Bringing more voices to the table

The 2018 CCWESTT conference helped hundreds of women join the conversation about diversity and inclusivity in science, engineering, trades, and technology.

3 June 2018

(Edmonton) On May 31 to June 2, Edmonton hosted the 37th biennial Canadian of Coalition of Women in Engineering, Science, Trades, and Technology (CCWESTT) conference at the Sutton Place Hotel. This national event brought together over 475 energized attendees from across the country to discuss and act on issues of diversity in science, engineering, trades, and technology (SETT).

CCWESTT is a volunteer-run non-profit, formed in 1987 to address the significant underrepresentation of women in the SETT workforce. Its national conference and participation in regional events across the country have established them as a leader in advocating for diversity and inclusivity in SETT.

The 2018 conference theme - "Learn. Grow. Act." - was designed to appeal to a wide variety of audiences and offered women a multitude of professional development workshops and conference sessions to choose from. The program also included a policy forum, patterned after the 2012 forum in Halifax, N.S., where delegates examined how academic and industry policy could support diversity and inclusivity.

Lianne Lefsrud, an assistant Professor in the University of Alberta's Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering and co-chair of the CCWESTT 2018 Conference, said the goal was to support action-orientated learning.

"We're pragmatists," she said. "We want to do more than just talk about issues of diversity in the SETT workforce - we want to get stuff done."

Lefsrud is no stranger to the ongoing discussions about diversity and inclusion in SETT. While working on her undergraduate degree in civil and environmental engineering, she met Margaret Ann Armour, an award-winning champion for the inclusion of women in science and engineering, and got involved with WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, and Technology). As Lefsrud moved forward in her career she joined WinSETT (Women in Science, Engineering, Trades, and Technology) as a volunteer board member and has been helping them support the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in SETT for over 10 years.

"I've been doing diversity work since the '90s," Lefsrud said. "And in terms of getting more women into SETT fields, it surprises me how little we've moved the dial. It's only when we really prioritize, create measures, and apply resources and strategies that we start to see the dial move. Organizations like CCWESTT and WinSETT are helping to do this - they provide workshops and events that add more voices to the conversations about inclusivity, diversity, and intersectionality in SETT fields."

Delegates to this year's conference probably noticed the jammed-packed agenda, but this wasn't a planning oversight. Lefsrud said the committee purposely planned an inclusive event where they had space for as many voices as possible.

"I think our greatest success this year was the number of engaging and diverse presentations we had," she said. "We also had huge industry support and about 20 per cent of our delegates were men."

The planning committee was also pleased to welcome nearly 70 urban Indigenous girls to the conference and to have the University of Alberta's DiscoverE outreach program on site to engage over 50 grade school children in hands-on activities.

The Policy Forum Report and conference proceedings will be shared via the CCWESTT website and the next national conference is set for 2020 in Winnipeg, MB.