APEGA’s First Woman President: Sue Aitken, P.Eng.
It was the turn of the century, and the turning of a new page for APEGA. In 2000—for the first time in the association’s 80-year history—a woman took the helm as president.
The distinction belonged to Sue Aitken, P.Eng., a civil engineer and active APEGA volunteer, who had decided to run for president after serving a three-year term as Councillor.
“It was something that made sense to me to do,” she recalls.
Not because she wanted to make a statement. Not because she wanted to make history.
Because, quite simply, there was work to do, and she had skills to contribute.
“There were other provinces that had already had a woman president, so it wasn’t unique in Canada,” notes Aitken. “But it was new for Alberta, so it was nice to be that person.”
Sue Aitken, P.Eng., is sworn in as APEGA’s first woman president in 2000. With her is former APEGA CEO Neil Windsor, P.Eng.
It wasn’t the first time Aitken had broken barriers.
In 1978, in her home country of New Zealand, she was one of the first five women to graduate in civil engineering from the University of Canterbury.
After starting her career at a structural engineering firm, she left home to begin a new adventure in Canada, returning to school in 1984 to complete a master’s degree in geotechnical engineering from the University of Alberta.
Shortly before finishing her studies, she signed up to volunteer on APEGA’s communications committee. She wanted to build her professional network, but it turned into so much more.
“Volunteering was a really good lens into the organization, to see all the things APEGA does. It gave me a better understanding of the professions, the regulatory process, and the breadth of APEGA as a governing body,” she remembers.
Her volunteer commitment quickly grew, eventually culminating in her landmark vote onto Council executive. Since then, five other women have been elected to the role of APEGA president.
Aitken is confident many more will follow.
“There are more (women) taking engineering and geoscience as a career now. There are more choices. There will be individuals who do want to step up to that role,” she says.
As the world becomes a smaller place, she adds, diversity across the professions will continue to grow.
“Do I have any messages for women in engineering or geoscience? I don’t think it’s specific to women. It’s for all people in the industry,” she states. “There are certainly some (barriers) you’ll encounter, but there’s more than one way to get to the other side of the wall. You can go over, under, around, or even through. There’s always a way to achieve your goals.”
Though Aitken has returned to New Zealand to live and work, she remains an APEGA member and a strong supporter of professional self-regulation.
“I’m very proud to continue to be a professional engineer with APEGA and to be part of a self-regulating organization that exists to protect the public, which it has been doing for 100 years. It’s really a gift to be a part of that,” she concludes.
APEGA’s 80th and first woman president Sue Aitken, P.Eng. and vice-president Dale Miller, P.Eng. don hard hats during a branch tour, 2000.