#WEACForum: A smashing success!

The ForthOver 160 guests gathered at The Forth in the city’s east end, on Saturday, October 28th for the 15th Annual Claudette-MacKay Lassonde Fall #WEACForum.

Organized by OSPE’s Women in Engineering Advocacy Committee (WEAC), the #WEACForum is the focal point for OSPE’s advocacy efforts related to women in engineering.




Entitled “Navigating the Glass Obstacle Course,” the full-day conference focused on the glass barriers – or the implicit, unseen, subtle, and unanticipated challenges – many women experience throughout their engineering careers, as well as the initiatives various stakeholders have developed to support the retention of women in engineering, and strategies women can employ to overcome these challenges.

Guests spread the word about the Fall Forum, as well as their key learnings and observations, by using #WEACForum. “To each of our attendees, thank you for your engagement, participation, and enthusiasm. I hope you will share what you’ve learned here with colleagues to help us shatter the glass barriers many women continue to experience.” – Shelly Deitner, P.Eng., WEAC Chair, OSPE Board of Directors
Sandro Perruzza, OSPE’s CEO, and Jonathan Hack, P.Eng., MBA, OSPE President and Chair, joined forces to welcome guests, sponsors, and speakers. “At OSPE we work toward the creation of a more progressive, equitable, and diverse engineering profession. We do this by encouraging more women not only study engineering, consider engineering as a career and pursue licensure, but also to take on leadership roles... OSPE is committed as an organization to moving this critical conversation forward. We have set the table, and by joining us today, you have a seat. You are saying that this is a conversation of importance. One that YOU want to be a part of. Thank you for that.” – Sandro Perruzza
As one of our Platinum Sponsors, OSPE was delighted to welcome Amee Sandhu, Head of Compliance Operations at SNC-Lavalin, to the podium. Amee introduced Ontario’s Minister of the Status of Women, the Honorable Indira Naidoo-Harris, who delivered an engaging keynote address.
“Why should we promote gender equity in engineering or in any other sector? Let’s start with the facts, shall we. It’s because countless studies show workplaces are more productive and more innovative when we have gender diversity…Gender diversity is good for the economy, it’s good for our workforce, it’s good for our bottom lines and frankly, it’s good for our communities... One of the latest studies shows that if we tackle the gap in gender parity in Canada, it could add $150B to our economy in the next ten years. That’s a very big number. That’s a number that cannot be ignored… We have to show women and girls how their various and diverse voices really fit into creating an innovative future. Because you all know that real innovation, that real creativity, doesn’t happen every day with the same people, and the same voices at the table. It’s when we get different people in, with different voices and different ideas that we actually create that amazing environment that pushes people beyond their limits and lets them think about things beyond their backyard and beyond their own experiences.”
As Chair of WEAC, Shelly Deitner, P.Eng. emceed the conference and welcomed each of our morning speakers.

Valerie Davidson

Dr. Valerie Davidson, P.Eng., University Professor Emerita, School of Engineering, University of Guelph set the landscape for the conference.

Dr. Davidson provided an update on OSPE’s new “Breaking Barriers” project, funded by Status of Women Canada. The project will address the systemic barriers facing women in STEM and develop technology-driven learning tools and resources to support and retain women in STEM fields. To learn more, visit letsbreakbarriers.ca and take our survey!

Engineers Canada’s Jeannette Southwood, FCAE, FEC, LL.D. (h.c.), P.Eng., IntPE, Vice-President of Strategy and Partnerships, and Julia Chehaiber, Practice Lead, Community Engagement took to the podium to share current statistics and next steps for the 30 by 30 initiative before providing a brief history of this pan-Canadian campaign. According to research done by Harvard academic R.M. Kanter 40 years ago, 30% is widely accepted as the threshold for self-sustaining change. “OSPE is proud to be an Ontario Champion for Engineers Canada’s 30 by 30 campaign. We look forward to continuing to work with you and the other partners across Canada to increase the percentage of newly licensed engineers who are women.” – Shelly Deitner, P.Eng., WEAC Chair, OSPE Board of Directors
Recognizing the role employers and companies play in supporting and retaining women in the engineering profession, our first panel focused on “Corporate Best Practices.”

Left to right: Vivian Yoanidis, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Hydro One; Amee Sandhu, Head, Compliance Operations, SNC-Lavalin; Erin McConahey, Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Arup North America and Principal, Mechanical Engineering; and Tom Murad, PhD, P.Eng., FEC, SM.IEEE, Head of Siemens Canada Engineering and Technology Academy Siemens Canada Limited (SCETA).

