline Baillie, DuPont Chair in Engineering Education Research and Development, says engineering remains patriarchal.
Caroline Baillie, DuPont Chair in Engineering Education Research and Development, says engineering remains patriarchal.
Photo: 
Gender at Queen's: number of male (blue) students vs. female (pink).
Gender at Queen's: number of male (blue) students vs. female (pink).
Credit: 
Graphic by B. Shiva Mayer
Megan McMurray, Sci ’07, is president of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) campus organization. She said WISE provides a community for female engineers.
Megan McMurray, Sci ’07, is president of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) campus organization. She said WISE provides a community for female engineers.
Photo: 
Jennifer Kenneally, ArtSci ’08, said the lack of a male presence in the classroom is strongly felt in her fine arts department.
Jennifer Kenneally, ArtSci ’08, said the lack of a male presence in the classroom is strongly felt in her fine arts department.

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Lisa Webb, Ban Righ Centre student advisor, said having a female majority on campus doesn't necessarily translate into increased rights or equality for women.

"It may not be that women are seen as a minority, but they still may not have the same access to all of the different levels of academia, jobs, [and] administrative levels of certain fields," she said.

In 1999, 55.77 per cent of the degrees granted were granted to women; in 2005, that number was 56.93 per cent.

According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of female graduates compared to the national total grew from 57.83 per cent in 1996 to 58.55 per cent in 2000 and approximately 60 per cent in 2004.

To achieve full equality for women depends on more than just numbers, she said.

"It depends on whether the students of this University are vocal, whether they have the forums and the opportunities to speak out against certain things, or for certain things."

Webb pointed to the large disparity in numbers of women in undergraduate studies compared to the numbers of female graduate students or faculty members.

"Whether you're talking about an educational institution or an industry or a company, if all the people at the lower levels are women and there are no women who are making the decisions and who are in the administration, it doesn't have the same effect.

"I think that women still need encouragement and to be made to feel like they can proceed to graduate, post-graduate fields that ... maybe haven't been open to women as long."

Webb added that supports such as the Ban Righ Centre are imperative in encouraging women to pursue careers and education regardless of societal norms or pressures.

Until 1996, the University had a Dean of Women whose role it was, according to the Queen's Encyclopedia, to be a resource for female students, faculty and staff.

"The Dean of Women was available for consultation and discussion on the wide variety of issues that affect women in the university."

"The Dean of Women's position was eliminated during the time that Bill Leggett was principal," said Irene Bujara, interim university advisor on equity. "He felt he wanted to see more than just gender issues addressed. That was not to say that gender issues were meant to be diminished in any way, but ... race, disability, gay, lesbian, bi, [and] trans issues-those things needed to have the same profile."

The University Advisor on Equity position was thus established to cover all such issues.

If necessary, the advisor will address men's needs.

"To a certain extent, the way that the services grow around the needs that are expressed are to a large extent dependent on those needs in particular," she said.

"It may be that the needs of men come from a different arena and so the services [will too]."

Bujara said that, even though there are more women going to university and entering the workforce, they still constitute a "designated group" that can face difficulties in being accepted into male-dominated fields.

"You can see that it's very slow to change as you go up to graduate studies," she said.

She said there are still pronounced differences between men's and women's experiences in society.

"You will find that more men are looking after children and elderly parents, but it is still by far the majority of women who are the primary caregivers.

"As open as we'd like to think of society now, there's no ignoring that fact."

Jennifer Kenneally, ArtSci '08, said the lack of a male presence in the classroom is strongly felt in her fine arts department.

"It would be much better if there were more men there because they bring a different perspective," she said.

Kenneally said she thinks the low number of men in the program is because men might feel compelled by societal pressure to follow more lucrative career paths.

"I think that men traditionally feel they have to get a job that's going to make good money, but [they perceive that] art's not going to get them there," she said, adding that men might also overlook art because the skills learned are not as directly applicable as those learned in other faculties, such as commerce or engineering.

"I really think it comes down to: what is the practical application of what I'm learning?" she said. "Guys are more apt to say 'Well it's nice, but ... I need to make X amounts of dollars a year.'"

Jeff Brown, ArtSci '08, is the AMS Women's Issues Committee (WIC)’s only male committee member.

Brown said that a female majority on university campuses is a sign of progress globally.

"I think it means that women are taking the steps towards educating themselves, and I think that an educated female gender is the solution to many problems, not only on campus but also globally.

"Not because of the compassion which is usually associated with the female, but because educated women globally shows progress towards change."

Even though women are the majority on the University campus, it's important to have organizations such as WIC because feminism is still a scary word for many people, Brown said.

