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Remembering the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre

A message from President Nick Colucci, P.Eng., FEC


On December 6, 1989, a gunman entered Montreal’s École Polytechnique and opened fire on women in an engineering classroom, killing six and injuring three. He continued to roam the school, targeting female students and ultimately claiming 14 victims—12 engineering students, one nursing student and one employee.

Today, 33 years later, we pause to reflect on this tragic crime and remember the murdered women:

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

These lives were snuffed out by a misogynist who couldn’t bear to see women studying engineering – a profession that, in his hate-filled mind, should be reserved only for men.

While PEO and the Canadian engineering profession will always mark this day with sadness and reflection, I am heartened by the gains we have made over the past three decades in welcoming and acting to remove barriers to women engineering students and engineers.

Engineers Canada’s 30 by 30 initiative has set the benchmark for progress by women in the profession with its goal of having women represent 30 per cent of newly licensed engineers across the country by 2030. Although we’re not there yet, we’re moving closer: In 2020 and 2021, for the first time, the number of newly licensed women engineers exceeded 20 per cent in Ontario. And some jurisdictions have already reached the 30 per cent threshold—notably the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Newfoundland & Labrador.

However, more work is needed to achieve this goal. During PEO’s recent annual 30 by 30 check-in in September, we received an update on our ongoing study exploring potential unconscious gender biases in PEO’s licensing process and internal operations. After examining more than 100,000 PEO licence applications, the study found that although women are as successful as men in the academic and National Professional Practice Exam licence components, they are less likely to complete the experience requirements. With the experience component a potential bottleneck for women applicants, the study leads indicated that they may need to interview PEO applicants in depth to further understand the differences between the genders.

As Ontario’s engineering regulator, it’s important that PEO plays a role in 30 by 30 in terms of licensure and ensuring the engineering profession reflects the Ontario public it serves.  And with the experience requirement a potential bottleneck for women applicants, it is important for engineering employers to do their part by assisting engineering graduates in meeting experience requirements. Achieving the 30 per cent goal requires leadership from employers to drive the cultural change needed to address the gender gap in their organizations and adopt solutions to recruit, provide the necessary experience and facilitate women engineering graduates’ pathway to licensure. Here’s what engineering employers can do:

For recruitment: Aim for 30 percent of new hires to be women, including both Canadian and internationally educated graduates.

For Professional Development: Develop in-house engineering development programs that facilitates new recruits’, especially women’s, pathway to licensure; establish mentorship programs to cultivate a welcoming environment; and be mindful in selecting women engineers for assignments that will develop both their engineering and leadership skills and position them for licensure and advancement.

For Retention: Showcase women engineers as role models in engineering and in leadership positions; and demonstrate possible career paths.

And be prepared and fluent in responding to backlash or debunking myths (e.g. a candidate only got the job because they are a woman).

PEO also provides support for this initiative. You can reach out to PEO for more details and even specialized support.

Making the profession a better, more inclusive place for women engineers to succeed  and contribute their expertise and perspectives is the best way to honour the memory of the Ecole Polytechnique victims.