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SBC 2017 Bursaries: Growing the Role of Women in Sustainability

Last year, SBC launched a bursary program to annually support three post-secondary students in the pursuit of their educational goals. Recipients are selected from recommendations provided by our academic partners and reward exceptional academic performers whose studies prepare them to work in the sustainable building sector.

Congratulations to 2017 SBC Bursary Winners:

  • Christina Ismailos, Bachelor of Applied Science in Civil Engineering (BASc), University of Toronto
  • Hayley Cormick, Masters of Building Science (MBSc.), Ryerson University
  • Sarah Lukaszczyk, BES Joint Honours in Geography and Environmental Management & Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Waterloo

This year, all bursary recipients are female university STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students. SBC Executive Director Mike Singleton commented, “focusing on women in the sector was not a criteria for the bursary, but through the process of reviewing applicants and selecting these outstanding and deserving recipients, our organization’s awareness of the importance and benefits of a diverse team was raised.”

Which begs the question, what are the benefits of gender diversity?

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Does gender matter in business?

If heaps of research conducted by business, finance and academia is to be believed, gender absolutely matters. Increased gender diversity (and overall diversity) has been found to be positively associated with a group’s ability to effectively problem solve, apply creativity and innovation, increase knowledge formation and patents, reduce conflict, and increase the quality of the Board development activities.

Companies with the most women board directors have been found to outperform those with the least measuring return on sales, invested capital, and equity. They achieve higher market-to-book value, 1.7 x the stock price growth, better overall firm performance (especially in innovation-oriented organizations) and lower risk of insolvency. More gender diverse boards are associated with increased corporate social responsibility, and improved corporate reputation.

If you’re hiring talent, take note: A higher proportion of women on boards is also associated with a greater likelihood of women in senior management positions (opportunity), a smaller gender pay gap (equity), and improved corporate sustainability via higher social responsiveness (impact). These are precisely the values that are attracting and retaining the highest performing millennials in today’s workforce.

But … design, engineering, construction and the trades have traditionally been male-dominated sectors, and they continue to be so today.  While women make up about half of the overall labour force, they represent just 13 per cent of practicing licensed engineers, 23 per cent of architects in Ontario, and comprise less than 4 per cent of the construction trades.

Enrolment and graduation rates for these business areas are seeing little growth, or even stagnation, in terms of women’s participation: the proportion of engineering undergraduates who are female has remained at 19-20 per cent for the last five years. Just 2.6% of all apprenticeship completions in thirteen predominant skilled trades were women in 2013.

And after finishing training, there can be a notable decline in professional engagement.  For example, while 54.6% of students currently studying architecture and 46% of intern architects are women, only 33.1% of newly licensed architects in the last 10 years have been women.

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Why turning the numbers around can benefit the sector

In the next 10 years, Buildforce Canada estimates total market expansion requirements for trades occupations in the construction sector will produce 11,400 new jobs, and 250,000 sector workers will disappear as Canada’s baby boomers retire, putting a strain not just in construction but on the overall work force in general. Competition to find, train up and retain talent is fierce.

With women vastly underrepresented in the sector, stagnant rates of engagement, and a strong business case, it’s in the industry’s best interest to support diversity.

How can a sector awash in opportunities capitalize on the untapped potential of more women in the workforce?

We asked 2017 SBC Bursary winners to weigh in. Here are their suggestions:

“Model Your Expectations”

Sarah is an undergraduate student at the University of Waterloo, pursuing a joint honours degree in Geography and Environmental Management & Peace and Conflict Studies, specializing in Climate Change. She is a solutions-oriented individual driven to build incentives, security and social capital through her interdisciplinary background. She’s currently a researcher for the Home Adaptation Assessment Program at the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation.

Family and community support and expectations played a meaningful role in Sarah’s academic development. “There was never a question of whether I’d go to post secondary or find a job. The only question my parents posed was whether I was willing to put in the work into achieving my goals, and continue moving forward when they don’t work out. When I look at my support network, I am surrounded by both strong females and males. My father and grandpa were never opposed to hearing my opinion simply on the premise that I was a female – nor would my mother have allowed them such bias!”

“Promote Role Models”

Christina is a fourth year undergraduate student in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Toronto. Her work in the University’s Building Energy and Indoor Environment Lab contributed to an undergraduate thesis investigating the economic and environmental impacts of evolving building policies in Ontario. Christina previously worked in building science consulting and laboratory research with RDH Building Science Inc. Her additional work includes a focus on reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from high-rise residential buildings.

“Being in a traditionally male field, the impact of female role models has been very important to me”, she reports. “Learning about (NASA software engineering pioneer) Margaret Hamilton and other ground-breaking women like her had a big impact on my decision to study engineering … in part because through her, I saw myself represented and could see a path to my own success. My aspiration would be to see that anyone who has the desire to pursue engineering is encouraged to, and hopefully soon for it not to be exceptional to meet a female engineer, but typical.”