"Women's issues make us question a lot of cultural institutions and pre-conceived notions that are imposed on us," Brown said. "It also works the other way for men, because a lot of our roles or perceived roles for those who identify as male are then chosen for us. ... The reason I'm a part of [WIC] is to make sure that those preconceived ideas are challenged."

David Condren, co-chair of Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP), said EQuIP has been working with the administration and the AMS to increase the options on forms requesting students to identify their gender.

"We're trying to get a third option on all forms at Queen's, for example, to have an 'other' box," he said. "It's not conceivable to have boxes for the hundreds of different variables that people identify as, so ... I'd like to see the third option.

"Transgender people are not a visible minority ... I feel they get overlooked, so that's why EQuIP has kind of stepped up. Our mandate is to educate and raise awareness."

Condren said the University has been open to change, which is a good sign for organizations like EQUIP.

"We have been able to change a form or two, and there's now a washroom in the JDUC that's gender neutral."

Stephanie Ramsden, AMS internal affairs commissioner, said in the fall referendum, voters were asked to fill out an optional survey about AMS voting procedures. On the survey, students could opt to identify as male or female, or choose "prefer not to say."

Application forms for jobs within the AMS also offer these three choices for gender identification.

* * *

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said the increasing female majority in the student body should provoke thought, but not knee-jerk reactions to compensate for lower proportions of male students.

"I suppose you need to begin with the position that ... there should be no streaming on a gendered basis of one group of people into higher education and others not," he said. "What one would like to see is that the ratio of females to males at the University will resemble that of the general population."

Deane said the positive results of these changes include increased attention towards the needs of female students.

"It's evidence that some of the campaigns to empower women in the sciences and related fields have been successful ... What we're seeing is women in greater numbers pursuing higher education in areas where formerly they wouldn't have been expected," he said. "Ideally one wants to see higher education an un-gendered pursuit. Perhaps one stop on the way to that is a period in which women's concerns rightly will come to be looked at very carefully so the programs will be scrutinized carefully for their receptiveness to women's perspective."

Deane said people seem to be more concerned with lower male enrolment rates today than they were with female enrolment rates earlier in the 20th century, however.

"My caution is that so long as we're all caught up in a cycle of compensation for some imbalance that's gendered were not really getting to our goal which would be a higher education system and a system of opportunity for the culture at large which is in fact gender blind," he said. "I think we have to remember that historically our culture did not exercise itself quite as much about opportunities for women, and we should be striving therefore to an ungendered approach to higher education."

One of Associate Vice-Principal and Dean of Student Affairs Jason Laker’s goals is to ensure that counsellors and career advisors are versed in language about gender.

"We have talented psychologists, [but] will they point out to male clients how their construction of masculinity might perhaps be contributing to the stress that they're feeling?" he asked. "I really still think it connects to, how are we engaging each other?"

Laker said that when people talk about gender issues, men are usually overlooked.

"Despite all the efforts, 'gender' still conjures up a female, even though men are equally gendered," he said. "Just as there are fruits being borne from all the efforts to nurture girls' development and learning, I think probably it was assumed that boys were fine. That assumption is problematic because boys are vulnerable as well, as humans and as kids, and there haven't been a lot of activities, there haven't been a lot of efforts to address that."

Principal Karen Hitchcock said a growing disparity between male and female students can be a cause for concern.

"The increasing percentage of women entering higher education is a phenomenon that's been occurring over the last five to 10 years," she said. "As educators, I think we have to be concerned if we see a loss of any group, be it males or females.

"To the degree that a percentage of males or females attending post-secondary gets out of sync with the proportion of males or females in the population is when we have to start asking questions."

Should that happen, Hitchcock said, there are larger societal implications and university educators will need to work together to determine why either group, male or female, feels unwelcome in the university environment.

Hitchcock said that because of her interest and background in science, it's important to her as an educator to expose women to science and engineering.

Because girls tend to decide on their interests very early, Hitchcock said, it's important to have a positive introduction to different fields at a young age.

"This is something that therefore ... needs to be proactive strategies in concert with the schools from elementary on forward, working with universities to introduce students in exciting ways--to introduce students, both male and female."

Hitchcock said that she was inspired in the sciences because of a positive role model-a male professor who made science come to life for her.

"I think probably as simple ... as a professor who made the field exciting and appealed to my basic tendency to want to look at answering why. He made it an exciting opportunity; he made science live for me, and I think so often it is a single professor who does that. It was a male. He was a role model but a male model, and someone who thought to engage every student in the room--not just the males," she said. "I was fortunate enough to have people who simply were conveying the love of their subject, but depending on your background, role models of the same gender can be very important.

