International Women’s Day on March 8 is a dedicated day to acknowledge the work that needs to be done for gender equality around the world. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual. It highlights that working towards equality is something that is the responsibility of every individual.
Part of this work is recognizing and celebrating the achievements of women in our workplaces. We’re proud to share the stories of those that work at TransLink and its family of companies.
Most semesters, Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC)’s Maintenance Engineering team gets some new co-op students. Women filling these positions have been few and far between.
Women are underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and computer science (STEM) fields at universities.
According to Statistics Canada, 44 per cent of first-year university students aged 19 or less enrolled in STEM programs were women, while women made up more than 64 per cent of students in other fields.
That’s why Qiu Li (pronounced q), an electrical maintenance engineer with CMBC, relishes the opportunity to mentor co-op students — both men and women — eager to apply their classroom learning to the real world.
A typical work day for Qiu runs the gamut.
There’s communicating with maintenance staff and vendor representatives to resolve fleet technical issues and providing design and functional inputs for new buses and onboard technologies. There’s also working with technicians to prototype new systems to better the fleet.
One of the projects she is involved in is TransLink’s battery-electric bus pilot project.
After overseeing the successful delivery of the battery-electric buses, she carved out a larger role for herself. She’s now looking after the day-to-day health of the buses and the chargers.
While doing all this, she’s helping to train and expose the co-op students to the environment they’re working in, guiding them through their learning process.
They have a good mentor to look up to, showing them the value of taking initiative.
Qiu has earned the respect of her peers for stepping up as an interim technical lead, continuing to push all the vendors to resolve issues, educating the operations department on how to improve charging success, and working with the maintenance department to improve bus performance.
Although universities have made headway in recent years to close the gender gap in STEM fields. The fact remains, Qiu is a woman in engineering — a field dominated by men — but that doesn’t define her in the office.
“Just because I work in a more male-dominated environment, I don’t feel like I have to be more assertive,” says Qiu, “but from my perspective and just the way I usually deal with people, I find the best way is to treat people with respect.”
Reflecting on this year’s International Women’s Day theme, #EachforEqual, Qiu says it means seeing people as people.
She would rather people confront issues that arise from personality or situation conflict, rather than singling out someone based on gender.
“I think it’s harder for people who have grown in environments where they are not exposed to diversity and different cultures,” says Qiu.
“But I think I’ve been pretty lucky in my life that I’ve always grown up in a very diverse cultural environment and a lot of people I interact with came from that background.”
Over the years, Qiu has also learned two important things.
First, if you treat people with respect and as equals, they reciprocate.
And second, she’s figured out what her favourite compliment in the office is – “they just see me as me with my personality traits, and they don’t treat me anything more or less just because I’m female.”