Emanuela Heyninck

Emanuela Heyninck, Ontario’s Pay Equity Commissioner, joined us to provide an overview of the gender wage gap in Ontario and to share insights from her work on the Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee.

The gender wage gap equates to $18 billion in foregone income per year for all working women in Ontario, or about 2.5% of Ontario’s annual Gross Domestic Product.

In 2016, WEAC contributed feedback to the province’s Steering Committee, with the goal of helping close the wage gap for women in engineering and moving towards women’s full economic empowerment.

To round out the discussion on compensation, Eleana Rodriguez, MBA, Principal and Business Development Leader at Mercer’s North American Career Products, presented on the gender wage gap in engineering. Eleana shared compensation data from Mercer by engineering responsibility level, and some insight as to why women leave the profession. She highlighted proactive steps employers can take to promote equality in the workplace.
Mina Dezz, EIT delivered a fun, dynamic, and thought-provoking presentation during lunch. With a degree in civil engineering from the University of Toronto, Mina currently works in residential construction and is the Founder of the popular Instagram account, @ironringgirls. “We feature girls in engineering from all around the world that are doing amazing work every single day and, at the same time, are living fun and adventurous, happy lives… We shine light on those uncomfortable topics that are hard to talk about… We let girls know that they don’t have to know everything when they start work… We encourage each other…” – Mina Dezz, EIT
Réjeanne Aimey, P.Eng., OSPE Board of Directors, moderated the second panel, which focused on negative workplace cultures and experiences that can hinder women in engineering. “You need to take risks and not let modesty hold you back. Try to find out what problem your company is trying to solve, and be seen as the one trying to solve the problem.” – Mélinda Nycholat, P.Eng.

Left to right: Dr. Tracey Adams, Professor and Chair of Sociology, University of Western Ontario; MP Mark Gerretsen (Kingston and the Islands); Julia Serink, P.Eng., Principal, GHD; Tanya van Biesen, Executive Director, Catalyst Canada; and Mélinda Nycholat, P.Eng., Vice-President, Operations —Procurement, Defense Construction Canada (DCC).

Four accomplished academic leaders discussed the unique ways their post-secondary institutions recruit and support women students and their female faculty.

Left to right: Dr. Cristina Amon, P.Eng., Dean, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, University of Toronto; Dr. Thomas Duever, P.Eng., FCIC, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science (FEAS), Ryerson University; Marisa Sterling, P.Eng., FEC, Assistant Dean, Inclusivity and Diversity, Lassonde School of Engineering; Dr. Mary Wells, P.Eng., Incoming Dean, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Guelph; and Annette Bergeron, P.Eng., MBA, FEC, President-Elect, Engineers Canada.

Kathy Lerette, CET, Senior Vice President of Business Transformation at Alectra Utilities, moderated the fourth panel. Guest speakers from the accounting, legal, and architectural fields enriched the discussion by sharing what steps other professions have taken to support and retain women.

Left to right: Karen McCardle, CPA, CA, Director, Professional Issues and Research Support Services, Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada; Barbara Murchie, Partner, Bennett Jones and Bencher, Law Society of Upper Canada; and Persis Lam, Architect, Diamond Schmitt Architects, and Executive Committee Member, Building Equality in Architecture Toronto (BEAT).

As one of the three champions leading OSPE’s ‘Breaking Barriers’ project alongside Valerie Davidson and Annette Bergeron, Kathy Lerette shared information about this important initiative and encouraged participants to take the online survey. Thank you to all our moderators for their leadership and contributions to the success of this conference!


Our friends at Venngo engaged OSPE members throughout the day and shared their MemberPerks program.

By signing up for their mobile app members can take their discounts with them, wherever they are!

Last but certainly not least, the conference would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors. Thank you for making this sold-out event a tremendous success. We hope to see you all back next year for the 16th annual WEAC Fall Forum!

Platinum: SNC-Lavalin, ARUP, and GHD
Gold: University of Toronto Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering
Silver: CPA Canada, McEwen Mining Inc., UOIT, and Venngo Inc.
Corporate Table Sponsor: Diamond Schmitt Architects, Siemens Canada, Seneca College, and the University of Guelph School of Engineering

To view more highlights and photos from this year’s #WEACForum, check out our Facebook album.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *