uOttawa researcher Catherine Mavriplis wins EDI award for transforming the STEM landscape in Canada

Research and Innovation
Research and innovation
Equity, diversity and inclusion
Faculty of Engineering
Awards and recognition
Mechanical Engineering

By University of Ottawa

Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, OVPRI

Professor Catherine Mavriplis
Trained as an aerospace engineer, Professor Catherine Mavriplis has first-hand experience being one of few women in a male-dominated field. This fuelled her passion for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), leading to a dual-research career studying aerospace engineering as well as the systematic gaps that impede gender diversity in STEM and developing ways to address these gaps.

Mavriplis’ work has had an undeniable impact on Canadian society. From 2011 to 2020, she was NSERC’s Chair for Women in Science and Engineering. During this time, female enrolment in software engineering doubled in Canada, and the percentage of women professors in engineering rose from 14% to 17%. Also during her tenure, she launched a program that trained a whole generation of girls in coding who are now entering post-secondary education and the workforce.

“Through game-changing initiatives, adapted for different environments, Dr. Mavriplis has successfully addressed women’s underrepresentation and lack of advancement in STEM,” says Sylvain Charbonneau, vice-president of research and innovation at the University of Ottawa. “The models she pioneered have transformed the academic and industry landscapes into more diverse and inclusive spaces. We are proud to honour her hard work and dedication with the OVPRI’s EDI in Research Award.” 

Professor Mavriplis speaking at the launch event for the tenure as NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering.
Professor Mavriplis speaking at the event launching her tenure as NSERC Chair for Women in Science and Engineering.

Identifying gaps using interdisciplinarity

Mavriplis developed insights into the experiences of women in science and engineering by spearheading collaborative, interdisciplinary research between STEM and sociology, history, communications, management, and education.

She worked with PhD students and historians to investigate the disappearance of women in computer science in Canada between the 1940s and 1980s, a field which previously employed many women. The findings of this project fueled further research and the design of a future museum exhibit from Ingenium.

Professor Mavriplis also teamed up with her students and sociologists to investigate the influence that gender and minority status had on the job market transition of Canadian engineering undergraduates. She found that although women found jobs more quickly than men, they were more likely to be paid less and less likely to have previous co-op experience.

Working with researchers at the Telfer School of Management, Mavriplis explored women’s experiences of STEM entrepreneurship programs. The research revealed that while the programs helped them develop an entrepreneurial mindset, women felt the need to build credibility before launching their own start-ups by working with a STEM employer and becoming certified as a professional engineer. 

Developing programs, creating new paths

Drawing on her research, Professor Mavriplis designed skills development workshops and educational approaches aimed at increasing the participation and advancement of women in STEM at all levels of society, from high school to graduate studies to professorship, and from industry to government leadership.

In 2013, Mavriplis built the Go Code Girl workshop to introduce girls at all school levels to computer programming. She also developed an annual research experience, offered through STEM programs across Ontario, that provides Indigenous Grade 11 students with the opportunity to spend a week in a university STEM laboratory.

Within universities, Mavriplis co-developed FORWARD to Professorship, a highly successful workshop supporting women pursuing tenure-track positions. Over 80% of participants across Canada and the US reported successfully transitioning to tenure.

Mavriplis also worked with industry executives and professionals to provide them with the skills and knowledge to create more diverse, collaborative teams. For example, she consulted with Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) on their Women’s Leadership Initiative, through which they increased the number of women in senior leadership to 30%, elected their first female president, and received the Gold Level Gender Parity Certification from Women in Governance.

Mavriplis’ research has also informed policy and federally led EDI initiatives, including the Tri-Council’s EDI Action Plan for 2018-2025, the EDI Action Plan for the Canada Research Chairs program, and NSERC’s evaluation processes regarding EDI.