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Forum addresses inclusivity and diversity in engineering

Panelists hope equity at university will carry over into industry

On October 6, the Engineering Undergraduate Society (EUS) Equity Committee held its second annual Forum on Diversity and Inclusivity in Engineering. The event aimed to build on the momentum created following a conversation on equity in engineering started last year.

The keynote speaker was Brie Code who, until recently, was the lead programmer at Ubisoft Montreal. Code worked on the Assassin’s Creed video game series as well as Child of Light, and was a founding member of the UbiDiversity team.

Code spoke primarily about the plight of women in the gaming industry, who face essentialization and biased hiring practices, such as how an interviewer “may just be looking to hire someone that reminds them of themselves.” Women experience pressure to assimilate in an industry dominated by men that is often hostile to those who do not fit the “geek identity,” she said.

“If you work in an industry where you’re not part of the dominant group, you won’t always fit in,” she cautioned. “I won’t sugarcoat it, it’s not always easy.”

She further commented on the links between diversity and a company’s corporate performance, and her efforts through UbiDiversity to reconceptualize diversity. “It’s not a hassle, it’s an advantage,” she said.

“I think we have to acknowledge that, as students, we can only do so much. We leave after four years. The faculty is here for a long time.”

“There’s a strong link between diversity and innovation, but just in general, diverse teams perform better, especially on complex tasks,” she noted.

The panel which followed included Code as well as Adeola Odusanya, the president of the McGill chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE); Tynan Jarrett, Equity Educational Advisor (LGBTTQ) for the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office; and Susan Gaskin, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering.

The panelists discussed how to make marginalized groups feel more included in McGill’s Engineering faculty, where the most visible demographic is still white men. The EUS Equity Committee, along with other student initiatives like Promoting Opportunities for Women in Engineering (POWE), Queer Engineer, and NSBE, have been working to make the faculty more inclusive and diverse.

“Equity is becoming much more embedded at every level at McGill,” said Jarrett.

While some panelists expressed hope that the equity work being done at McGill would carry into the industry as students graduate and begin working, others cautioned eager new graduates about the challenges they would face in large corporate environments.

“Sometimes you have to put your head down to get to where you want to be, but once you’re there, you need to pull people up with you,” said Code. “Find allies, be careful; but if the company is making you uncomfortable, there are systemic problems. Coming in from the outside, you’re not going to fix them.”

One participant expressed frustration with Code seemingly encouraging women to passively accept some discrimination as an unavoidable part of the corporate environment. “As an impatient young person who is going to start working, I feel like I always have to wait to pick my battles because I’m not in a position of power,” commented the participant.

While the conversation primarily addressed issues of sexism and, to a lesser extent, racism, issues regarding cissexism, heteronormativity, and ableism were absent from the conversation.

As student initiatives spearhead work to increase diversity in engineering, some students expressed a desire for the administration to pay more attention to the issue.

EUS Equity Commissioner Emilie Froeliger noted, “Recently, the whole push for diversity has come from students.”

“That kind of woke up the faculty. […] We’ve seen that they’ve taken a stand recently and they’ve actually been proactive about wanting to [enact] change in the faculty. I think we have to acknowledge that, as students, we can only do so much. We leave after four years. The faculty is here for a long time,” Froeliger added.

Dean of Engineering Jim Nicell told The Daily that the Faculty of Engineering’s work on diversity is concentrated on making the admissions process more attractive and accessible to diverse students.

“The real issue with undergraduates is, is there a way of lowering the barriers […] to a more diverse group of people actually applying to our school?” said Nicell. “We want to cast the net wide to make sure that all know that they’re fully welcome and supported while they’re here.”