Published On: Thu, Nov 12th, 2015

Why Women Are Discouraged from Engineering and How to Fix It

There are a number of fields where either men or women feel shut out of the profession. Men can often feel unwelcome in areas such as nursing or childcare. Meanwhile, one of the areas where women are still struggling to gain ground is in STEM subjects. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are all still largely boys’ clubs. Although things are slowly improving. Women note many reasons they feel discouraged from entering these professions. They range from a lack of encouragement to follow STEM subjects to the difficulties of maintaining a work/life balance. There are some efforts to try and encourage more women into engineering.

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A letter by an engineering student recently went viral. In it, the author recognized that his female colleagues weren’t equal in the field. Jared Mauldin gave reasons women in engineering don’t receive the same opportunities as men. Among them were growing up “in a world that discouraged [women] from focusing on hard science”. He also mentions being “overlooked by teachers […] because of my gender”. The presence of “a boys club mentality” was another one. These are just a few of the factors many have cited as reasons women often feel unwelcome in engineering.

Recent studies have highlighted a number of issues. For example, one looked at the representation of women in engineering online. EngineeringUK looked at 70 engineering websites used by young people. Among them, only 1 in 4 images featured a woman. Representation is a significant factor in these situations. People can feel alienated when they can’t see anyone like them. Numbers for women showing an interest in engineering in the UK fall behind other nations. Countries including the US and China have more success with encouraging engineering among women.

There are many suggestions for how women can be encouraged into the field of engineering. Some people suggest quotas, but other say they don’t tackle the root of the problem. In the US, only 20% of engineering graduates are women and only 11% practicing engineers. The problem is in not just hiring more women but retaining them too. One suggestion is to send a diverse range of technical people to visit careers fairs. This helps to provide role models for all, including both men and women and different ethnicities. Education for employers and networking for women are also emphasized as important factors.

Although there is still a long way to go, things are improving for women in engineering. More women are choosing to study and teach in the field. A number of organizations are making strides to encourage more women into engineering. A recent article in The Independent highlighted the work of female engineers. Women are now doing anything from impressive petrochemical engineering projects to creating sustainable appliances. There’s still a lot of work to do, but an emphasis on the women already in the field can help to make them more visible.

Women are still a minority in engineering, as well as in other STEM subjects. However, things are beginning to change and hopefully will continue to do so.