Thursday 25 October 2012

What Stops Most Women From Joining Engineering?

Who would have ever known that going into engineering would not have many girls. When I first got into university I saw mostly guys in the field. When I transferred schools and got into electrical & computer engineering the ratio between male:females was approximately 40:1.

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Engineering Female Error 404 by Engineer Memes is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

However, in the faculty of arts they had 60% girls and the ratio of girls/guys in science was pretty even. I'm still glad I went into engineering though. I met a lot of great friends there and who said we can't search elsewhere for girls?

I think one of the main reasons why girls get discouraged from engineering is the way they are brought up. When you look at engineering you think of cars, machines and stuff like that. Boys when they're young are given stuff they can play with where they can build and design (like lego). Girls are often given barbie dolls and baby dolls where they can take care of. This reason may not be true for everyone, but I believe this is one of the causes on why girls do not choose to go into engineering.

Another reason they may not be going into engineering is because of the stories they hear. Stories like "there are like no girls in engineering" or "how guys in engineering can be sexist". I think it's true that guys can be sexist in engineering. We need to learn how to treat the women in engineering better and be more welcoming to new women joining engineering. When us guys start treating them better, i'm sure they will have better stories to tell all their female friends that would make engineering more appealing.

What do you think stops them from going into this field of study?


  1. I'm gonna study engineering? And I'm a woman! ;)

  2. maybe is a good idea replace the "not available" with "404 not found"

  3. I can't speak for anyone else but I could never be a mechanical engineer. My husband is an ME and I am in medical. We may think two different ways but we complement each other perfectly!

  4. Nothing, women do better in Engineering. Even if there pretty. Just saying

  5. ^Good job answering the question folks
    I'm sure you're all GREAT engineers

  6. Because the television shows that we grew up with featured the women as nurses and teachers and the men as doctors and scientists. It has been instilled in our minds throughout life. When people go to college, this stereotype is present either consciously or subconsciously and causes women to not go into engineering.

    I'm female and I'm a junior in Electrical Engineering but I didn't even know of engineering or that it was an option until my senior year of high school.

    We need to encourage more girls to go into engineering!

  7. I agree, girls usually do not realise engineering is a viable career.

  8. Because mechanical and electrical engineering are BORING.
    Structural engineering is where it's at.

    - A female structural engineer

    Incidentally though, there is an organisation called WinSET (Women in Science, Engineering and Technology), they do all kinds of work to encourage women into the engineering industry, including visiting schools and giving presentations about the options available to women who want to pursue a career in engineering. They have a branch at my university.

    1. I'm studying Mechanical Engineering and it's the coolest thing.

  9. MAE is not boring at all. I myself am an aerospace engineer and I have enjoyed each day I spend either at the lab, at classes, or just working on projects.

    But to answer the previous question, it could be that some women chose not to become engineers only because they are not interested in the major, or (like mentioned above) they have unconsciously heeded the mistaken assumption that women cannot become engineers. Which of course, has to change. More women need to become integrated into the engineering community.

  10. Wow. None of you can spell.

  11. So poorly written, wow. Could you end your sentence with the word 'girls' or 'engineering' one more time please? Also I find it funny that you were surprised at the lack of girls. I'm a girl in mechanical engineering and I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.

    Here's why there aren't more girls in my program:

    - Most girls assume mechanical engineering = cars, engines, gears, etc. Those things can be used to represent mechanics and mechanical engineering but they do not define us. Personally, I want to design medical equipment like prosthetics and/or artificial limbs/organs. But, unfortunately, a lot of people don't know what we do as mechanical engineers, and kids are taught from a young age that boys are supposed to play with cars and girls are supposed to play with dolls. Lately things have been changing, there are a lot more girls into science and medicine now, however that makes sense, because girls are taught that we are to "take care" of children, families, etc and being a nurse/doctor/medical researcher is an extension of that, in a way. Things are changing, but not very quickly.

    - It is intimidating. I don't mind the guys in my class now that I've gotten to know them, but on the first day you're wondering if you will make any friends or if the guys will ridicule you and make fun of you for being a girl in a predominantly male program.

    - To extend on that, I get talked-down-to all the time for being female. Many ignorant guys think its "cute" that I'm here, and don't take me seriously. Pretty annoying actually.

    I'm sure there are many more reasons. Engineering guys who read this, do everyone a favor and make an effort to be nice to your female classmates! We deserve to be here as much as anyone else!

  12. Interestingly, I went into engineering because the favorable men to women ratio.

  13. Hey there,
    I'm a mechatronics engineer - just graduated. I'd have to say that the gender ratio was never a factor for me in terms of whether or not to study engineering. However, coming from an all-girls high school it was quite a change to start working almost exclusively with guys.

