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Passion for the profession, Sarah Devereaux champions women in engineering

Posted by Engineering Communications on September 2, 2015 in News

Passion for the profession

Sarah Devereaux (BEng Civil’93; MEng Civil’99) always knew she wanted to be an engineer.

“My mother tells a funny story, that from the time I could talk, I would tell people that I wanted to be a ‘civilized engineer,’” she explains. “My parents are both teachers, but we had family friends who were engineers. From an early age, I was intrigued by the work they did, and because of my curious nature, I would always ask questions about it.”

In her parents’ friends, Devereaux found role models who inspired her to become an engineer and her many accomplishments speak to her passion for the profession. She’s a design engineer and partner with Dillon Consulting. She served as the second female president for Engineers Nova Scotia (2012-13) and was also the first female president of the Consulting Engineers of Nova Scotia (2010-11). And Devereaux is a fellow of Engineers Canada.

Yet her most important work may be her efforts to encourage a new generation of young women to follow her into the field. It is her passion to remove all barriers to women entering the engineering profession. She’s motivated in part by the fact that the percentage of women graduating from engineering – 20 per cent – is virtually unchanged from 22 years ago when she first graduated from Dalhousie, although there are pockets of success across Canada. Twenty years ago there were almost no women in the engineering profession and that number has grown to just ten percent of the profession in Canada.

“Women in the profession have this underlying sense of, ‘I made it and there is no reason why others can’t do what I did.’ We want to succeed because of our capabilities and not necessarily call attention to ourselves as women engineers. Because of that, there aren’t many women who want to be role models, and young women don’t choose engineering because they don’t see enough people that look like them.”

Programs and initiatives

Devereaux first embraced the opportunity to be a role model by joining the Engineers Canada Women in Engineering Advisory Group as an Engineers Nova Scotia representative. “I wanted to know what types of activities were being offered across the country for women in engineering. I wanted to have a voice and provide some influence on that group.”

Other opportunities opened up from there. In 2012, Devereaux was involved with the Canadian Coalition of Women in Engineering Science Trades and Technology Conference, and her group developed speakers for the event. That led to the creation of the Women in Engineering Nova Scotia Committee, which supports networking activities and lunch and learn sessions.

The highlight of the activities that the Women in Engineering Committee have accomplished is the Spotlight on Innovation Event held the past two years during National Engineering Month. “We encourage women to step into the spotlight and talk about their projects for 10-15 minutes, and we really celebrate that. Similarly, at Dillon, we have a Women in Dillon initiative. The goal of the Women in Dillon initiative is to effectively identify barriers to attracting and retaining women of merit within Dillon, and propose positive solutions to overcome them. Our strategy is in support of Dillon’s long-term commitment towards diversity and gender equity.”

Accolades

Over the years, Devereaux has earned many accolades for her efforts. She received the 2014 Engineers Canada Award for the support of women in the engineering profession. The award recognizes engineers who, throughout their careers, have demonstrated support for women in the profession and established a benchmark of engineering excellence. That same year, she was presented with a Women’s Executive Network Top 100 Award. The awards recognize the incredible breadth of female leadership talent in Canada and spotlight what can be achieved through the pursuit of excellence.

Receiving both awards was very humbling for Devereaux, but she was particularly surprised to be recognized by the Women’s Executive Network. “It was awe inspiring to hear the stories of what these women have accomplished and to be celebrated along with them was an honour. I know what I’m doing is important, and I’ll continue to do it. Celebrating women in engineering is something I love to do.”

Equally fulfilling is the work ­Devereaux does for Dillon. Most of her projects are focused on waste management, with municipal infrastructure and storm water management making up the balance.

“My career has been amazing in terms of flexibility. Consulting is so different every day that you can bend it to be what you need it to be. I also love Dillon’s One Firm Firm approach, which essentially means that when projects arise in an engineer’s area of expertise, Dillon will enlist their specific talents, no matter where the project is located. We collaborate and work together as one office of 700 rather than 17 different offices“

As for the future, Devereaux will continue to promote engineering to young women whenever the opportunity presents itself. Her rationale is pretty compelling: “We will get better solutions if we are more diverse. The need to supply more engineers is evident, and we’re missing out on 50 per cent of the population. I think there are girls and women out there that could be a vital part of this profession and that’s why I do it.”