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Engineering Needs More Women | Minority Engineers

Engineering Needs More Women and Minority Engineers
Engineering only has 13% of professional women engineers. More women and minority engineers are needed!

Overall American Employment Gained

The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced today that 559,000 new jobs were created last month. This was an increase of 293,000 over last month.

Additionally, the broad measure of unemployment U6 showed that overall unemployment dropped to 10.2%. However, 52.2% or 292,000 of the new jobs were created in the category of Leisure and Hospitality Services, which is a lot lower paying than engineers!

More Recruiting Of Women | Minority Engineers Needed

Only 13% of all engineers being women is despite the latest figures in 2019, that show women outpaced men in earning bachelor’s degrees in the United States at 57.5%.

Additionally, women have accounted for many bachelor’s degrees since the early 1980s. College rates are also increasing among black Americans, especially women, though racial gaps are still significant.

This steady rise is positive to see, but when looking at the more homogenized field of engineering, an industry so core to the tech economy, there’s a disappointing lack of progress among women and minorities in engineering.

While business leaders know the inherent strength of diverse teams, prioritizing building those teams has yet to become mainstream in the engineering sector. When teams are predominantly made up of white men, the world’s problems aren’t being examined through other lenses, which means many of the world’s problems aren’t being solved.

Diverse teams inspire vital conversations, new questions, and R&D (research and development), scientific and technical breakthroughs. From a business perspective, this equates to more opportunities for technology success.

To truly increase representation in engineering requires a comprehensive approach: from ensuring early and equal access to education (especially STEM), to reforming the college curriculum and experience, to building support and leadership trajectories within the industry.

Early Engineer Access 

There’s an obvious need to prioritize diversity in the engineering industry to truly impact this imbalance, starting in the earliest classrooms. Entire organizations now exist to promote girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. However, access to engineering as a field of study greatly remains inequitable, creating an initial obstacle before that inspiration can even happen.

Unless students are attending specialized or private schools or grow up in households with caretakers who pursued higher education, there are barriers to entry. Many students don’t even have a baseline exposure to engineering.

Not only should basic engineering be made part of a school curriculum, but demonstrations and hands-on activities also are important to show how science and math can be applicable in imaginative ways. These should be provided by professional engineers from diverse backgrounds to demonstrate that anyone, regardless their gender or race, can become an engineer, too.

College Engineering Curriculum

Universities also face a recruitment and retention problem. Women made up 24% of undergraduate engineering students in 2019. But of them, only 3.2% identified as Hispanic and 1.3% as black. Low enrollment rates in higher-education engineering programs among women can be connected to how the subject is taught.

Across electrical engineering, computer-science engineering, and others, lessons are often book-, process- and data-centric. To make these areas of study more approachable for women and people of color, there should be a heavier emphasis on the application of the technology and its clear translation to jobs that they can imagine themselves in at innovative companies they admire.

Once women are in the program, they need allyship and mentorship to stay. Using inclusive examples in teaching, such as referencing famous women and people of color engineers, rather than just white males, creates a stronger sense of belonging. For rising students, the question is no longer “who will be first?” to break through a field, but “will you be next?” When underserved communities feel there’s a place for them, and better yet, opportunities to succeed, they thrive.

As 32% of women transfer out of STEM degree programs in college, it’s shown that community is particularly important in helping women be successful and feel connected, more so than men. Women are in greater need of partnership because they’re already fighting against stigmas, siloes, and imposter syndrome.

Teachers who actively advocate for female students, through nominations for stretch opportunities or personal references for specialized groups or internships, build up students’ confidence to pursue challenges. This positions them for growth and leadership, and these opportunities can be critical to later success. If women feel discouraged or unqualified to even apply, it only further perpetuates the problem of male counterparts advancing at quicker rates.

Women Exit The Engineering Field At A High Rate

Of the women who graduated and moved into the profession, only 30% report that they stayed in engineering 20 years or more. Given the low representation, it’s no wonder when women are part of critical teams developing world-class products, they’re often plagued with like outsiders, leading to feelings of isolation. Organizations can try to recruit better and create resources for support, but the industry should ask: Why aren’t more women and women of color choosing to become, and remain, engineers?

