Editor’s Note: Adam Laughlin is the City of Edmonton’s Deputy City Manager of Integrated Infrastructure Services, the department that builds things—roads, parks, pools, rec centres, the Walterdale Bridge and so on. Here, he builds on the meaning of International Women’s Day, marked and celebrated in Edmonton and around the world on Friday, March 8.
** Join us for an International Women’s Day celebration at City Hall on Friday, March 8, from 10 – 11:30am**
I am an engineer—a profession dominated by men. To my parents, I am one of four sons. To a great son I am a father. I navigate the world as a man. I continue to be surrounded both personally and professionally by a number of brilliant, strong, compassionate women. I’m fortunate to have as one of my heroes the world’s best mother. I have an amazing wife who is a true partner.
None of these things have prepared me for being a father to daughters.
Watching our daughters, now aged 10 and 15, grow into young adults and seeing how they interact in society continues to be very nerve-racking, very humbling and very rewarding. From my perspective, those young women are faced with many things not previously on my radar, and things that I did not have had to contend with.
Ongoing stereotypes around girls and women in science-based professions
February 11 is the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science, a day that does not exist for men and boys. Only 30 per cent of female students choose to study science, technology, engineering or mathematics. (Thankfully, this is not deterring our elder daughter from following in her grandmother’s and grandfather’s footsteps by considering a career in medicine. One of my nieces has also chosen this career path.)
Seeing my daughters in T-shirts that articulate the desire for “Girl Power” always makes me happy!
Bullying and the need to look “perfect”
Advertising and media perpetuate the need for females to have so-called perfect bodies and the right clothes and makeup. The Canadian Women’s Health Network says “as girls grow older they experience a steady decline in their confidence that is not seen in their male counterparts. In 2002, 4.7% of Grade-6 girls reported not feeling confident compared to 17.5% of Grade 10 girls.” (At our house, we try to encourage individuality, but that can be difficult. Seeing my daughters in T-shirts that articulate the desire for “Girl Power” always makes me happy!
A higher occurrence of anxiety and depression
The Canadian Mental Health Association states that approximately five per cent of male youth and 12 per cent of female youth, aged 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode. (I see this contrast in my children. My son is extremely laid back and didn’t seem affected by the drama at school, but, at times, I see the anxiety my daughters’ experiences when they are describing their day at school.)
So, there is work to be done.
The Integrated Infrastructure Services Diversity & Inclusion Committee, whose work plan includes gender equality, has accomplished a considerable amount. They have:
- sponsored the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology conference on behalf of the City (June 2018), with 10 IIS female staff attending,
- hosted an International Women’s Day gender parity workshop (March 2018) where 90 staff focused on how to create a successful, gender diverse team,
- delivered Implicit Bias Awareness Training for 30 department staff, with a wider reach planned for this year,
- hosted a Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) summer student in 2018, with another student to be welcomed in 2019,
- provided a speed mentoring event for female mentees in September 2018, with another planned for later this year.
As well, we continue to ensure female staff members attend job fairs to make clearer the possibility of science, technology, engineering and-mathematics-related careers at the City of Edmonton.
And, we have implemented gender diversity best practices in recruiting for a director in one of our branches. This included applying gender decoding to the job posting, considering sourcing/posting locations so as to reach a more inclusive audience, reviewing the candidates through a diversity lens and using diverse recruitment panels. We will be looking for opportunities to further adopt these practices across the department.
We attended and are hosting an International Women’s Day event this year, asking the questions What does “Balance for Better” mean to you?, and What can we do to achieve “Balance for Better?”
To me, that means equality for everyone and I hope for that for my daughters and society in general.
Happy International Women’s Day to everyone who identifies as female, and those who support them.