This week for our EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) campaign, we put a spotlight on Q-WASE (Queen’s Women in Applied Science and Engineering), a new conference that aims to explore and challenge gender disparity in engineering. Thank you so much to Kathy Sheng- the marketing and events coordinator of Q-WASE for the insightful interview!
Scroll down to read the full interview and learn more about Q-WASE!
What is the story behind Q-WASE at Queen’s?
I can’t speak for Del and Gab, the ones who started Q-WASE, but I can answer this from a marketing and an events coordinator perspective. This is our first year of Q-WASE and it is the faculty’s first and only non-technical conference. What we aim to do is look at the gender disparity in engineering which is obviously present in our educational institutions and in the workplace once we graduate. We want to have a place to discuss this and look at it through an intersectional lens. We just hope we can empower women in engineering and inspire Queen’s students to challenge the status quo and learn of constructive ways we can solve this problem by not staying stagnant with this gender inequality that we have right now.
What will Q-WASE look like?
Everything is up in the air because of COVID-19- obviously. For now, it seems like we can have our conference in person. I’m not certain about what the setup is going to be like. It’s definitely going to be socially distant, which will be interesting. I’m sure that our logistics coordinators have some creative things planned to navigate that situation. It is going to be in second semester so it will hopefully be in person. If it ends up needing to be virtual, I think it would still be super cool. A) it would allow for cheaper ticket prices and B) we could have a bunch of cool speakers- maybe even more, and it’d be more of a zoom session type of thing.
How did you get into it and what made u want to fight for this cause?
Diversity in engineering and at Queen’s has always been really important to me. When I was choosing universities, it was definitely a major factor I considered. Right now, I’m on internship and it’s definitely something that I try to be a part of in my company. We have women in engineering groups and women in STEM groups that I try to join. My team at work is also a group of great female engineers, which has changed my internship experience so far for the better. In general, I’ve always seen the importance in advocating for diversity and gender inclusivity- everyone should be able to feel welcome in their workplace and community.
What is one thing you want people to know about QWASE?
Lately I’ve been listening to a bunch of podcasts and reading books- because of quarantine. I’ve been reading a lot from inspirational women and one thing I’ve noticed is that throughout their journey to success, they’ve owed it a lot to the support systems they’ve had and the people that they’ve had in their lives. They couldn’t have gotten to where they were by doing everything on their own.
So, for Q-WASE I want people to know that if they are looking for support, looking for a mentor, if they want to find career support, or just in general, I think Q-WASE is a great positive space for people to talk about how they can push past gender inequality in the industry and, how they can be successful, and resilient, and strong despite anything that might be in their way. I think that if anyone sees that there is a need for change, Q-WASE is a great place to meet others who are also willing to take action and make the change.
In what ways do clubs like yours help Queen’s engineers?
Obviously, there is an issue with inclusion, with diversity, and equity hence this whole campaign-which is amazing. I think conferences, clubs, and events like ours just help empower students and helps bring the issues that are at hand, forward. Hopefully it motivates other students to take action and perpetuates more of these initiatives which will end up bringing more diversity in Queen’s engineering. I think it also helps students realize that there is a huge support system there for them, if they need it. I think when you bring people together it allows for bigger change to happen.
What does Q-WASE mean to you?
I think women in engineering (or any field) are resilient and adaptable. I think they can be assertive and play on the exact same field as their male counterparts. Q-WASE is a great place for females to support and inspire one another and also for them to hear from industry leaders and people who have really been able to make a name for themselves in the field and find success, despite any roadblocks they might have faced along the way. I think that these are always good things to hear when you are a university student and kind of unsure of everything. So for me, Q-WASE is a reminder of all the incredible things that women in eng can accomplish.
What would be the goal of your initiatives at the end of the year?
For me, personally, as marketing and events: my major goal is to get our name out there and create some buzz about our event because the conference has never existed before. I hope students will get to understand and resonate with our message see it as something they want to take part in. This (gender disparity in engineering) is evidently an issue, and as the future members of the industry, this is definitely a thing we want to create some change in.
What is one misconception about your initiative?
I think the major misconception is that this is only a female only event which it obviously isn’t. In order for actual change to be made I think that everybody needs to be in support of this. No matter your background or gender identity, we hope for you to join us at our conference. I would like to see a more diverse group attending Q-WASE, so even if you aren’t a woman in eng, you can show up to learn how to be a better ally and an advocate for diversity in the industry. Q-WASE is open to absolutely everyone and we hope anyone feels welcome to come.
What change would you like to see and how can other students help?
In general, I think that Queen’s students are pretty good at taking action and creating their own initiatives for problems that they see. But I still think a lot of people see an issue and stay stagnant. It’s important not be silent or just accept the status quo. If students see an issue, they could seek others who also see it and hopefully join together to create even a small step to change. I think there is definitely a lot of opportunity for new clubs, conferences, initiatives to be created and there is a lot of smart and creative people at Queen’s. I hope students feel empowered to take action, if they have an idea no matter how big or small- it is capable of making a huge change.
What would you like to see the Engineering Faculty of Queen’s do to help?
I think there is a lot that the faculty can do right now, to be more supportive of equality, diversity, and inclusion in engineering. An example would be to talk to faculty members and professors and see which professors are willing to start some kind of diversity initiative and be a bit more vocal on offering their support to students. Something that I hear from my peers and friends who are women in the faculty is how they struggle to feel supported by some of their professors. Of course, I also hear the opposite, and have had professors myself who have become role models to me. Another thing would be the admissions process. I think there could be a greater focus on gender equality there. For example; when students come and tour the ILC we could get students to volunteer and give a talk on their experiences with diversity and inclusion in the faculty. There should be more information about support systems available for underrepresented students and make it an easier transition for these perspective students.
How can EngSoc help?
I think Engsoc is doing some great things, especially with this campaign. I’m looking at things through a marketing lens, but I think Engsoc can really help with spreading the word about the student initiatives going on right now. Providing the opportunity to have student groups get their name out there and helping out folks who are trying to make a change but don’t know how to get traction. I think EngSoc could reach out and provide support to these people and be like “Hey, we will help you get your name out there”, especially for smaller initiatives that are just starting out. Since Engsoc is such an established and well-known group, they have the power to bring smaller groups together who have similar goals and allow them to have a wider reach across the faculty.