So, where are all the female engineers?
Even though women earning degrees in engineering has increased over the past generation of college graduates, the number of women remains well below that of men at all degree levels and in all fields of engineering, according to the National Science Foundation's survey of Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering.
We asked Aerotek recruiter Claire Krieger what she thought might be causing the gender imbalance. “Honestly, I think it’s about society’s expectations. We think of men in categories of working with their hands and creating ‘great’ things, while the expectations for women tend to remain pretty traditional. It’s unfair, for sure, but I think it has something to do with the lack of women in engineering.”
Claire was quick to add an intriguing insight, “I will say that at Aerotek we’ve seen companies actively seeking to increase their ratio of women to men engineers. So, things are definitely improving. Some of our most talented women are turning their passion for engineering into very lucrative careers.”
Education is the keyAerotek recruiters tell us that many industries are recognizing that more robust curricula in high school is needed to let young women know that engineering can be a smart and rewarding career choice. The key is to provide both high school and college level STEM curricula that will encourage curious female students to explore working in more technical fields. They note that the engineering schools leading in diversity recruitment are attracting more females and producing more women graduates with engineering degrees.
Breaking through the glass ceilingThe best kind of leadership is always by example. And, a look at the Forbes Most Powerful Women of 2015 reveals a host of with women with STEM-fueled careers at the top of their games. Notable examples are DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman, with a mechanical engineering degree; United Arab Emirates Minister Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi with a degree in computer science; and Epic Systems Founder CEO Judith Faulkner with a degree in mathematics. A majority of the top 100 women on the list had similar technical and scientific backgrounds with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. Change like this at the top of industry and government is a powerful inspiration for the coming generation of women engineers.
Mentors neededThe best advice Aerotek recruiters can give women looking to get into the engineering field is to find a mentor, either male or female. They should be someone you trust and admire but also be someone ready to challenge you. They suggest leveraging your mentor’s contacts, networking as much as possible, learning from other engineers ― of any gender ― and continually honing your technical and management skills equally.