Science, engineering, and other STEM disciplines have come a long way in the last few decades when it comes to accepting women. For much of the last century, the sciences were considered to be the domain of men by the world at large. More than a few brave, determined women managed to penetrate the ranks of the boys’ club and become successful scientists and engineers, but they were still often treated with derision and suspicion by their male colleagues. In regards to gender parity, things are much better now – math and science classes are generally split evenly between the sexes, and the few people left who have a problem with that are considered relics and cranks that aren’t to be taken seriously.
But, just because things are better now than they used to be doesn’t mean that there isn’t still room for improvement. A recent study of 400 engineering and IT companies by the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) found that women only made up 6% of the engineering workforce across all sectors (for IT engineering, the number was a measly 3%). What’s worse, the percentage of professional engineers who are women was the same in 2008 as it was in 2014, and 43% of employers have said that they are not taking any steps to improve the gender balance at their companies.
So, what can engineering do to fix its diversity problem? Aside from companies taking steps to recruit and hire more female candidates, there are several things that engineering can do to encourage young women to enter the field:
- Connect female engineering students with female pros – Young people who are studying to enter a certain field need positive reinforcements and examples of what it is that they are working toward. Engineers and other literal minded people in particular need to see actual results and case studies, not just platitudes and vague examples. Engineering companies can inspire the next generation of female engineers to enter the industry (and come looking for work at their company) by arranging for their female staff members to meet engineering students who are curious about the industry and whether or not there’s a place for them there.
- Offer incentives that attract women – In the past, it was standard practice for a woman who wanted a professional career to put their work ahead of their desire for a family and children. But today’s educated women tend not to see the need to choose one over the other, and will often simply leave industries that they feel punish them for wanting to have both a career and a family. Engineering firms can attract more female candidates by offering benefits and incentives that appeal to female workers, such as maternity leave and flexible hours for parents.
- Make engineering seem exciting – If you want to attract the best talent to your industry, then you need to do outreach. Young people have lots of choices when it comes to education, and many potentially talented future engineers may have entirely overlooked choosing a STEM field because they think it sounds boring. Companies and organizations looking to promote female participation in engineering need to find ways to present the field as vital and exciting, rather than stuffy and boring. Outreach efforts like the F1 Project – in which students build their own Formula 1 Racer – are a good example of these kinds of programs.
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