Foreign-trained and female: a double barrier to working in the engineering technology profession
16, Dec, 2019
EDMONTON, Dec. 16, 2019 – If you’re an engineering technology professional from another country, trying to find employment in your field in Canada can be difficult enough. But imagine the challenges faced by a woman who is not only foreign-trained but working in a traditionally male-dominated profession.
Caroline Mekodom, an Edmonton-based customer support engineer and certified member of the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET), has personally encountered both barriers. Before leaving her home in Cameroon and immigrating to Canada in 2006, she completed an associate degree in electrical and automation engineering at the University of Douala. For most of her studies, she was the only woman in a roomful of men.
“It was never easy. I was not really accepted, especially in a society where a woman is considered by men as nothing more than a wife and mother,” said Mekodom.
She says her classmates frequently asked her what she was doing there, who told her she could do this, or why wasn’t she married yet? Or they would joke that cooking isn’t taught in that class. The first year of school was hard for her until she decided to ignore them and focus on what she wanted.
Curiosity had prompted her to study electrical current and automated systems; she wanted to understand the magic behind it. But she was also determined to explore a field that was traditionally male-dominated and prove that women can do it as well. Even with her degree, she had to fight to work in her field: because she was a woman, few companies in Cameroon wanted to hire her.
Eventually, her reason for entering the profession evolved into a passion for it. But, it did not translate into gainful employment when she moved to Montreal to be with her husband. At most job interviews, she was asked if she had Canadian experience and where she earned her degree. She was thanked for attending and told she would hear from them soon. But she never did.
As a result, she returned to school in Montreal and earned a college certificate in instrumentation and automation, which bridged her to her first Canadian job in her field. Even there, she was the only woman in the class. However, she felt more accepted than she did in Cameroon.
She confronted yet another hurdle when she and her family relocated to Edmonton three years ago. She discovered that Alberta employers were less willing to recognize her out-of-province experience. After looking for work and not succeeding, she began researching the profession in Alberta. A relative mentioned ASET and, before long, she had connected with them and begun the certification process. Once she achieved her certified engineering technologist (CET) designation, she found it easier to land a career-related job.
“ASET was very helpful to me. The CET beside my name helped build trust with recruiters and companies, and created a pathway for me into the profession in Alberta,” said Mekodom.
She has also participated in ASET’s series of women in technology teleforums designed to empower women engineering technology professionals. The teleforums feature speakers who provide guidance to women in navigating the workplace. Topics include dealing with sexual harassment, women and negotiating, and advancement and promotion.
ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh says that the women in technology teleforums are part of a larger initiative launched four years ago when the issues impeding the progress of women in the engineering technology profession emerged as a problem ASET clearly needed to address.
“We investigated what we could do to make the profession a friendlier place for women, and to make engineering technology a viable career for women,” said Cavanaugh. “When one sees only men working in a given field, it tends to influence one’s thinking. We are hoping to change that.”
Currently, 12 per cent of ASET’s membership is female, the highest percentage of any of its provincial counterparts. Cavanaugh adds that at some of Alberta’s polytechnics - the training ground for engineering technology - female enrolment is around 20 per cent.
“Some female polytechnic graduates may be opting out of engineering technology careers due to workplace challenges, and using their education in another way. That’s a sad loss for the profession,” said Cavanaugh. “We hope that, through the teleforums, we are offering good advice. We are also actively trying to raise consciousness among men in this profession that we regulate to help mitigate workplaces that are intentionally or unintentionally hostile to women.”
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 18,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and some 124 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET