01/17/2014 08:29 EST | Updated 03/19/2014 05:59 EDT

A Passion For Connecting Women in Engineering and Geoscience

As a woman involved in supporting girls and young women's growth in an industry known as being dominated by men, I understand the power of collaboration and support from other women.

"I've always felt that in physics you must have total commitment...It's not a job; it's my whole life."

Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, 20th c. physicist

As a woman involved in supporting girls and young women's growth in an industry known as being dominated by men, I understand the power of collaboration and support from other women. Having to work with women, particularly through last year, and having their support in reaching high goals, which at the time seemed impossible, I understand first hand the power of commitment. It is a great deal to have a room full of people who are there to learn and share ideas to benefit all. Most importantly, in an industry where women are not exactly empowered to grow. Having a network to support each other is only a benefit to not only women, but their industry as a whole.

We hear in the media, and there are many studies done to prove it, that we need role models that will support us now and role models ready to support the generation to come. In the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industry, women role models are a commodity and having access to a network where a girl or a young woman can learn the ins and outs of the STEM industry is a great deal to have.

While trying to raise awareness on how to better support girls and young women from the STEM industry in Canada, Social Media, particularly Twitter, had been a great avenue for support. Here is where I realized that the support for women in this industry is still green and, in order to help it grow networks of women, and men supporters, need to be applied. A great example is the New Brunswick Women in Engineering and Geoscience Networking Group. It was a pleasure to learn that something like this had been formed and, although new, it has potential to grow into a strong network for women in this field. Having had the honour to have conversations and support from Christine Plourde, one of the organizers of the NBWIEG Networking Group, I am confident that this group will flourish and, because of its existence, support to women in this field will start to become evident.

How did it start?

The inspiration for the group seemed to come from several different places over a relatively short period of time. Increasing networking, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities has been identified as a key priority by Engineers Canada's Women in Engineering Committee, of which I am a member. I attended the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology (CCWESTT) 2012 Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where one of the many conversations centered around developing better networking and mentoring opportunities for women in these fields in Atlantic Canada. A group of conference attendees in the Halifax area subsequently began discussions about starting a networking group in Atlantic Canada, beginning in Nova Scotia. Around the same time, I was approached by two female engineers (one a Masters student and one in mid career) in the Fredericton, NB area who expressed an interest in developing a networking group in our area. I was also made aware of an existing networking group in New Brunswick for women in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) field. After speaking with the organizers of this group, we decided to structure ours in a similar way. We have also found that many of the issues around attraction and retention of more women are common across engineering, ICT and other technical fields, and have been discussing how we might support each other in various initiatives.

We started by creating virtual networking groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, inviting our various contacts to join us online and to invite their contacts to do the same. We use the online venues to share information and articles of interest to our members, as well as to get to know each other. The hope is that members will connect with others within the network, and that some of those connections may result in potential mentoring relationships.

We also organized our first in-person lunch networking event at a local restaurant in Fredericton, and were able to fill the available seating more than a month before the event was to take place.

Who are the women that come to the events and why?

At our first lunch networking event in Fredericton, we had 25 women and men in attendance, ranging from undergraduate and grad students to engineers and geoscientists from early career through to retirement. Although most were from the Fredericton area, we had 7 people travel from Moncton and 1 from Saint John. Everyone had a chance to introduce themselves, network and hear about some of the upcoming events planned to help enhance the attraction and retention of a greater number of women to these professions in New Brunswick. Chris Diduch, Associate Dean of Engineering at UNB, expressed his desire to see more collaborative efforts towards increasing women's representation in engineering. Rene Boudreau, CEO of the NB Research and Innovation Council, indicated that New Brunswick needs more Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) professionals to help enhance innovation and economic development and women are an under-represented pool of talent who can contribute greatly to these fields in our province. Members were also interested to hear from our first NBWIEG guest speaker, Annie Daigle, P.Eng, P.Geo., who shared her career story with us. In particular, she described her role with the Government of New Brunswick's Natural Gas Group, where her work focused on the identification and analyses of water resource issues related to hydraulic fracturing and shale gas development, as well as on the development of the new provincial regulations for the industry.

The second lunch event, held in Moncton, was organized by some of our members from the area who attended our first event. There were 23 women and men in attendance to hear Josette Wedge, P. Eng. share her insight into evolving a career from manufacturing to project management to client services in the gaming industry. She also let us know how she achieves balance and harmony in her life and work.

What are the goals for the network?

The primary purpose of the group is to facilitate networking, share information and to support the engineering and geoscience professions in our region. We also see value in supporting the attraction and retention of a greater diversity of individuals to our professions, to spur greater innovation and economic growth in our region. The group is open to both women and men who support the purpose.

What is the feedback that you get from women that come to your events?

Feedback has been great so far, with everyone expressing their interest in attending future events and getting to know the other engineers and geoscientists in their community and province. Many also expressed interest in getting involved with future initiatives to help increase diversity in the professions.

What excites you about this network?

I am excited about the opportunity to facilitate networking opportunities that could lead to the cultivation of mentoring relationships for women in the professions. Also, I am looking forward to the opportunity to assemble a list of potential volunteers interested in being resources to help with various potential initiatives to increase diversity in STEM professions. The hope is that we will be able to help the NSERC Atlantic Chair for Women in Science and Engineering, Tamara Franz-Odendaal, with her plans to organize a 2015 Regional Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology conference in Atlantic Canada.

What influences you?

I have found great value in my own networking opportunities, in particular through my volunteering activities with Engineers and Geoscientists New Brunswick and Engineers Canada, which have allowed me to work with and get to know many great women and men in science and engineering across Canada and the US. Recently, I was honoured to represent Engineers Canada, along with two other executive members of our Women in Engineering Committee, at a large Society of Women Engineering (SWE) conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

It is also very rewarding to find volunteering opportunities that draw on my engineering skills. I have been Chapter Coordinator of the Fredericton Chapter of the Tetra Society of North America since 2000. Our technical volunteers, including engineers, work one on one with persons with disabilities, to design and create custom assistive devices that are not available commercially. I am also co-mentoring a group of civil engineering students through their Product Design course at UNB this year. When I begin to list all my volunteering activities, I wonder how I manage to fit it all in. But I find that every one of them is as much an opportunity to learn and grow as it is an opportunity to share my time and skills. I think I actually get more out of it than I give. When you enjoy what you're doing, you find the time to do it.

Something that you want the world to know about yourself:

Although I am passionate about volunteering, I also find my engineering career in Contaminated Sites Management with Conastoga-Rovers & Associates (CRA) to be challenging and fulfilling. I specialize in assessing and managing risk from contaminants, which may have resulted from past industrial or commercial activities, to enable property owners to ensure that the health of potential human and/or ecological users of the properties are protected.

I am also proud to share my life with my husband, Luc, who is a dedicated high school technology teacher in Fredericton, and our wonderful 20 year old daughter, Chantal, who is currently sharing her love for kids with a Kindergarten class in her former elementary school.

Something that you want the world to know about the network:

Our intent is to hold lunch and/or evening networking functions on about a bimonthly basis. We would like to see events held in different areas around the province to reach as many engineers and goescientists as possible. Between events, potential members can connect via our LinkedIn and Facebook groups, or connect with me on Twitter for more information.

The appetite for networking among women in the engineering and geoscience professions in New Brunswick certainly seems to be great! We are looking forward to many more opportunities for learning and growth over the coming months.


Photo gallery New Brunswick Women in Engineering and Geoscience (NBWIEG) Networking Group See Gallery