Toronto - In 1929, Elsie MacGill became
the first North American woman to earn a master’s degree in
aeronautical engineering. She went on to lead Canada’s production of
Hawker Hurricane fighter planes during World War II, earning the
nickname “Queen of the Hurricanes” and even a comic strip.
While the ranks of women engineers have risen since MacGill’s days,
they’ll need to take a quantum leap to shrink the gender pay gap in a
global economy hurtling into the digital age, a study from
Toronto-Dominion Bank argues.
“It will be difficult to close, or possibly even further narrow, the
overall gender wage gap if women fail to make strong inroads,” in
science, technology, engineering and math, or the so-called STEM
fields, Beata Caranci, chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, and her
colleagues said in the report released last week.
Her study, spurred in part by MacGill’s inclusion onto the shortlist
of women to feature on Canada’s $10 bill last year, comes amid intense
scrutiny on women in technology amid tales of sexism and harassment in
Silicon Valley’s “bro” culture.
The imbroglios overshadowed a milestone
for US women last year: for the first time, they earned more than 80
cents for every dollar made by a man. In Canada, that figure has risen
to 87 cents.
But unless women make more inroads into higher-paying science and
technology jobs, that might be about as good as it gets for women’s pay,
Caranci’s team wrote.
Women make up less than one-quarter of employment
in Canada’s STEM fields yet a Statistics Canada projection of labour
shortages indicates the industries will experience the second-most
pronounced excess demand for workers in the years to 2024.
In the meantime, women who do make it into STEM are often slotted
into lower-paid technical roles and many work part time, the study
showed. Women with a university degree make up about a third of all
full-time technical roles compared with only 21% for men. And
only 23% of all full-time STEM positions are filled by women.
That’s been a potent combination in holding down women’s pay. If
women had the same representation in full-time STEM jobs as they do in
middle management - roughly 40% - the gap in overall average
hourly earnings between men and women in Canada would narrow by 16% on this one factor alone, according to the study.
“The low representation of women automatically places their lifetime
earnings at a disadvantage to that of men,” according to the authors.
Female representation in Canadian university STEM courses suggests
the situation isn’t about to change much. Nearly four men graduate for
every woman who earns a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a figure
that’s barely budged in a decade. Computer science and math hold their
own distinction: the ratio of three men graduating for every woman has
actually worsened from two decades ago.
Caranci’s team said numerous studies refute the idea raised by an
engineer who was fired from Google in part after writing a memo that
said women are biologically less suited to be engineers than men.
high proficiency in math ultimately underpins the pursuit of STEM
fields, females have it, statistics show. Fifteen-year-old females in
Canada, Singapore, Korea, and Switzerland outperform their male peers in
the 95th percentile, according to the OECD’s Program of International
So what needs to be done to get more women in STEM? Engage girls in
science at school, make paths to STEM careers clear and even consider
making courses in computer science and foundational engineering
mandatory, Caranci’s team suggests. One US college made the simple
change of renaming its computer science classes to include the words
“creative” and “problem solving” to boost enrollment.
At work, reducing biases, marginalisation, and self-selection into
technical and part-time roles is key, the study said. Companies need to
track and measure outcomes within hiring and career development.
“Firms that argue there’s insufficient supply of women need to first
ensure the elimination of attitudes that can create workforce friction
that cause women to either self-select out of the STEM workforce, or
shift involuntarily into part-time ranks,” the study says. “To have run
the gauntlet through a 20-year educational journey, only to experience a
fatal career blow due to corporate culture is a loss to society and the
Women considering STEM careers might take inspiration from the Queen
of the Hurricanes to persist and agitate for change, the study argues.
Told MacGill would never walk again after contracting a form of
polio, she eventually became mobile with the aid of two metal canes. She
earned money during her recovery by writing articles on aviation and
studied at MIT. MacGill became the world’s first female aircraft
designer, insisted on being a passenger on all test flights, and helped
defeat Nazis with her planes during the Battle of Britain.
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