Why Having More Women in Engineering Will Make the World Better

One thing our high-tech economy can’t seem to get enough of is engineers and while an increasing number of university students are pursuing degrees in the area many observers believe that a shortage of engineering talent will continue well into the next decade.

However, this only tells part of the story.  Not only is the field of engineering, just as other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, dominated by men.  But some reports show that nearly 40 percent of the woman with degrees in the field either never go into it or plan on leaving it.

Talk about exacerbating the gender imbalance.  This is a shame as engineers help to shape the world we live in and who can help to solve the problems faced by women in their everyday lives better than other women?

But only if it were that easy as some reports indicate that there is an amazing amount of sexism in STEM fields as a whole.  While we are finally starting to shed a bright light on the amazing amount of sexism and discrimination in the world, the simple fact remains – having more women in engineering will make the world better.

Why Engineering?

Engineers are key players in developing new technologies and they are known for ingenuity, problem-solving, and innovation.  If you are a working mom, then you are probably thinking that this sounds like you – and you would right.

While the ability to solve problems can give a glimpse into the world of engineering the reality is that the field is a collection of highly specialized disciplines.  For example, the work of a municipal engineer is quite different from that of a computer engineer or a mechanical engineer – here is a infographic that will give you a better idea.

women in engineering

Granted, there is some crossover between the fields from time-to-time but the reality is that the work of a municipal engineer is focused on solving different problems, and in using different tools than that of a mechanical engineer.

The world needs more woman as engineers.  Not only will this stem the loss of women in the field but it will also allow women to have a great say in the developing the world of tomorrow.  This is important as than 20 percent of all engineering graduates in the U.S. were female in 2013 and the numbers have barely improved since then.

No Women = One-Sided and Unsustainable Approach to Problem Solving

If you saw Hidden Figures, then you are aware of what highly qualified women can do.  The movie highlights the story of three geniuses who not only needed to overcome sexism but also racism and in the process helped the U.S. win the race to the moon.

While it is a tragedy that the story of Katherine Johnson and her colleagues took nearly 50-years to be told, we are fortunate that they have been memorialized.  These women should serve as an example to entire generations of girls how they can overcome the ill-conceived misconceptions which unfortunately continue to dominate our world today.

While the goal of having more women in STEM is altruistic is also serves a broader purpose – a more sustainable approach to problem-solving.  As mentioned earlier, who better understand the problems that women face better than other women?

Maybe it is helping women in developing nations to gain access to clean drinking water without needing to walk for hours on end.  Or maybe it is finding a way to alleviate constant traffic on our streets as moms help to take their children from activity to activity.  Though an even better problem might be engineering a way to get husbands off the couch.

What Can Be Done?

The first thing that comes to mind is stemming the tide of women leaving the engineering profession.  This includes highlighting the important roles that female engineers have played in our lives, in addition to addressing issues such as sexism, wage disparities, and career fit.

For employers, this means setting the standard and looking at ways to offer more flexible work hours.  Sure, engineers need time to solve the problems they are tackling but the reality is that much of the workload can be shifted around to fit the needs of all the members of a team.

While the first approach should help to retain female engineers, the second approach is about giving our daughters they encouragement and support they need to consider engineering as a career.  Let’s face it many girls are better than boys at math but instead of discouraging them, we need to celebrate their achievements.

It might take time but the combination of these approaches will help to increase the ranks of woman in engineering and in turn, this will make the world a better place.