A big question for engineers

galleyhead lightThe proportion of women graduating with engineering degrees in the UK and US has remained around a sixth for at least the last thirty years despite many campaigns to achieve gender equality.  One of my colleagues, Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, writing in the New Statesmen asked whether it will take another world war to get more women into engineering.  I think that the sort of seismic shift in attitude caused by such events will be required.  Many in the engineering profession claim that problem-solving is a unifying skill, which is common to all branches of engineering, and yet we have been unable to solve the problem that our profession is one of the least gender diverse.  Does this mean that we have not really been trying to solve the problem, or that we are not the problem-solvers we claim to be?


Landivar LC, Disparities in STEM employment by sex, race and Hispanic origin, US Census Bureau, September 2013


4 thoughts on “A big question for engineers

  1. drehack

    While I acknowledge the low percentage of women in (mechanical) engineering, other engineering disciplines see a reversed statistics, think of bio-engineering. Violence, as stipulated with the world war scenario, would indeed force women into all disciplines by eliminating males.In my view, that’s not the preferred solution to a problem which may-be isn’t as urgent as we like to perpetuate?

  2. Mark Williams

    Gender roles are introduced at a young age, and reinforced from all sorts of angles (in certain cases: parents/grandparents, teachers), echoing the cited article. Change takes time, as more women become a visible presence in these roles, young women, that may not have otherwise considered themselves ‘engineers’ might question why. The same goes for any males who think that primary teaching and nursing could not be for them, based solely on their gender.

    Some disciplines will never be 50:50 gendered, striving for it seems like a rather self-defeating strategy, better would be to create communities with a minimum of all bias, be it gender, sexuality, race, even introversion/extroversion… That way people could make more informed decisions about their careers that might lead them to have a more fulfilling life. Instead of worrying how their status in society.

    If you’re wondering where that might leave an engineer, just think about cases in your past when you might have observed some sort of misrepresentation, so that in the future, you might kindly let people know that it’s not O.K.

  3. Beverly Johnson

    I think engineering is inextricably linked to perceptions that it is very technical, requires a great deal of math, and isn’t necessarily a people oriented or “warm” profession. Nothing fuzzy and rewarding comes to mind when one thinks “engineering.” This may sound like I’m being stereotypical in saying that females want a warm, people oriented profession, that doesn’t require math. I could also be saying that engineering has a PR (public relations) problem. What females want, however, may be the product of all the socialization processes that start (as hospital research videos have shown) from the very moment a newly born female child is held in the arms of her father!. From there it is a furrowed track to becoming a nurse, not a doctor, an elementary school teacher, not a college professor, a business major not an engineering or science major. As far as the PR problem of engineering, perhaps it unwittingly fosters gender stereotypes in the way engineering careers are portrayed. For example, maybe it could express that engineering projects are collaborative and social (are they? I don’t know?). Also, sexist attitudes are still deeply rooted in the U.S. educational system, from kindergarten onwards, and get expressed throughout long years of education by teachers, career advisers, and even peer groups who might be particularly vicious towards girl “nerds.” Prompted by this blog post, I looked at a few internet articles on stats in the U.S. Apparently after entering engineering, about 30% of females leave the profession–in part because they found the work environment uncivil and hostile (not because of pregnancy which would be the stereotype).

  4. electromagneticfluid

    Yes here in Australia we have the same issues.
    But I encourage girls my nieces cousins friends ect to try an look at Engineering as a Science and as a Social job.
    Females love things different to males no punts intended,not all will be a fully qualified Engineer but there are lots doing it now.Here we also have many females out on Road Works which was unheard of years ago and about time.I have stopped and talked to some of the female Council/Government/Contractors in road works and many said they never want to go back to an office job ever again although some hated the out door job.It works both ways as talking to their male counter parts 70% said they loved it except when too wet or too hot which is basically the same for their female counterparts.

    I think instead of shoveling it around that we do not have enough Female Engineers research into what a Female wants in Engineering?
    What are their Expectations,what puts them off the Engineering Courses or if they have finished why do they leave that Trade Rout?
    A lot of it would be lots of simple issues fairly easy to over come but getting the issues out into the open with out having to pander to either sex would be a better way forward.

    This needs to be done fairly quickly if Companies like Space x and Galactic Virgin get going over the next 10 years when in space no one can hear you scream,I want Engineers who know their stuff and I do not care what race,sex,they are as long as my space suit and space craft is reliable.


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