Women in Engineering

downloadThe current percentage of women working in engineering is under twelve percent. Having so few women engineers, both incoming into engineering programs and retaining a professional practice, is a long standing concern. The question is, why is it that the proportion of women in engineering is so low? It seems this concern has yet to have its reasons seriously addressed.

 It is generally thought that women bring more focus on some of the softer skills that show an understanding towards human nature, a general connectivity with the natural environment, and a more focused perspective on sustainable solutions, with the empathy they bring to engineering. So why is it then that numbers of women in engineering still fail to rise?

The topic of introducing more right brain thinking to engineering and engineering education has already been raised, perhaps the introduction of more women would help with this. But it is important to consider that making women fit into a left brained industry rather than embracing their natural ability to use the right brain will not just offset the improvement but make the process of introducing women harder to accomplish. While on the whole many discriminations in the physical workspace have been attended to and there is a lot of improvement there, that now leaves us in a position to focus on more detailed issues.

The long embedded social standards that result in subtle and often unconscious bias, lead many to treat women as though they are somehow inferior. This is easy to see even in the differences in salaries men and women receive. While it is understandable that rising above life long conditioning is not an easy task, and that without conscious intervention it is something that could take generations to achieve; the benefits of accepting women as different but equally valuable members of the engineering profession could lead the profession to greater standards both in example to other professions and within engineering itself.

Another factor that could be influencing women being introduced to engineering relates to its philosophy. Having evolved and been nurtured under the influence on men, it naturally has a male feel to it. This may seem an odd concept when you look at engineering as simply being governed by physical laws that can’t be changed. However, it’s manifestations are strongly based in a testosterone fuelled environment, the desire to achieve bigger, better, taller, longer, higher, faster, more complex targets, can result in a more aggressive result (certainly on the natural environment, and often in society).

We can look at this from a marketing angle. If trying to sell a product to women, should a company simply increase advertising to adjust women’s desires, or should they hold focus groups to find out what is not attracting them to the product to begin with and adjust the product itself. The engineering profession is after all ‘selling a product’: a professional career. Therefore attracting more women should include looking at what engineering really is and include a philosophical change rather than simply trying to find women who can change to fit the current professions philosophy.

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