Let’s celebrate International Women in Engineering Day!
47% of the American workforce is made up of women, but only 14% of engineers and only 20% off engineering students are women. In fact, while the number of female engineering students has increased, 40% of female graduates leave or never find a job in the field. According to one Harvard Business Review article, women who choose a career in engineering express a desire to be work in socially conscious areas, such as environmental or biomedical engineering. When exposed to real-world engineering in their first jobs or internships, these hopeful engineers learn that “the engineering profession is not as open to being socially responsible or as dedicated to tackling pressing national and global problems as they had hoped.” The twin disappointments of opportunities to make a positive impact paired with sexism encountered in the classroom or workplace alienate these young and hopeful engineers who look for opportunities elsewhere.
Well that was disheartening. What can we do?
In the 1980’s only 5.8% of engineers were women, illustrating that we have made great strides in closing the engineering gender gap. Here at the University of Iowa, 27.8% of engineering students (undergraduate and graduate together) are women.
This is something everyone can do! Read articles and books, listen to podcasts, or find other resources to learn about the history of women in engineering and the current issues they are facing. We can get you started! If you are interested in the story of how women blazed their own way into engineering schools, try Girls Coming to Tech! by Amy Sue Bix. If you want to blaze your own way in the engineering world, check out Becoming Leaders: a practical handbook for women in engineering, science, and technology by F. Mary Williams and Carolyn J. Emerson.
Join a Student Organization focused on Women in Engineering
The College of Engineering has over 30 student groups, several of which are centered around women in engineering. Many professional engineering organizations including ASME and IEEE have their own special sections for women in the field to build relationships.
Find or Become a Mentor
Building one on one relationships is another way to build community. You can create your own mentorships, or find them through groups like the Society of Women Engineers, who have a members only mentor network. A mentor can help you to evaluate your goals, navigate difficult decisions, or find your next career move.
Find a Role Model
Many people find it beneficial to have role models to aspire to. These can be other female engineers from history whose work you want to build on, or even a celebrity whose vibe you like (no one says you can’t aspire to be the Beyonce of your lab). We even have some great female role models here at the College of Engineering! Our own Dean Harriet Nembhard is an extremely accomplished Industrial Engineer.