The gender gap in engineering has long been one of the most embarrassing aspects of the industry, with generations of otherwise brilliant professionals finding themselves incapable of explaining why so many men are trained and hired as engineers while women are left by the wayside. Recently, however, the field of engineering has finally begun to own up to the sexism and discrimination that has prevented female candidates from attaining an education or lofty position, and we’re making real progress when it comes to slowly but surely narrowing the gender gap.
Here’s how we’re closing the gender gap in engineering, and why welcoming more female candidates will prove to be a boon to the field.
A diversity of viewpoints is sorely needed
Oftentimes, critics of diversity initiatives scoff that they’re worthless, merely a prop of “political correctness” not worth spending time and effort on. In reality, however, a diversity of viewpoints is sorely needed in virtually every industry, and nowhere is this truer than in engineering, where additional perspectives can radically reshape how productive the field is going forward. Women are still terribly underrepresented when it comes to engineering initiatives, but we’ve seen some serious progress on that front in recent years; in 2015, for instance, data indicated that nearly 20 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in engineering were awarded to women. This number is still far too low, however, and signifies the immense progress that’s yet to be made in the field.
First and foremost, institutions of learning must take ardent steps to create a welcoming atmosphere as far as female candidates for entry are concerned. Right now, it goes without saying that many engineering departments, institutions, and lofty companies are boys’ clubs wherein few female professionals feel accepted and capable of putting on their A-game. Of all the ways to get more women into STEM, embracing storytelling and leveraging the power of example could be the most effective. Companies and universities which demonstrate to young girls that women can be highly-respected engineers within their ranks are doing more to bolster the future of the field than almost anyone else.
In a similar vein to storytelling, we should be relying on the power of example whenever possible. By closely studying successful case studies of companies or institutions broadening the number of female engineers they have, we can determine which policies are working and which are duds best left avoided. Etsy managed to bolster the number of female engineers it had by a whopping 500 percent in just one year, for instance, and their lesson is worth learning from. Simple things like rearranging the seating of your company so that there’s not a gender divide in where people are working can evidently go a long way towards fostering long-term inclusion.
Universities are our future
Above all else, however, universities are our future when it comes to welcoming more women into the field of engineering. Companies may be hesitant to change their policies in the absence of public pressure campaigns, meaning focusing on institutions of learning can help foster next-generation change that will gradually impact the private sector, too. Researchers at Stanford recently uncovered something grisly that must be dealt with, however; oftentimes, male engineers make female candidates unwelcome before they even apply, clearly demonstrating a chauvinistic culture that gives them a sense they would be rejected from the very get-go.
In the future, engineering degree guides and similar tools which help young people inform themselves about how they may pursue an education should go to greater extents to foster diversity and champion inclusive policies. Right now, something as simple as letting female applicants know that they’re welcome can go a long way towards bolstering their long-term potential in the field, so expanding the extent to which women are recognized is an absolute must. Awards given to female engineers worthy of the honor can also demonstrate to future professionals that they can reach high if they strive to always put forth their best efforts.
One of the most impactful changes that’s been made in recent years, both within the field of engineering and elsewhere, is an increasing reliance on gender-neutral language. Referring to engineers as “him” or “his,” even in hypothetical scenarios, effectively silos off half your intended audience from fully receiving the message you want to deliver to them. Broadening your use of language so that it’s appealing to as many people as possible isn’t just kind, it’s literally a more effective method of communication. Across the field of engineering, more inclusive language and more welcoming work environments must be championed.
We’ve come a long way from the days when there were no female engineers, but the gross gender disparity still plaguing the field illustrates how far we’ve yet to go. By honestly rewarding those female candidates who deserve it and fostering initiatives that prove to young girls they can become engineers, however, we’re making real progress when it comes to opening up engineering to women.