One woman engineer who began my career at global test and measurement company Tektronix in 1999, was the only woman on my engineering team. She said there weren’t many people of color working in engineering, either. Now, more than 20 years later, still often the only woman on the teams she leads.

As a woman in engineering, she has often felt isolated. Of women who have left the engineering profession, 30% cite organizational climate as the reason. That’s why a sense of community is critical. That’s why she started a “Women in Technology” (WIT) group at her company in 2016 to foster an inclusive environment for women. What began as her and a colleague talking over lunch has grown to 300 members that now welcome high-level guest speakers, and it’s become an influential part of the overall Tektronix culture.

While fostering networking, community, and collaboration, the group has led to an increase in the number of women in engineering and leadership positions at Tektronix. They now have a female CEO and a gender-balanced executive team.

Since college, she’s been hoping to see a change in the number of women working in engineering. What she has seen has been slow. While she is proud of the innovations to which she’s contributed thus far into my career, such as pioneering new high-end waveform generators, she looks forward to continuing to innovate as part of more diverse teams in the future.

That’s because diverse teams succeed. Building more of them in the future depends on a holistic approach, from access to STEM education at a younger age, to advocacy in college programs and purposeful recruitment and retention at the professional level. As engineers, we solve problems. And prioritizing this one will lead to positive real-world impacts.

Improved STEM Provides A lot More Engineers

A lot more can accomplished by further escalating STEM education that will yield more engineers in general and women and minority engineers in specific! Today, the role of engineering is so important that it is a critical part of our nation’s future success including creating many high wage jobs.

Engineers daily develop breakthroughs that enhance our lives and provide exponentially more economic revenues. Technology corporations like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are scrambling recruiting top engineers and offering them huge six figure salaries.

Therefore, we need to mint more engineers to assist our economy. Additionally, a lot more focus needs to be made on recruiting women and minorities into the engineering field. This influx of engineers will help our society, economy and nation progress by leaps and bounds.

Strategic Search Can Assist With Your Engineering Recruiting Needs

To learn more about how Strategic Search Corporation can better assist your engineering recruitment needs click here for my full contact information or call me today at 312-944-4000. Then we can discuss how to improve recruitment of key engineer talent. This is especially true in highly competitive fields of AI (Artificial Intelligence), Robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) as well as Virtual (and Augmented) Reality.


4 Comments

John Reeder

June 10, 2021 at 6:31 pm

I had no idea of the low numbers in the field. I had many female Engineers that worked for me in Manufacturing Engineering. Electrical and Industrial.

I don’t know if schools do avoid job explaining what Engineers do.

There is a huge diversity in Engineering degrees to pursue.

    Scott

    June 10, 2021 at 11:47 pm

    John,
    I appreciate your comments about my recent article on the state of engineering and women and minority engineers within the engineering field.

    Thanks again,

    -Scott

Maureen Swanson

June 12, 2021 at 6:04 pm

I totally agree with this article stating that we must get more women trained as engineers. Women need to be seen as problem solvers to add diversity to engineering teams. If women are to be seen as equals some male mentality must also change.
Early access to stem education is crucial.. As a retired educator, I am not sure what the current state or federal curriculum requires.. However, I did check with the local elementary school. They use a program called TYNK ER. It is a self paced coding 101 course. It is conducted as a weekly class much like the other related arts. The elementary school has a robotics team that consists of both boys and girls in the fourth and fifth grades. Every year they select a couple of third graders to begin their training. 8 elementary schools in the district have a school wide robotics competition each spring. They ask the high school robotics team to visit the elementaries a few times a year.
The elementary schools do have a girl focused stem camp but it is basically only a full day of instruction. All of this is great, but not nearly enough to encourage our girls to make a career in a male-dominated field.

    Scott

    June 12, 2021 at 6:29 pm

    Maureen,
    I greatly appreciate your contributing to my recent article on the state of the engineering field and the need for more women and minority engineers. Your insights on engineer and STEM education are very valuable.

    Thanks again,

    -Scott

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