“Provide Mentorship”

As a student in the Masters of Building Science program at Ryerson University, Hayley’s passion and unstoppable drive make her an exemplary student in the sustainable buildings industry. Her background as a Civil Engineer from Queen’s University provides a technical foundation upon which she applies a creative approach to sustainable and holistic building design. Hayley’s experience in large scale construction project management offers a complementary understanding of the practical aspects of project execution and construction.

Mentorship matters. “Looking around engineering and green building conferences today, I see mostly grey haired men in suits. But when I look at an incoming class of building science masters students, I see an even representation of women and men entering the industry. As a civil engineer who is accustomed to a male dominated classroom and workplace, I have hope and confidence in the incoming diverse student group in the sustainability stream.”  Professionals can help realize this vision: take the time to speak with promising students, offer perspectives, make introductions and be available for brief regular discussions when needed.

Leading Women in Sustainable Buildings at SBE16 Green Building Festival

One of the most popular and dynamic panels during last year’s SBE16Toronto Green Building Festival featured four accomplished women on one industry panel addressing A Road Map to Regenerative Buildings: Paula Baker-Laporte, Econest Architecture (Building Biology – 7 Keys to Health and Resilience), Jen Hancock, CHANDOS (Net-Zero in Edmonton: On Time and On Budget With Lean Integrated Project Delivery), Shadi Aghaei, Times Group (Integrated Design Process: Holistic Approach to High Performance Building Design & Construction) and special guest and Olympian Donna Vakalis, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto (Olympic Design & Building for Performance).

Additional Resources

Ontario Network of Women in Engineering (ONWiE) ‘Gender Diversity 101’

Engineers Canada ’30 X 30 – committed to raising the percentage of newly licensed engineers that are women to 30 per cent by the year 2030’

Canadian Association of Women in Construction

Sisters in the Trades

Canadian Centre for Women in Science, Engineering, Trades and Technology (WinSETT Centre) ‘Research & Best Practices’

Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) Women in Architecture Blog

Natalia Ortiz Moreno

Natalia Ortiz, student of Project Management Environmental (PME) program in Seneca Polytechnic, has an Environmental Engineering background completed at Universidad El Bosque in Colombia. She has always been involved in sustainability roles and projects that included Environmental Management Systems implementation, Water Treatment Systems’ design and operation, Hazardous and Conventional Waste management and minimization practices, as well as Ecosystem’s Conservation and Energy
Efficiency programs.

For the PME – Applied Project Management Course, Natalia developed a Green Roof Assessment Tool for Seneca Polytechnic’s Office of Sustainability, with the aim to provide green roof technology recommendations best suited to a particular scenario, taking into consideration multiple aspects of green roofs and buildings; infrastructure, design, materials, environmental factors, and costs, as well as the Toronto Municipal Code – Green Roof bylaw. Natalia also has a scientific journal publication as the main author of the project “Selection and sizing of industrial wastewater treatment units required at the
new maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) aircraft facility owned by Avianca S.A. in Rionegro Antioquia” in the El Bosque University Journal of Technology.

Natalia strongly believes there are several research topics left to be developed, and the importance of
working towards Sustainability from different backgrounds, knowledge, and cultures to build strong, productive, and resilient communities.
With the vision of growing cities and infrastructure along with nature, always preserving and respecting the ecosystems’ attributes and services, Natalia would like to keep researching and acquiring more experience in Sustainability roles.



Emily Smit

Emily is a second-year PhD student in Geography at the University of Toronto, and a co-operator of a small home renovation company, Magnus Home Improvements. Her research seeks to determine how single-family homes can quickly and best be retrofit to achieve Toronto’s emissions reductions targets – including net-zero by 2040 – as part of the TransformTO climate action plan. Specifically, she will assess the impact of municipal home energy reporting and disclosure programs, as well as produce recommendations for growing the retrofit labour force in ways that attend to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Further, her research seeks to understand how home retrofit activities can be regenerative and produce net-positive impacts for humans and the environment towards transformative, place-based sustainability. When not at her computer, Emily can be found cycling with her kids to and from school or making funky sounds on her analog synthesizer.

Bofa Udisi

Bofa is a sustainability professional with over seven years in the energy and environment industry. He has a Bachelor of Science in Energy and Petroleum Studies from Novena University in Nigeria and graduate certificates in Energy Management and Environmental Project Management from Seneca College in Toronto. In 2020, he graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Master of Environment and Business degree. He is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Building Science program at Toronto Metropolitan University, researching whole-life carbon reduction in new construction and building renovations.

Bofa‘s work experience is primarily in the built environment, working in the private and public sectors in roles that involve structural and environmental assessment of building structures, HVAC engineering design and sales, and facilities management. Bofa is a member of several industry associations, such as the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), the American Society for Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and the Project Management Institute (PMI). SBC’s bursary will go a long way in supporting Bofa‘s research and his desire to learn.