Where Are the Women Engineers?

Only 12% of engineers are women. That needs to change.

The numbers are getting better, but they still aren’t great.

According to Solving the Equation: The variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing , research published in March by the American Association of University Women, more than 80% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs are in engineering and computing. Yet women comprised only 12% of the engineering workforce and 26% of the computing workforce in 2013. And those low numbers reflect increases, with engineers at about 10% in 2010. ESC, Embedded Systems Conference, Silicon Valley

More substantial increases have been recorded, as well, but they are few and far between. Harvey Mudd College, as example, is credited with changing its structures and environments under president Maria Margaret Klawe in ways that lead to significant increases in women’s representation in computer science. The school saw women graduating from its computing program climb from 6% in 2007 to a whopping 55% in 2016.

Mudd, sadly, is an exception. Even worse, many women who enter engineering fields post graduation, filter out over time. And we find ourselves back at the low double digits.

Needless to say this is concerning as we know and have shown time and time again that diversity in the workforce contributes to creativity, productivity, and innovation, not to mention that companies with more diversity perform better financially over the long run. Diversity is needed to steer the direction of engineering and technical innovation.

We also know that in the very near future, the United States will need a mass of new engineers and computing professionals as Baby Boomer engineers exit their cubes and technology continues to become a more pervasive part of our economies, healthcare, in general, our lives. Yet nearly half the population is not approaching or sticking with careers in engineering, nor science, technology, and math.

At the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in December we will continue this conversation. Our panel and networking session, Women in Engineering , Dec. 7, 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., will explore professional opportunities for women in engineering, the reasons why women represent less than 12% of engineers, and our panelists careers in engineering-driven professions.

Women in Engineering Panel and Networking Session
Location:  211D, San Jose Convention Center
Date:  Wednesday, Dec. 7
Time:  7:30 a.m. – 9 a.m.

Our panelists, themselves, are exceptional leaders in engineering. Joining us will be:

Eileen Tanghal, an MIT electrical engineering grad and MBA from the London School of Business, who is currently VP of New Business Exploration, New Business Ventures at ARM, owner at The Coder School, Fremont, while also an angel investor/advisor at Goldenspear LLC.

Heather Andrus, general manager, Radius innovation Studio , who has more than 20 years of experience in creative product design and team leadership combining user-centered experience design and engineering acumen. 

Jessica Gomez, founder and CEO, Rogue Valley Microdevices , who is described by her peers as a powerful, passionate, persuasive, and visionary business and community leader who has continually expanded her sophisticated technology business during the most challenging of economic times.

Lisa Q. Fetterman, who successfully made a career shift into tech and navigated the start-up


Several issues were not discussed as why women may eschew engineering as a career choice. *Education requirements: A typical engineering degree on average may take up to five years (or more) to complete (the lights rarely go off in the computer labs) and if there ever is a lapse along the way (childbirth, marriage, unemployment, etc.) recovery may be difficult, especially in a fast changing field. Engineering schools and employers look at any interruptions or gaps in education as a negative. Mos

My wife was "forced" into the Science stream at school (1960s) and ended up doing Physics at Uni. She would have been much happier doing languages (but wouldn't have met me). She stayed home to look after our children until they left Primary School. Then she started teaching - but not science.

I was being harassed at a conference because there was only one female engineer in my department - until I pointed out that every female who had ever applied had been accepted but lots of males hadn't. There is a tendency for people (of any gender) to go into the career that pays the most given their university entrance score, due to external pressures and the fact that they don't really know details of the job. Most people I know who are happy in their job have changed course midway.

This is a complicated subject, and I am all for qualified people of any description pursuing their career ambitions. Having said that, I am not optimistic that increasing enrollment of any particular group is the best answer. If the "imposter syndrome" is the problem, individual counseling is a better answer; if it is overtly hostile behavior by members of another group (men in this case), address that as a behavior issue, not thought control.

Bob Dodge, As an instructor, I am not aware of the conversations my students have unless I happen to be standing within earshot. If comments like "you're only here because you're a girl" are made about my female students, chances are they will not be made when I can hear it. Other methods, as described in the video I referenced, are needed to make sure that everyone feels welcome in the classroom. Increasing diversity in the classroom and the office is always a good thing.

My father had a full workshop and repaired all his own cars. He also had a lathe which he let me use. I bought a car with a blown engine and he bought me a manual and told me I had to fix it. I rebuilt my first engine at 16. Long story short: Obtained a degree in electrical engineering and found that I really enjoyed the project management aspects of it more so I went into management. Then I had two sons and I took a less challenging job. My story is not unique - priorities changed.

I have worked with a lot of engineers in my career, including several female ones. I have also come across a few engineers whose technical competence was quite limited, they were not the among the females. I find that the assertion that the lack of more female engineers MUST BE DUE TO DISCRIMINATION is quite offensive. Consider that the choice of an engineering career is a very major decision, and that the pursuit of the education does limit one's choice of schools a bit, not everybody would t

William, Discrimination is, of course, not the only reason but it is definitely one of them. Young people entering college are especially vulnerable to peer pressure. Face it, there are people that like to demean others to make themselves feel important. Telling a young woman that she doesn't belong in an engineering program because she is a woman is sexism plain and simple. We should all be aware of this type of behavior.

Not everybody would be willing to go to the effort to be an engineer. Certainly not all would accept the lack of resources and support from other parts of the business. Those able to move up and leave the pain behind for more money would leave, only those with a deep love of engineering would stay. This 500 character limit is unfortunate, a lot like twitter.

I'm sure that as more women want to become engineers their numbers will change and grow. It's not a competency or societal issue, it's quite simply that very few women are interested in engineering.


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