The Gender Wage Gap in Engineering in Canada

From UBC Wiki

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields have always been more saturated with men. This discrepancy is one reason why it is much harder for women to diminish the wage gap.

The Canadian Gender Wage Gap in engineering and STEM fields in general is a problem that can not be ignored. WIthout the attention that this national issue requires, the gender pay gap in engineering will continue to exist.

Acknowledging that the gender wage gap in Canada is a persistent issue is crucial. This is proven by the fact that females earn on average $7,600 less than their male counterparts after completing their bachelor's degree[1]. In addition, it’s been estimated that over a woman’s lifetime, she can face up to a $500,000 pay gap compared to her male colleague who has the same level of education[1].

Post-secondary education:

Post-secondary education is one place where the ideology of the gender wage gap is reinforced. Historically in STEM related fields, there is a large discrepancy between male and female students. For example, in 2017, less than 25% of UBC’s engineering students were female[2]. Shockingly, this is an improvement when compared to previous years such as 2008 where only 19.6% of engineering students at UBC were female[2]. These statistics, while there are many factors, are centralized around the theory of the “leaky pipeline”.

The “Leaky Pipeline”

The “leaky pipeline” theory is one that was created to explain why females left science related fields of study. The leaky pipeline metaphor depicts how students in STEM fields leave their respective areas of study for a number of factors. For example, students may choose to drop out of engineering courses because they are not interested in that field, they can’t maintain grades that are competitive enough, or they find another job that is outside of their original intended area of study.

The leaky pipeline theory becomes significant when it’s pointed out that women have a much higher exit rate than men in STEM fields in general[3]. Historically and to this day, STEM fields such as engineering have been much more saturated with men. This makes it much harder for females to excel in this environment. The competitive nature of engineering courses has been found to deter many females away from remaining in STEM[4]. In addition, it’s been noted that post-secondary institutions that subconsciously create this type of environment do not expend as much resources towards targeted female recruiting.

Another factor of the leaky pipeline that affects females are the social pressures that a female student may face. Being in such a male dominated area of study, interaction between classmates can be harder for females[3]. This is the same reason why females are often given less promotion opportunities in male-dominated sectors. This lack of social interaction with classmates leads to a much more challenging environment for female students to thrive in which ultimately contributes to females “leaking out of the pipeline”.

Social Constructs

Social constructs, both modern and historical, are another reason why the pay discrepancy between females and males in engineering careers is so apparent. With the usage of stereotypes, females in engineering fields face challenges that men often do not face in the workplace. Females make up a small majority of STEM workers in Canada with engineering being one of the most disproportionate fields[5]. Only 23% of those that graduated from an engineering program were female across Canada[5]. With approximately only one out of four females graduating from engineering programs and even less working in engineering careers, stereotypes play a large factor in the gender wage gap.


Gendered stereotypes have existed in every workplace since females could have jobs. One of the most long-lasting stereotypes is where women are perceived at being more suited for household activities such as childcare than men. This is because of historical social standards that were common at one time. Overtime, people assumed since women spent more time in the house, they were better suited to support the family through domestic duties while men were seen as inherently superior in the world of paid labour[6]. This stereotype continues to affect women in their careers today. In engineering, it was found that women were more likely to want to pursue managerial roles than men who focused more on technical roles[7]. It has been hypothesized that this is due to women feeling the need to advance their careers to escape the stereotype of women being less capable than men to lead and hold such a position[7]. Even though women pursue this career path more, males are more likely to receive managerial promotions. This disproportionate ratio where men are given promotion opportunities more than females is ultimately one of the biggest factors of the gender wage gap in engineering.

Motherhood Pay Penalty (What is it)

Social constructs reinforce the ideology that motherhood and a mothers career are not compatible. This leads to the motherhood pay penalty. The motherhood pay penalty is created through a mother not being able to work or go to school. Both of these lead to less work experience or a lower education thus leading to lower pay for women. This is supported by the fact that in recent years, the birth rate for women under 30 has been decreasing while the birth rate for women over 30 is increasing[8]. Women today are realising the negative implications of having a child while studying or while still establishing their careers and feel as though they are forced to wait to have children. This means that women who are 30 to 40 years old with children and no university degree face the worst of the wage penalty[9].

Too often in engineering careers today, women are forced to choose between advancing their careers or taking care of a child. While part-time work may allow for the latter to an extent, promotional opportunities aren't as common.

Proof of gap it causes:

Motherhood has been the root source of discrimination in the workplace for many because of the wrongful assumption that motherhood will directly affect one’s commitment and value to a company[10]. In engineering careers, there are many opportunities of taking part-time work instead of completely leaving their careers for a set amount of time. While this was created to seem helpful for women, it is an illusion and actually creates major setbacks in a mother’s career[11]. During a woman’s early stages in her career, she is most likely to be the mother of a young child. Even if she decides to take part-time work at her job, she will still be missing out on common gender‐related cultural practices in the engineering industry, including language, informal banter, and social networking patterns[11]. This lack of communication within the company often stalls progress in a mother's career meaning that there are less chances for progression in a company for a new mother.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Women & STEM Careers: Joint Economic Committee: Significant Wage Gap Remains." Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal 28.3 (2013): 35. ProQuest. Web. 9 July 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 “Facts and Figures.” Facts and Figures | UBC Applied Science,
  3. 3.0 3.1 Waite, Sean. "Postgraduate Wage Premiums and the Gender Wage Gap in Canada." The Canadian Journal of Higher Education 47.2 (2017): 156-87. ProQuest. Web. 9 July 2020.
  4. Hurlock, Ashley J. Patching the Leaky STEM Pipeline: Identifying Institutional Factors that Influence a STEM Qualified Female Undergraduate's Choice of Institution. Order No. 1558961 Chapman University, 2014 Ann ArborProQuest. 25 July 2020.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Government of Canada, Statistics Canada. “Gender Differences in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science (STEM) Programs at University.” Government of Canada, Statistics Canada, 27 Nov. 2015,
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  9. Kahn, Joan R., Javier García-Manglano, and Suzanne M. Bianchi. "The Motherhood Penalty at Midlife: Long-Term Effects of Children on Women's Careers." Journal of Marriage and Family, vol. 76, no. 1, 2014, pp. 56-72.
  10. Fuller, Sylvia, and C. E. Hirsh. "“Family-Friendly” Jobs and Motherhood Pay Penalties: The Impact of Flexible Work Arrangements Across the Educational Spectrum." Work and Occupations, vol. 46, no. 1, 2018;2019;, pp. 3-44.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Herman, Clem, and Suzan Lewis. "Entitled to a Sustainable Career? Motherhood in Science, Engineering, and Technology." Journal of Social Issues, vol. 68, no. 4, 2012, pp. 767-789.