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Empowering Engineering Excellence A Conversation with Claudia, EDI Champion and Engineering Educator

Materials.Business Newsletter ⚙️ September 21st, 2023


Podcast Guests: Claudia Gomez-Villeneuve

Summary of the discussion

In this enlightening podcast discussion between Claudia Gomez-Villeneuve and Monica Hernandez, they delve into the profound effects of layoffs, particularly in times of economic turbulence. Their conversation can be distilled into five major points:
1. Impact of Layoffs: Claudia and Monica underscore the profound impact of layoffs, especially during economic crises. They emphasize that layoffs, which affect hundreds of individuals daily, lead to suffering and uncertainty, even for those who remain unaffected by job cuts.
2. Mental Toll: Both speakers shed light on the severe mental toll experienced by employees who continue to work in uncertain job environments. The constant fear of becoming the next casualty of layoffs creates immense stress, akin to feeling kidnapped and awaiting an uncertain fate. Claudia, having navigated the challenging transition from a senior project manager in engineering to a full-time university professor, serves as a living testament to the emotional challenges of career shifts.
3. Claudia's Career Transition: Claudia shares her personal journey of transitioning from a senior project manager in engineering to a full-time university professor. Despite financial concerns and the absence of a Ph.D., Claudia's pursuit of happiness took precedence in her career shift, serving as a source of inspiration for listeners. Her passionate dedication to promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in engineering, highlighted through her role as the Vice-Chair of Engineers Canada, serves as a beacon of hope. Claudia, drawing from her role as Vice-Chair of Engineers Canada, sheds light on the "30 by 30" initiative, which sets a target for the engineering profession to increase the representation of women to 30% by the year 2030, highlighting the pressing need for change.
4. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in Engineering: Claudia's experiences as one of the few women in engineering underscore the critical need for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives within the field. She discusses her efforts to empower and motivate more women to enter technical professions. Claudia, drawing from her role, mentions the alarming statistic that only 12% of practicing engineers in Canada are women, reinforcing the urgency of the "30 by 30" initiative. Claudia passionately advocates for EDI, as it is not only the right thing to do but also a crucial business imperative.
5. Promoting Gender Equity: Claudia outlines three key solutions for achieving gender equity in engineering:
Pay Equality: Claudia highlights that women often face challenges in negotiations, particularly in male-dominated fields like engineering. She points out that societal expectations and norms often discourage women from being assertive or aggressive in negotiations, leading to unequal pay. This inequity emphasizes the importance of basing pay on work rather than negotiations.

Enforcing Harassment and Discrimination Policies: Claudia emphasizes the importance of enforcing policies against harassment and discrimination in both government and corporate settings. She notes that while these policies exist, they are often not applied rigorously, leaving individuals with limited options when facing such issues.

Promotion of Women: Claudia advocates for actively encouraging and supporting women in their pursuit of professional designations and higher positions within organizations. She argues that companies should set targets for hiring and promoting women to achieve gender diversity. Claudia suggests a shift from mentors to sponsors in terms of support. She believes that sponsors, individuals who actively promote and advocate for women in professional settings, can be more effective in helping women advance in their careers. "Mentors were trying to make us fit. Mentors were trying to make us into men right in the world of engineering. Act like men. Think like a man you know. Behave like a man, and then you'll fit in. So mentors had their job, and they helped us survive and get into these jobs. But the future to make those numbers change Monica, (is that)we don't need mentors, we need sponsors"

In conclusion, Claudia and Monica shine a spotlight on the formidable challenges brought about by layoffs, the profound mental toll exacted on those who weather the storm, and Claudia's remarkable odyssey of career transformation. However, beyond these illuminating narratives, lies a resounding call to action—a clarion call for the cultivation of transformative change and the relentless pursuit of gender equity within the spheres of engineering and its allied domains. These calls to action are not mere aspirations but are firmly anchored in tangible statistics and propelled by potent initiatives such as "30 by 30," underscoring the unequivocal urgency of these collective endeavors.
Claudia is a professional engineer, university instructor, and EDI (equity, diversity, and inclusion) champion. Before switching to academia, she worked at Enbridge managing petroleum pipeline projects for over 15 years. Today, Claudia works in five (5) different universities teaching courses in engineering and project management. In April 2019 she won the APEGA Summit Award, as a Champion for Women in Engineering and Geoscience, which she shared with the CCWESTT 2018 Conference Steering Committee. Claudia is also the founder and two-time Chair of WES, Women in Engineering Summit, a non-profit organization, which debuted with WES 2018 after learning how many women leave their engineering careers – after many years of education and work experience – when there are many workplaces solutions available to retain them. She was inducted to the Fellowship of Engineers Canada, and Leader of the 30 by 30 Initiative. Claudia was born in Colombia, South America, and moved to Canada as a teenager. She lives in Edmonton with her husband and their 3 children.
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Women in the Workplace: A Shift in Industry Work Culture (APEGA report)

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