Today commemorates the tragedy of The École Polytechnique Massacre. On December 6, 1989, 14 young women (12 of whom were engineering students at École Polytechnique in Montreal) were killed by an outraged gunman, who specifically targeted women in this gender-based violent attack. Many of the female students were in their last year of engineering programs – very close to their big achievements.
In 1989 pursuing an engineering career for a woman was an uncommon and even brave choice – in Canada only 13% of engineering students were women and less than 2% of professors in engineering faculties were female. As a result of this terrible scar on the educational history in Canada, December 6th became a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women (a.k.a. white ribbon day).
To ensure that the memory of this day doesn’t vanish and these issues stay top of mind, many people speak up. Some choose to show that they care by taking action. Gina Cody, an immigrant from Iran who moved to Canada in 1979 in hopes of getting a Ph.D. in engineering, and who ultimately built a long and extremely successful engineering career in Canada, recently donated $15 million to the Concordia University’s engineering program that made her dream come true. This is the largest endowment in the history of the university. In gratitude, Concordia University has renamed its engineering department after her – “the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science – the first in Canada to be named after a woman”, the university says.
Gina was interviewed by CBC’s The Current this morning where she shared her story, her mission in life, and her worries for the future of women in engineering. Despite the stigma against women in engineering, Gina broke the barriers and succeeded in one of the most male-dominated industries. After completing an engineering Ph.D. program at Concordia, she became the only female crane inspector in Toronto, and later on the executive chair and principal shareholder of CCI Group, a large engineering firm in the city.
Gina’s success story and her generous donation inspire many young women to pursue their dreams just like she did. Still, “only 20% of university engineering students in the country are women, according to Engineers Canada.” Moreover, the percentage of female engineering students who graduate is higher than the percentage of women working in the field, which means that there are reasons why women choose not to pursue this career after graduation. It is in our power to motivate young women to be strong, follow their dreams, and to not be afraid. It is also in our hands to prevent gender-based hate crimes (among others) by spreading the word, bringing attention to these issues, and educating ourselves and people around us. Let’s stay strong together.
Our Engineering Career Guide is a great starting point for those who are interested in the field. It provides not only job opportunities, but also best practises for applying, industry insights, and much more.