As Part I in this series outlined, the engineering profession suffers from a significant gender gap – there are far fewer women in the profession across disciplines than men. Recent statistics from the National Survey of College Demographics women are less likely to study engineering as an undergraduate or pursue an advanced degree – both master’s and doctorate – in the field.
Key findings on women studying engineering in the last five years include:
- Of the 291,000 undergraduates to receive engineering degrees, only 60,000 (21 percent) were women
- Of 132,000 Master of Engineering recipients, only 29,000 (22 percent) were women
- Of 9,800 engineering doctorates, only 2,300 (23 percent) were women
Unfortunately, cultural stereotypes have led many women to believe degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are more male-oriented fields whereas liberal arts degrees are considered female-oriented. That’s not the case at all. As Andrea Koritala, Global Head of Technology at Newark element14 says, “women have many options,” and some of the most successful engineers in history have been women.
Tackling gender gaps in education is the root of the problem. Dianne Kibbey, Global Head of Community at element14 believes we can increase girls’ interests in these fields by giving them access to mentors – “both men and women” – early on.
The responsibility doesn’t just lie with other professional engineers. Everyone has a role to play in encouraging more women to study engineering:
Parents should introduce their daughters to STEM fields at an early age. This can include buying a chemistry, computer programming or magnetism set. Traditionally, “masculine” toys teach boys construction, manipulation and more about “the way things work,” whereas toys geared toward girls do not. Moms and dads shouldn’t be afraid to break gender roles to spark their daughters’ interest in engineering and other STEM-related fields. GoldieBlox and Little Bits are great examples of toys that can do that.
Universities should better market their engineering programs to students. Many high school-aged women do not know engineering programs are available to them or the possible career paths associated with these degrees. Share success stories of women engineering graduates and alumni, foster student organizations on campus for women engineers and offer scholarships or resources specifically for women looking to pursue engineering degrees. For example, universities and community colleges across the country – from Cornell to the University of Texas in Austin – give women in the engineering program opportunities to network with other peers by joining the Society of Women Engineers.
Increase representations of prominent women engineers. Women represented in movies and on television often fall into stereotypical “feminine” career paths, including nurses, teachers and housewives. By showcasing fictional characters in engineering roles and highlighting key accomplishments by successful women engineers, society can break down gender stereotypes and young women can see the positive impact they would make on society as engineers.
This is Part II in a 3-part series