(Photo Credit: Martin Kwok)

Female engineer, Dr. Parvaneh Cody (pictured) was honoured at the Breakfast with Bright Minds on International Women’s Day, March 8. Mayor Frank Scarpitti (pictured) hosted an array of female trailblazers in business and community at the intimate gathering held at the newly minted Marriott in Downtown Markham.

There, Cody spoke of the path that led her to become the first woman to graduate with a doctorate in building engineering from Concordia University. Not only did she go on to become executive chair at CGI group but also opened the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science at her alma mater.

Cody’s donation of $15 million to Concordia University’s Faculty of Engineering and Science grabbed headlines in September 2018. Before presenting Dr. Cody with a minted coin from the Canadian mint, signifying the Chinese New Year, Scarpitti spoke on equality and diversity.

“The campaign for equality is ongoing” and “giving girls the confidence to go out and do it better” were testaments made by the mayor. He went on to “salute all women in pressing for progress” in one of Canada’s fastest growing cities encompassing an equally burgeoning high-tech industry.

The mayor, a well known advocate for our city’s growth and prosperity, closed his address with the promise of “setting the standard for diversity, equality and inclusion in Canada.”

This provided a seamless segue for Dr. Cody, a female trailblazer fighting for inclusion her chosen field, to take the stage. Since immigrating to Canada in 1979, she has worked tirelessly to help create a world that is no longer segregated by gender.

“As a woman and an immigrant I do understand the importance of feeling welcome and respected,” says Cody who was always the only woman in the room studying. 

She was also the only woman among 700 men at conferences in Toronto where the MC would often greet the room with “lady and gentlemen,” according to Cody.

She even found inspiration from her own mother who was a housewife that married young and never finished her own education. Her mother often told her that “the only way to be independent as a woman is through education,” recounts Cody.

Dr. Cody went on to reassure the crowd of mainly women that “education is a great equalizer and effective way of achieving social mobility to overcome forms of racism including racism and sexism.”

Injecting a bit more humour into her impassioned speech was Cody’s recollection of  answering the phone, with the caller repeatedly asking to speak with the boss. Her reply? “Listen, I have a PhD in building engineering, now, how can I help you?” 

“They were doubting my competency as a woman” and “on international women’s day, it’s time to say ‘enough’!” exclaimed Cody.

Staggering statistics include that only 13% of practicing engineers are women meaning that they are either not being hired or choosing not to work in their field.  

She went on to stress the need for more female engineers in a world where reliance on physical strength is weakening. The world is poised for a fourth industrial revolution around innovation, design and smart technologies and our city and country are at the heart of it, according to Cody.

A shortage of engineers is expected due to an aging population, growing demand for engineers across all industries. Cody says this is “very damaging for Canada’s economy and longterm prosperity.”

It is also “an issue that would be particularly challenging for Markham – as we won’t be able to rely on the international labour force to make up the difference,” says Cody.

“The solution for Canada is very straightforward, meaning more women engineers!”

She ended her speech with a call to stop reinforcing gender stereotypes where “even with our best intentions, we are conditioned to think of nurses as women and construction workers as men.”

Her suggestion? To update textbooks and education material and provide quality and affordable childcare, providing equal paternity leave benefits.

“We need men as allies” in a world where “progress in closing the gender has been painfully slow,” according to Cody.

The mayor issued the following statement prior to the International Women’s Day event celebrating Dr. Cody’s achievements:

“We are very honoured to welcome Dr. Cody to Markham, in the heart of Ontario’s innovation corridor on International Women’s Day,” says Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti. “As thought leaders and change makers, women are redefining key roles in various sectors such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, health care, education and more. Together we will continue to innovate, remove barriers and advance gender equality in the workforce.” 

For information, visit: www.markham.ca