“Navigating the glass obstacle course”

If you work in science, technology, engineering or math, chances are you’ve heard the “leaky pipeline” metaphor at one time or another. The “pipeline” metaphor is often used to illustrate the representation of women at different stages of their STEM education and careers.

Over the last 10 years, data pertaining to the pipeline metaphor has shown some positive gains as the number of women graduating from engineering programs in Ontario has increased. However, data from the Mercer OSPE National Engineering Compensation Survey reveals that the representation of women in senior levels of engineering responsibility remains at unacceptably low levels.


This table compares findings from the 2011 OSPE Employer Compensation Survey and 2016 Mercer OSPE National Engineering Compensation Survey.

The fact that there continues to be so few female engineers at the top of the corporate ladder or in senior academic posts has prompted many to conclude there are so-called “leaks” in the pipeline. While the pipeline metaphor is a helpful model to illustrate the statistics surrounding the number of women in STEM, it does not capture what is happening within the so-called pipeline to cause said “leaks”.

“The glass obstacle course”

ObstacleIn their 2011 article in the International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, American researchers Kris De Welde and Sandra L. Laursen proposed the “glass obstacle course” metaphor to replace the leaky pipeline. This new metaphor emphasizes the drivers of attrition – the set of individual women’s experiences that collectively account for the statistical decline of women in STEM.

The authors identify four obstacles that they describe as glass – exclusion from the ‘old boys club,’ outright sexism, a lack of women role models, and difficult work-life choices. Because they were implicit, unseen, subtle, and unanticipated, the women in De Welde and Laursen’s study did not see these obstacles as barriers until they experienced them or reflected upon them much later. Below are quotes from two participants in their study.



Want to learn more and share your own thoughts and experiences?

OSPE’s Women in Engineering Advocacy Committee’s (WEAC) annual Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Fall Forum is the focal point of OSPE’s advocacy efforts related to women in engineering.

Join us on Saturday, October 28th at The Forth for the 15th annual Fall Forum, entitled Navigating the Glass Obstacle Course.

This year’s conference explores the glass barriers that affect the careers of women in engineering, as well as how post-secondary institutions, companies, and government are working to remove these obstacles to support gender equity in the engineering profession.

The 15th Annual Claudette Mackay-Lassonde Fall Forum would not be possible without the participation of our honoured speakers.

Greetings from the Government of Ontario: The Honourable Indira Naidoo-Harris (Halton), Minister of Status of Women Canada
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Who should attend?

Whether you are a young woman at the early stages of your engineering career or a seasoned professional, this event will provide you with an opportunity to hear from thought leaders, gain practical career advice, and network with others. Men are also encouraged to register and share in this mutual learning experience.

Why should you register?
  • Learn about the importance of gender equity and diversity in the engineering profession
  • Discover how post-secondary institutions and engineering companies are supporting women
  • Examine the gender wage gap in Ontario and the engineering profession
  • Gather strategies you can employ to maneuver around unexpected “walls” or obstacles
  • and much more!

Guests will enjoy a light breakfast and lunch. To register, view the day’s agenda, and to learn about our distinguished speakers, please click here.


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  1. October 17, 2017
    • October 19, 2017

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