The Ultimate Guide to Women and Engineering
— by Lisa Richards, Educational Outreach Writer
While the numbers shift from year to year, female undergraduates with engineering degrees routinely make up about 20% of engineering students in college. Nearly half of those female students never get the chance to use their degrees in their jobs. Experts worry over the clear gender gap for many reasons, but the most important is simple: women's contributions matter to STEM, and engineers wouldn't have the tools they do today without them. We probably wouldn't recognize our world without all the inventions, improvements, and ideas women engineers brought to life.
For the vast majority of modern history, most people saw women in STEM as strange or threatening. While a handful of colleges and universities began allowing women to study for advanced engineering degrees in the late 1800s, the battle for equality carries on to this day. The numbers tell the story. Understanding the social limits and expectations that stopped women from studying STEM and becoming engineers in the past sheds a light on current problems and opportunities for change.
Women engineers often hid in the shadow of male coworkers and relatives, but some have always fought to stand out. As women become more welcome in STEM, more and more famous engineers are female. These noteworthy women helped create some of the first computer codes, worked as astronauts, put men on the moon, developed x-ray machines, and much, much more.
Engineers' work affects every person's daily life. While a mechanic's job is easy to see, plenty of engineers work behind the scenes, and many people never realize how many habits depend on these unsung heroes. Electrical engineers design computers, create code, and ensure everything from banking transactions to social media discussions run smoothly. Civic engineers plan, build, and maintain the roads and bridges people use to commute to work, transport goods, and visit friends. Medical engineers make life-saving advances in medicine and improve patients' quality of life. Anything that is planned, constructed, explored, or invented usually has a team of engineers behind its development.
Women make up half the world's population, and plenty of those individuals have the natural talent and interest to make the world better as engineers. Simply bringing a different view of the world to design teams is invaluable in increasingly complex societies. Women engineers have revolutionized medicine, laid the foundation for computers, and even explored the universe beyond our atmosphere. It's hard to say what STEM would look like without women's contribution to science.
It's important to show women what a job as an engineer can offer them. There are so many options, and girls aren't always given the same opportunities to enjoy STEM as boys. Once women try it, though, they often want to get more involved. Mentors can help them figure out what their goals are, and supportive managers at work can and should step up to keep them challenged and aware of their value.
School can be expensive, and to help more girls and women follow their dreams to be engineers, lots of groups offer special scholarships. Some organizations may pay for a student's fees if she helps them attract more students by speaking at events and mentoring younger women. Others just want to give back.
Most people pick their dream job when they're still kids. That's why it's so important to get girls into STEM before they have to pick college courses. Some groups specialize in helping girls who like STEM meet similar friends, and lots of experts have tips for parents to help daughters enjoy STEM subjects more at home and at school.
Learning can be fun, but most kids agree playing online games is better than listening to a lecture. Some really popular games actually prepare students to become engineers by adding game physics, letting users build things, and creating online challenges. The Internet makes it easy to practice the skills every engineer needs at home.