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


Jerald Cogswell's picture
I fully agree that women should be more represented in the engineering field, not only for income fairness, but for their different perspective from men on design. But let's not minimize the importance of the arts, vital to ergonomics, product design, marketing, advertising; And history, too, so vital to showing us where we've been in our species' story. Education in all fields is important. Let's not cut funding to art education just to support STEM classes. Support public education.

This subject comes up over and over, and the arguments are that we must get more women in STEM, and that some form of sexism is the root cause. Is it worth investigating how many women want to be engineers before we begin placing gender quotas on career choices? If it can't be shown that higher percentages of women desire STEM careers, I don't agree that women should be more represented in those careers. Many women "filter out over time". Why? Wrong career choice? Sexism? Both? Neither?

Is the problem that women engineers want more women engineers? I couldn't careless if an engineer is a woman or man as long as they can get the job done. I have 50 years of experience in the industry as a contract designer and I am surprised that the number of women is that high. I have worked in many, many companies and can count the women I worked with on two hands. I have trained 3D CAD software and I think I had two women in all the classes I taught.

This subject keeps coming up, and it keeps begging the same question. WHY are more women needed in engineering? I have known some women who are the very best engineers I've ever worked with. But most of them didn't even know why they decided to become engineers and didn't seem to want to be an engineer. They are highly recruited (and everyone suspects they are better-paid than their male counterparts), but once they are hired, they usually go to a different field, like marketing or IT.

Maybe an initial question for your panelists is why none of them stayed with a career in engineering and moved into management? Diversity simply for the sake of diversity is ignorant in any career field. Stating that any percentage is too low (12% seems amazingly high to me) is meaningless unless it is first shown that more qualified applicants want in and are denied access.

Could it be that women are just not interested in engineering as a career? Do they "filter out over time" because they are interested in other things besides engineering? For at least 30 years now, there has been an effort to get more women into STEM careers, and yet, the numbers are still low. It's hard to believe that after all that effort that sexism is the problem. If fewer women then men are interested in engineering as a career, why is that a problem? Isn't that their choice?

Joe, turn your question around, is it a problem that men engineers want more men engineers? Paul tells you that all the good female engineers he knew didn't want to be engineers & go into other fields. (Subtext, why did they take up jobs that could have been filled by men. Actually, not so much subtext when he asks WHY women ) Tom goes directly into the controversial "quota" argument, which wasn't the point of the article, but supports his view that engineering does well as a guys club. REALLY.

Anita, my view is that I want the best people who want to be engineers to be engineers. I don't want people who don't want to be doctors to be doctors, or people who don't want to be engineers to be engineers. What you end up with is people who are not passionate enough about what they do to enjoy it or excel at it. Then they "filter out over time". I believe that it is worth investigating whether lots more women WANT to be engineers before we thrust our desires upon them.

Part of the problem with waiting until people WANT to be an engineer is that engineering can be made unappealing very easily. My college had a requirement for a Technical Communication course, where the instructor pointed out that as an engineer, you'll make more presentations than most Theatre majors and write more than most English majors. That startled a lot of the guys in the class and isn't something that is communicated often. Engineering is a rich field that is pigeonholed too often.

Wouldn't putting women in engineering before they WANT to be engineers be pigeonholing? I don't really understand your point. To me, a person should want to be an engineer before entering engineering studies. If you really want to be an engineer, you will not be frustrated away by a difficult course. If you are trying to stay away from difficult courses, engineering would probably not be the field to take up.


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