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


Tom, maybe you were absolutely sure what you wanted to do before you signed up for college. Many, in fact, probably most people don't. I think that by the time I was 30, I knew what I did NOT want to do for the rest of my life. Most students starting college for the first time are trying to see if the choice they made "fits." If engineering feels good after their first semester, they may continue on and become a great engineer.

Jeffrey, You are absolutely right. I was very certain at a young age. This had less to do with my upbringing than my bent toward gizmos and electronics. My father was a high school educated laborer when I was young, and he wasn't really behind me going to college. I was the first in my family to do so. I do understand that my case is not the norm. I have a son who is in his 30's and still struggling to find his career choice, and a daughter who didn't struggle at all.

I had a man tell me that he used the boy scout materials to expose his kids to a variety of things when they were young. I wish I had done this with my kids. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I think that exposing young people to a variety of 'things' in an organized way would help people in career selection. The method of looking up projected job needs and salaries is fatally flawed, and that is what I see most young people doing, including my son.

I actually wanted to be an engineer from an early age, but a good part of that was because my dad was an electrician and used his daughters as free-ish labor. He didn't split between what girls and boys could do, based on the fact that he only had girls to work with. His mom did the same thing with her three boys, and I believe that not slotting folks into interests at birth opens up worlds of possibility. (I was the only one to go engineering, but all of us pulled wire and put in fixtures.)

Hi Anita, I am glad to have a female perspective on this issue as it is overwhelmingly male comments from what I see and I would encourage you to continue to post more on this subject if you feel you should. I am of the opinion that some of the rebuttals that you made previously may have taken assumptions (through subtext that wasn't expressed at all). I may have a different experience than many. I enjoyed having both male and female classmates. I certainly work with less females directly.

I suggest that you take the time to watch President Maria Klawe of Harvey Mudd college (mentioned in the article above) talk about how they encourage diversity in their college. Here is the link: https://www.hmc.edu/about-hmc/president-klawe/ In particular, pay attention to her description of the "imposter syndrome" and its affect on student retention. As a male post-secondary instructor, it opened my eyes.

If you start watching at about 21:00 or so, you will get the gist of it but really, you should listen to the whole thing. It would be out of context.

Assuming that discrimination is the only cause of some group being absent is rather poor thinking. Many folks have other priorities than being part of a specific collection. The fact that I am not good at baseball is the reason I did not pursue a career in baseball, there was no discrimination at all. But there is indeed a lack of folks like me in the baseball profession. So lack of some characteristic in a profession is not proof of discrimination. 500 character limit reached. It stinks.


Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.