Inspirational Person: Marilyn Spink, Engineering Advocate

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Marilyn Spink has spent her 30-year career in Engineering (working on projects in mining, pulp and paper industries, steelmaking operations, and consulting engineering). She has led and supported teams of professional engineers and designers to complete projects around the world. She is a licensed professional engineer and a member of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE). In 2014, she was appointed by Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor to Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) and is currently Vice President Appointed. Spink is married to Jamie Gerson, also a professional engineer, who is extremely supportive of all her interests and a wonderful father to their three children.


What has been one of the most rewarding parts of your career?

Building stuff and helping people. It is rewarding to see your ideas become real and improve the lives of the people who use whatever you built, or grow from the advice you have provided to them. I am always learning, but the more I learn the more I realize don’t know. My learning is mostly about self-discovery these days. I need to speak less and listen more!

With only 11% of Professional Engineers in Ontario being women, what unique value do you think the female perspective brings to solving Engineering problems?

Women are socialized differently than men. The unique value women bring to solving Engineering problems is simply a different perspective – period. A bunch of similar people (age, race, gender, backgrounds) speaking & working with one another hinders innovation. Innovative ideas and solutions are proven to have better outcomes with diverse teams from different perspectives.

What made you realize the importance of mentoring women in particular?

The lack of Women Engineers in our profession is not solely a women’s issue, but a problem of our entire engineering profession. The professions of Medicine and Law have both reached gender parity but not Engineers. Why? U of T reached a record high of 40% female engineering students entering first year this past fall, while this is positive, I am convinced that reaching gender parity in our profession will not simply be achieved by increasing the supply of female engineering graduates. Engineers, as a profession, need to dig further to find root causes because perhaps retention of women in the profession is our biggest challenge. I have participated in mentoring in the past, however the recent PEO/OSPE pilot Women’s Mentorship Program was the first to include deliberate & strategic actions to set up the mentoring relationship and the expectations of both parties. I am confident this approach will help support and retain women in the engineering sector.

Do you believe that Engineers can help to give hope in addressing the social/environmental crises we currently face in the world? 

Scientist study what is, Engineers create that which has never been. So yes, you bet your bippy, we need Engineers to help solve the issues we face! And that means licensed folks, not simply engineering graduates, because Engineers have a professional obligation to do their work in the public interest ahead of their own self-interest. This is the true value of an Engineering license.

If you could go back and do it again, considering all the hurdles you have had to overcome, would you change anything?

Sadly, I am not sure I would choose Engineering again. It has been a tough road, there would have been much easier careers and industries! Engineering is hard enough and then on top of the engineering work, as a woman, you need to learn to navigate a difficult & biased system. I am tired and want to pass the “equity baton” to the next generation of engineers because the barriers I experienced still exist. Hopefully some women (with progressive male allies) will work with those who have gone before to obtain advice and guidance, to once and for all knock down these barriers so we can retain the diverse talent our profession needs to remain relevant.


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{Interested in other Q&A’s with Inspirational People? Check them out here}

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4 thoughts on “Inspirational Person: Marilyn Spink, Engineering Advocate

  1. Interesting interview to read. How unfortunate there is still a good degree of gender bias in the field. We need to do better at attracting women to the field and dispelling the myth that it’s a “man’s job.” The mentoring program sounds like a wonderful start.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As an architect in my 60s, the path has been more arduous as a woman than I expected. I love the job of creating platforms of beauty for lives to be lived.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for having the grit to continue – and be an example for future generations. I certainly know that my path in Engineering has had its share of gendered hurtles, so I cannot imagine what you have experienced over all those years. THANK YOU.

      I would love to see some of your work, if you care to share! It sounds like you are still so passionate about your work.

      Like

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