New conference aims to foster discussions about gender equality in engineering

Q-WASE wants delegates to leave the conference feeling hopeful about the industry

Q-WASE hopes to run its conference in-person.
Supplied by Q-WASE

The Queen’s Women in Applied Science and Engineering Conference (Q-WASE) is more than just another engineering conference—it’s the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s (FEAS) first and only non-technical conference.

Where other conferences ratified by the Engineering Society tackle issues like space, energy, and the environment, the newly formed Q-WASE is focused on exploring gender disparity in the field of engineering.

“Q-WASE aims to offer a unique view on how individuals of all genders, and women, navigate through STEM fields,” Kathy Sheng, Q-WASE marketing and events coordinator, said in an interview with The Journal. “We want delegates to leave our conference feeling hopeful for their future careers and excited for the opportunities ahead of them.”

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Sheng said inclusivity is important in any industry, but pointed out it’s more significant in a field historically dominated by men. In 2018, only 22 per cent of undergraduate engineering students in Canada were female, with some disciplines seeing representation as low as 14 per cent.

Queen’s fares slightly better than the Canadian average, with female enrollment in the FEAS at around 30 per cent—but it’s still much lower than the average at Queen’s, which saw women make up almost 60 per cent of the class of 2023.

“Having a diverse and inclusive workplace fosters a more engaged, collaborative, and productive environment, resulting in more innovative ideas and better work being produced,” Sheng said.

Sheng shared her personal experience as a woman seeking employment in engineering as an example of how gender disparity hampers one’s comfort in the workplace.

“[S]everal of my interviews included only myself and a group of men in a room or video call, which admittedly was an intimidating situation to be in,” she said.

When she asked if there were any company initiatives in place to support women in the workplace, Sheng said many of the organizations she was interviewing with were unable to provide an answer.

Q-WASE hopes to serve as an inclusive and supportive platform where experiences like Sheng’s can be shared. Through sharing these stories, Sheng said “delegates can empower one another to take action and instigate change.”

READ MORE: ‘Erased by FEAS’ captures systemic discrimination in the Faculty of Engineering

The conference invites students from all disciplines, years, and genders to participate in talks with industry professionals, workshops, and case competitions. Q-WASE’s plan is to create an environment which encourages collaboration across different backgrounds.

However, this year has presented some unique challenges for the inaugural year of the conference.

Within the Queen’s community, this year has seen the COVID-19 pandemic push classes online for most students and the launch of Instagram accounts like ‘Erased by FEAS,’ which share anonymous submissions about discrimination in the FEAS.

Sheng sees the Instagram account as an opportunity for growth.

“Now that issues are being brought forth, they should be proceeded with discussions and an action plan to solve them,” Sheng said. “Helping people find a support system and giving them a platform to speak on issues of gender disparity is a great first step, which is something that Q-WASE can provide to students.”

As for COVID-19, Sheng said the Q-WASE team is hoping to run the conference in-person by complying with the most current public health guidelines. Contingencies are in place if the conference must be held virtually.

Those interested in the conference can learn more through Q-WASE’s website or Instagram.

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