Today is International Women in Engineering Day, an international awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available to women in this exciting industry. At the moment engineering still remains a predominantly male-dominated sector, more specifically it is the most male-dominated field in STEM. So it remains important to celebrate the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world and highlight their accomplishments to show the benefits of women in engineering and the positive impact they have.
An unequal representation
While in certain European countries women have started to make up over half of the engineering workforce, in general women are underrepresented in engineering. In the US women make up only 13% of the engineering sector. In Kenya and South Africa, women only make up 8 to 10% of the engineers. In Canada and New Zealand women only make up around one fifth of the engineering workforce. It’s clear, all around numbers remain low. More specifically, in June 2021 women made up approximately 16.5% of the global engineering workforce.
At the same time countries are facing a shortage in engineering talent that could benefit from attracting more women to the sector. There have been efforts by countries to create more gender balance in higher education, which have led to more women choosing to study engineering, but there is an imbalance between the amount of women who start their studies and those who start working in the sector.
For example, in the US 20% of engineering graduates are female, off whom about 40% quit the sector. Some women cited the work culture and climate as the reason for leaving. There are still places where engineering is an “old-boys club”; a hegemonic masculine culture. It’s not surprising that those women start to question whether engineering is really what they want to do. However, many universities and companies are working to address this behavior to create a more positive and inclusive environment for women in engineering to study and work.
Furthermore, the work environment might be a reason why women leave an engineering job, for a majority it’s not the case, there are a variety of reasons for them which aren’t necessarily specific to the sector or their gender. However, what makes women stay in engineering is making a difference. Women are more likely to stay in their engineering role if their job has a social impact. Retention levels are higher among women in engineering when they are able to make a difference.
The importance of women in engineering
The world faces many challenges that require engineers, like climate change, clean energy, sustainable cities, clean water and sanitation. The lack of women in engineering has often led to a male orientated focus on creating solutions for problems. For example, up until 2011 crash tests were only performed with male dummies, ignoring the difference in women’s biology. And for a long time medicines were tested and produced with just the male biology in mind. These issues can be avoided by having more women in engineering, as they are way more likely to take the female aspects into consideration.
Women engineers can create solutions for problems that only the women encounter, problems that are ignored by male engineers who are oblivious to the challenges facing women. For example, In many rural regions in Africa women provide much of the manual labor on farms and collect the fuelwood. Clean energy solutions and clean cooking, designed with the female perspective in mind stand to be the most effective. As mentioned above, female engineers make up only 10% of the total engineers in South Africa, so such gender-responsive insights are likely to be missed. Recruiting more female engineers can help solve these problems, creating and improving designs, new products and solutions that benefit both women and men.
Socially responsible engineers
Women are generally, more often than men, more socially responsible engineers. They focus on solving major problems and having a positive impact. Research shows that women are significantly more likely to be interested in engineering work that is ‘socially conscious’. This is one of the aspects why women choose to stay in the sector, the feeling of making a difference. If women feel like they are making a difference in their sector the retention levels are higher. A focus on meaningful engineering jobs with social impact can therefore help to retain women in engineering.
At Amoria Bond we focus on placements in niche and pioneering jobs that have a positive impact on the world, like in the power and renewable energy and life sciences sectors. We help place women in positions with a positive impact and help promote the opportunities for female engineers, while ensuring a more inclusive and representative sector. We support and assist them every step of the way, to help them create a positive impact. If you’re a woman in engineering looking for a new challenge and want to learn more about what Amoria Bond can do for you to find your dream job in engineering, click here. Or contact me directly to have a conversation about what I can do for you.
Lastly, women are often underrepresented in top positions. Having more women in top positions will help provide visibility to the opportunities for female engineers, while also ensuring more equitable, inclusive and representative executive decisions. Unfortunately, very few women reach leadership positions due to a lack of clear opportunities and support.
I hope this article showcases the importance of INWED, to raise awareness of the achievements of women in engineering, and the issues still facing the sector. The theme of this year’s INWED event is Inventors and Innovators. Profiling the best, brightest and bravest women in engineering, the investors and innovators who dare to be part of the solution and are helping to build towards a brighter future. If you’re looking to learn more, make sure to join the Women Engineering Society’s (WES) seminar here.