Reflecting on the lack of women in engineering

It was International Women’s Day last week which caused me to reflect on parlous state of the engineering profession.  Despite many initiatives and substantial expenditure of resources, the percentage of women in engineering in many Western countries has remained around 20% for most of my career.  For instance, in the UK, women made up 14.5% of all engineers in 2021 according to the Women in Engineering Society and 21.8% of women work in the engineering sector; while in the USA women secured 22% of all Bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2018 (wwwstemwomen.com).  So, why have the many apparently well-supported initiatives made so little progress towards creating a gender-balanced profession?  Perhaps, they are not as well-supported within the engineering profession as they appear to be; or they are the wrong solutions for the problem because we do not understand the problem.  I suspect that both of these reasons for failure are relevant.  The lack of progress would suggest that most men in engineering are not worried that their profession is unrepresentative of the society it claims to serve and if they are concerned then they do not understand the issues sufficiently well to be able see a viable solution.  We can start to gain a better understanding by listening to women in science and engineering.  This can be done in everyday conversations, by attending events such as those organised on International Women’s Day, or by reading about women’s experiences such as in ‘Invisible Women: exposing data bias in a world designed by men’ by Caroline Criado Perez or in ‘A Fly Girl’s Guide to University: being a woman of colour at Cambridge and other institutions of power and elitism’ by Lola Olufemi, Odelia Younge, Waithera Sebatindira and Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan.

1 thought on “Reflecting on the lack of women in engineering

  1. Eann Patterson Post author

    One of my regular readers sent me the following comment by email because they had difficulty posting it directly: ‘It’s hard to disagree with your analysis. Another resource, which is an interesting read in its own right, is a new book by Emma Shimizu entitled “Female Innovators Who Changed Our World”. Emma is the daughter of a former Liverpool Engineering employee (Andy Green), a working engineer and a graduate of Sheffield. Her book is fascinating.’

    Reply

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