Underemployment, underrepresentation, and pay gaps continue to be challenges, but Black Engineers of Canada (BEC) is striving to create a sense of community and new opportunities to raise visibility for Black students and professionals in the sector.
“We are marking this year’s Black History Month with continuing rollout of our 2020 promising initiatives that will position members of Black Engineers of Canada for excellence in the engineering profession, and for them to build up companies that will grow the Canadian economy,” says Iretomiwa Olukiyesi, BEC’s founding director of programs and initiatives, in a statement.
In 2021, the organization’s first full year after its formation in spring 2020, BEC’s programs matched 25 mentors to 75 mentees, helped 20 members secure jobs in engineering, and led four master class series events for skills upgrades.
While BEC has established a strong LinkedIn platform, where Black engineering talent can be easily found, it is also working to launch a new website.
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Just last week, BEC held a virtual meeting hosted and coordinated by Engineers Canada. The event examined engineering licensing, practice and diversity in Canada, featuring panelists from the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta, Engineers Nova Scotia, Engineers Yukon, and Professional Engineers Ontario.
The Black population now accounts for 3.5% of Canada’s total population and 15.6% of the population defined as a visible minority, according to Statistics Canada. In 2016, 71,365 Black Canadians age 25-years and older had a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
In the U.S. in 2018, just 4.6% of engineering degrees were earned by Black students compared with 11.4% by Hispanic students and 61.5% by white students, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Other challenges facing Black engineers and graduates, according to BEC, include hiring bias and hostile work environments; a lack of opportunities for professional growth and a higher likelihood to hit a glass ceiling; a lack of patronage in the competitive consulting sector; and, for internationally trained engineers, a limited ability to obtain an engineering licence due to a lack of Canadian work experience or not working under a licensed professional.
“There are a lot of Black engineers in Canada today that are either not employed or are underemployed despite their degree in engineering and are therefore not able to be role models or champions. This will have to change,” says Olukiyesi.
Last summer, six Ontario universities partnered to create a new fellowship program to expand pathways for Indigenous and Black students pursuing engineering PhDs. Dubbed the Indigenous and Black Engineering and Technology Project, it saw each university commit to funding a minimum of one Momentum Fellowship of $30,000 per year for five years.
Olukiyesi and Ayo Abiola founded BEC alongside three other founding directors: Réjeanne Aimey, Lindsay Lashley, and Jerome James. The founding of the organization came on the heels of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, which sparked worldwide protests and a reckoning on anti-Black racism and police violence.