It’s National Women in Engineering Day. Time to stop teaching girls that they aren’t built to do a subject that they are perfectly capable of, says ‘STEMinist’ Alice Gray.
It can be an isolating experience being one of few women in the room but this is the reality for women working in engineering. Women make up less than 10 per cent of employees in engineering, and in some areas of the industry women are so few that they could be considered a statistical anomaly, taking up around 3 per cent of engineering apprenticeships.
The causes that lead to this lack of women in engineering are incredibly complex. It starts from a young age, with insidious gender roles directing children into different career paths and girls growing up to lack confidence in subjects such as maths and physics. And for those women who have managed to dodge those outsider influences and hurdle over the barriers, they face a career that can be marginalising and that offers little support.
Although the process of losing young girls and women from a career in engineering can be a complicated process, it can be simplified into two sections; either girls don’t get into engineering in the first place or female engineers end up leaving the industry.
Children as young as three years old begin to form ideas about what girls and boys are capable of, and therefore it is not a surprise that many girls grow up not even considering engineering as a career choice for them.
An engineer is a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or structures. They are people who can apply mathematical and scientific thinking to problem-solving in real life and to practical issues, everything that little girls are taught not to be.
Girls are significantly less likely to be given toys that involve building and problem solving and are more likely to be given toys related to family play or beauty. We are losing women from engineering at all points in their career, even before they have started, by teaching them that they just aren’t built to do a subject that they are perfectly capable of.
For those girls that manage to keep the stereotypes at bay and make it into engineering they face a whole new set of hurdles.
“Dr Sima Adhya completed her PhD in 2005, collaborating with NASA to focus on astrophysics. Her models are now being implemented to gain a better understanding of climate change.”
Women in engineering are confronted with an environment that can be isolating and intimidating. Being the only woman in a room can lead to a ‘boys’ club’ atmosphere which can result in ostracising women in the industry.
Although women have made vast steps in our societal status, we are still assumed to be the primary family caregiver and this can present significant roadblocks at work. Engineering, like many other careers in science, technology and mathematics, relies on working outside of typical working hours and can lack flexibility.
This can prove a huge problem for working parents and seeing as women are significantly more likely to give up work after starting a family, it is unsurprising that they can end up leaving engineering due to family pressures.
But despite these barriers women are changing the engineering landscape, completing pioneering work.
For example, Dr Sima Adhya completed her PhD in 2005, collaborating with NASA to focus on astrophysics. Her models are now being implemented to gain a better understanding of climate change. When Dr Adhya is not completing trailblazing work, she is communicating science and engineering to the public; thus helping to better the representation of women in engineering.
By simply showing her face, Dr Adhya is doing pioneering work in both engineering and in society. By showing that women are in fact working and achieving in the sector, she is helping to encourage young women to consider engineering as a career path, and combat the idea that this is not an industry for them.
National Women in Engineering Day is a day dedicated to raising the profile and celebrating the achievements of women in the sector. By increasing awareness for the pioneering work women are doing in engineering and improving representation, National Women in Engineering Day (not forgetting the work women in the field are doing every other day of the year) is helping to bring the lack of women in STEM to the forefront of the discussion.
So this National Women in Engineering Day, why not look up some of the amazing work women are doing in the sector, because they are the ones breaking down barriers and paving the way for the future generations of female engineers.
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Alice Gray is a self-proclaimed loud-mouthed STEM-inist, with a penchant for glass-ceiling smashing. The Welsh blogger writes about issues of inequality in science, technology, engineering and maths at mind-ful.blogspot.co.uk