"I think often having a male role model in a ... stereotypically female role like nursing or a female engineer can be very helpful for people who want to see if they can succeed. If they've had bad experiences where, because of their gender, they have not been engaged in the classroom or a professor turns only to the men in the classroom, in time that person will need a role model of the same gender."

* * *

When Caroline Baillie started teaching in mechanical engineering at Sydney University in 1992, she was the first female professor in the department, and she taught to a class that was overwhelmingly dominated by men.

This experience caused her to question why there were so few female students in the class.

"I ended up doing a thesis on this topic as part of my education degree," she said. "What evidence was there that women might want to learn differently from men, why they might want to do different things."

Baillie currently holds the DuPont Chair in Engineering Education Research and Development, a position in which she acts as a liaison between faculty, TAs and students to create an optimal learning environment for all students.

Baillie said there are a variety of reasons why men choose to pursue engineering more often than do women.

"You might say it's because men like tinkering, or that they have parents who persuade them that it's sort of a boys' thing to do," she said.

Right now, the field of engineering remains patriarchal, Baillie said.

"For instance, engineering is all about making thing faster, stronger, dominating the forces of nature," she said. "This is very patriarchal and it doesn't suit most feminist values of peace and nature and the environment and so on."

To address this, Baillie said one shouldn't try to transform women, but engineering itself to make it more inclusive of environmental and social concerns, values which are of increasing importance to many men as well.

"It's not that all men have patriarchal values ... There are many men also who are very dissatisfied with the patriarchal culture," she said. "They would not prefer to be building weapons. They would prefer to be building systems that would help the environment, for instance."

Baillie said there are also certain patterns of learning behaviours which differ between men and women.

When working in groups, certain gender roles are often emphasized, she said.

"Women tend to, for instance, take on the role of being the scribe in the group or the person that writes well, and often male students tend to be the ones who take an active part in experimentation. ... They don't mind trying out and failing."

A more interactive classroom experience would improve the curriculum, Baillie said.

"We need to have classes that are less based on the expert standing at the front telling the way the world is, because the way the world is ... is usually the man's version, just because it's the man that has written the textbook," she said. "We need to challenge that."

Megan McMurray, Sci '07, is the president of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) organization at Queen's. WISE works both within the University to support women in science and engineering and does outreach programs to encourage girls to enroll in science and engineering, McMurray said.

It's important to encourage more women to enter engineering because engineers are so essential to public life, McMurray said.

"We have such a responsibility to society in terms of what we do. It only makes sense that we reflect society."

McMurray said she hasn't had a negative experience within the faculty due to her gender, and credited that to the strong support network among women.

"If you talk to alumni from any university, over the past even 40 years, you'll find that within peer groups there's been a lot of support for women," she said, adding that more challenges come up upon leaving campus.

"I think the change happens when you go out into the workplace where all of a sudden you're a much smaller group and you're dealing with people of different generations and different opinions."

WISE offers a network for students to meet other women in engineering so they can get a personal perspective about the issues women specifically face in the workforce.

"A lot of people don't know what they want to do with their career," she said. "We also try and provide an opportunity for older students to mentor younger students and share their experiences."

As director of first year studies for the Faculty of Engineering\, Annette Bergeron recruits high school students for the program and gets them through their first year of university.

She said encouraging women to apply for engineering, however, starts well before high school, which is why the faculty helps WISE and other groups put on events in which young girls have an opportunity to explore some of the choices engineering and the sciences can bring them.

Bergeron said chemical engineering traditionally attracts more female students, and civil and geological engineering are also seeing more female students.

"Within geological engineering we have very strong female faculty members, and definitely within chemical engineering as well," she said. "So you have more role models."

She said that although female enrolment in engineering was on the rise in the past 20 years, it has plateaued to remain at about 22 to 25 per cent across all faculties in different schools.

Bergeron said the environment within the department has changed over the years to become more accepting of women.

"I've never had a female student come to me and say, 'I'm feeling uncomfortable because ...' and I think that's because we do have a very supportive environment," she said. "When I participated in [the Grease Pole at my] Orientation Week in 1983 ... back then, the female engineering students would stand around the outside of the pit. The job then was to block the frozen tomatoes that were thrown by upper-year students, so there was a real sort of segregation between the male students in the pit and the women students standing around the outside, and now you won't find that at all."

Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science Tom Harris said Queen’s has the largest percentage of women engineering students out of all universities in Ontario, a fact he credits to the appeal of the Queen's community and the common first-year experience.

"I think part of the advantage of that is that women aren't compartmentalized in their first year, so women will see 100 other women in their class,” Harris said. “So I think there's strength in numbers, perhaps."

