A search on the internet for the most significant engineering achievements of the 21st Century yields impressive results. The list includes ground-breaking innovations such as the Sky Crane and Large Hadron Collider. It also includes the Burj Khalifa and 3D printing. According to a report by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), one of the most desired advancements in engineering is still elusive for nearly all US fields: gender parity.
SWE has been examining social science research every year since the 1990s to better understand why women are underrepresented in engineering. The authors of this year’s “Women in Engineering” report, Peter Meiksins and Peggy Layne (Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Cleveland State University) found that, while women have increased in numbers over the years in terms of earning engineering degrees, being employed as engineers and holding faculty positions in engineering, it has been a slow growth. In 2020, women held only 18.5% of faculty positions and 14% of employment in engineering.
The report states that the percentage of women who have earned Bachelor of Science in Engineering has increased over the past few years. It was less than 2020. This gain was largely attributed to the 1970s and 80s. The report says that since 1990, the percentages of women with engineering degrees have been slow and varied.
Meiksins wondered why women do not pursue engineering careers, given the stagnant growth of women’s degrees. “The debate used to revolve around whether women had the necessary skills to become successful engineers. Did they take advanced math courses in high school?” Meiksins said during the press conference that women who were successful in engineering programs had taken physics classes and done other things we know are predictive of success. The literature has moved on from this argument. Not because it was incorrect, but because the gap in men’s and woman’s math achievement has been virtually eliminated.
Despite the increase in women earning engineering degrees, not as many women enter or stay in the engineering field. The report states that in 2001 when SWE published their first literature review, 11% of engineers were women. 18 years later, this number was only 14%. This shows that the proportion of women in engineering is lower than that of their engineering degrees.
Rincon noted that, during the press conference she held, previous studies had shown that the work-life balance was one of many factors that influence women’s decisions to leave their engineeng jobs. She noted that some women leave their engineering jobs to take care of children or elderly parents. It is not their only reason for leaving.
Rincon stated that women are leaving jobs in mid-career in greater numbers than men. They are searching for an employer who will value their talents, skills and experience. they started the same day but he was paid $ more. Over time, this exacerbates pay inequality.
To overcome the obstacles to gender equality in engineering, it will take concerted effort from the entire profession. Meiksins said that men need to take action in order to make the engineering profession more supportive for women. He said that the literature had revealed men were also part of the conversation. “There is a growing feeling that men would help women to make change, if they were allies.
Rincon agreed, and stated that one step men and women can take to make women’s voices heard in the workplace is to increase their volume. She cited an example of how women in government would repeat the ideas raised by women during meetings. Rincon explained that if a woman’s comment is ignored or overlooked, someone else will speak up to say “Well, Susan said it before” or “Susan had something to add”. It’s important to pay attention at the table, and note individuals who are being ignored or talked over. This behavior should be brought to light so it does not continue. You are calling it out at the time.