Harris said disciplines such as chemical engineering are appealing to female students because it touches on key issues such as the environment.

"It's also a discipline in which the industry has been very proactive," he said, in recruiting and addressing issues of gender within the workplace.

"As well, I think the nature of the work is quite different. It's very collaborative, a lot of group work and team work."

He said that as more women choose to pursue chemical engineering, it becomes an increasingly attractive option to future female engineering students as they see a sense of community within the field.

Harris said the challenge in attracting women to engineering is not finding qualified applicants, but in encouraging those who are qualified to apply.

"Women today have more choices," he said. "Since everyone has these choices of what to do, we have to work really hard to make sure they see engineering as an attractive choice."

Rather than establishing a target number of female engineering students within each program, Harris said, it's more important to work on increasing the applicant pool by making students aware of possibilities of engineering.

* * *

Mike Walasek, Nurs '08, is one of four male students in his nursing class. There were originally eight male students in his class, but he said doesn't think it was the gender ratio that motivated the other four men to leave the faculty.

He said people tend to see nursing as a gendered profession, which is an incorrect assumption.

"The overall perception is that it's a female-only club ... But in the army, there's a lot more male nurses than in civilian healthcare."

Nursing is one of the few professions presented as female-dominated, he said.

"It's behind the times. Clearly we want to correct that-it's not a good thing."

In order to improve the gender ratio, society needs to stop viewing male nurses as an anomaly, he said.

"You can't exactly alter the requirements to enter nursing just to get more guys, but ... the more you see men in nursing as a career, the more you'll see a change in the number of men."

He said he and some of his male classmates faced more difficulties doing work in hospitals than in school: male nursing students aren't allowed to be alone in the room with a female patient, and some patients refused to receive care from a male nursing student.

Dr. Cynthia Baker, School of Nursing director, said that although she would like to see the school attract more males, she doesn't see the gender ratio as a problem.

Baker said in order for nursing faculties to attract more males the overall image of nursing needs to be reformed.

"I think there's a kind of a handmaiden notion, and perhaps less recognition that nurses are much more knowledge workers."

The increasing amount of technology involved in the job might help change the perception of nursing as a women's profession.

"I think, but I'm not sure, that this adds more attraction to the job. There are beginning to be more men going into nursing, and I think the complexity of the technology that nurses work with may have had something to do with it."

Baker said males in nursing tend to be focused in management, not bedside care.

"When you look at the small percentage of men in nursing and then you look at leadership positions, it's disproportionate in relation to their numbers," she said.

Although the program doesn't have any concrete plans to attract more male applicants, recruiters are told to be ready to talk to potential male applicants.

"We do brief the people going out with information. We do encourage them to talk to the guys and not to write it off as entirely a female profession," she said.

* * *

"Anyone who's in ConEd knows that there's a minority of men versus women," said Brian Cheney, ConEd '06. "A lot of the time, minority can be given negative connotations though, and I haven't felt any of that in ConEd ... I've never felt like less of a person because I'm a minority [within the faculty].

"I think the gender difference in ConEd is more a result of a broader cultural stereotype than necessarily a Queen's stereotype or a faculty stereotype in that, for many people, teaching is still considered to be a female profession, especially at the elementary level. "I think when it comes down to it, more than we're men or women, we're all prospective teachers, and that's a theme running through the education program."

Rosa Bruno-Jofré, dean of education, said the feminization of the teaching profession isn't a new issue.

"In the elementary level, which has been ... very much a feminized area, it continues to be that way and even worse," she said. Even the secondary level, which traditionally was dominated by men, is now dominated by women.

"The [teaching] federations have made a case that we should make an effort to recruit more men, especially at the primary level," Bruno-Jofré said, adding that although they have looked into doing so, the faculty currently does not have any programs in place targeting the recruitment of male students.

Bruno-Jofré said the low numbers of male students in the faculty of education can be linked to several causes.

"There are issues like the market issue. Right now, there is no tremendous demand [for teachers]," she said. "There may be more lucrative professions. People know that teaching is very demanding in terms of emotional commitment and work."

LeRoy Whitehead, associate dean of education, said the lack of men in the education field is cause for concern.

"Historically, the elementary school has been largely a feminine workplace," he said.

"That has serious social implications in terms of boys, in particular those from single-parent families, because they may have no male role models."

Whitehead said political astuteness might also be deterring men from pursuing a career in education.

"Only one false allegation of sexual abuse can ruin their career."

--With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

The Journal’s series will conclude next Thursday with a look at students’ economic backgrounds.

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