    I have never been 'talked down to', at least in terms of technical work. I do get the 'Oh, you're a girl, you must have neat writing. Do you mind taking the minutes for this meeting?' a fair bit though. Also the occasional inappropriate joke about me wearing dresses/not wearing dresses, unnecessary comments about my appearance, and other things like that.

    As a tron student, I had classes with mech and elec students, which had roughly a 10:1 ratio of guys:girls. I know chem and civil are much more evenly distributed (around 50:50). Also (to the biomed chick above), the vast majority of the mech girls at my uni are going into biomed engineering fields, even though they have 'mechanical' degrees - they don't want to work as mechanical engineers. So I wouldn't really say you're bucking the trend on that one.

    I get asked to do a lot of speaking in schools about careers in engineering (often girls' schools as well as co-ed...never boys'!). I've never come across anyone who was particularly concerned about gender ratios.

    However, I would say that those girls who do finish school and decide to pursue a professional career (rather than a vocation, or family life - which is cool too) tend to be high achievers. As such, they gravitate towards fields such as law and medicine, which are perceived as high status professions. Engineering, by contrast, is populated mostly by nerds/gamers (elec students) and jocks/car nuts (mech students) who can't find anything better to do. Engineers, though generally respected, simply do not have the same social standing as doctors, an lawyers (or even economists and accountants).

    I'm not sure the problem is that engineering 'doesn't appeal to girls'- I think there are plenty of girls who love physics, and design, and programming, and maths. However the ones who are capable of being good engineers are also the ones who are capable of being good doctors, lawyers, etc. So why would they pick engineering? Because they enjoy hanging out with a bunch of drunken louts and having 'tits out for the boys' yelled at them every time there's a big piss-up? I don't think so.

    So for those of you who are studying engineering, or considering it - I wish you luck. You've made a choice based on what you want to do, and not what society says you should. I also wish you luck finding a workplace and/or a place of study where you can feel comfortable that you are not being judged or treated differently because of your gender - they do exist!

    (Also, remember that the dickheads in your classes will grow up eventually, and should start acting vaguely like adults by the time you graduate. They're not all dickheads by the way - those ones are just the loudest.)

    1. This reply - it made me tear up. I am a guy in electrical engineering and it remains a fact that the gender ratio in these parts is somewhat ridiculously skewed. And guys hate it just as much as girls do. We are all for more women joining STEM disciplines.

      The problems you mentioned about your classmates being dickheads is something which I've observed whenever guys are in the majority. They become uncomfortable in dealing with a smaller number of females; unsure of how to treat them properly and respectfully, they fall back to the 'safe' option - treat them just like other guys. Unfortunately, as guys behave like dickheads to each other as a matter of course, this gets a lot of girls mad. (Kudos to the few who don't.)

      Also, like you said, these guys should grow up to be mature adults by the time they are ready to graduate. They're still pretty much teenagers in the first few years and behave like it.

      On a personal note, I studied in an all-boys school and I joined electrical engineering after that. It was actually quite saddening for me to see so few girls. It was basically like school for me with a small handful of girls thrown in. We have so few girls to be a part of our discipline and it feels like a big loss!

      So, women, please join engineering! (I don't know if I'm coming across as sexist, but I assure you that is not the intention.)

  14. Hey, I'm a girl, and I am an engineer.

    I studied Civil Engineering because I didn't want to be an architect and I couldn't pass any of my electrical, industrial and chemical classes.

    Joking aside. The general public does not know enough about the broad field of engineering to encourage people (especially minority women) to know what it is.
    Most engineers don't truly know what engineering is until they reached high school (or college).

    There are no TV shows about engineers (always architects! doctors! lawyers! sexy forensic scientists!), and lets face it, it's not sexy. Engineers don't receive any attention until something fails (see Engineering, Structural) or somebody dies(see Engineering, Chemical).

    Engineering itself is a vague word. You can drive a train and be an Engineer. You can mop the 5th floor and you are a "Building" Engineer.

    Civil Engineering is very broad also, you can do water resources, highway, traffic (ick!), coastal/military, land development (what?), geotechnical, environmental, I can go on and on.

    The key is to go out and spread the awareness of engineering. Tell them that it is multifaceted, and if it's fun (this excludes Traffic Engineering)! Back when I was doing land development, I loved it, I liked designing basins, and designing streets, and making sure that the water doesn't flow towards the house.

    Also remember that people can use engineering towards other fields (like developers, project managers, doctors, teachers, lawyers, grant writers, estimators, etc.)

    Moral of the story is, an engineer is more than "Dilbert" type, an lonely soul sitting in cubicle, doing an excel spreadsheet to find numbers. Engineers are out in the world, making it go 'round.

  15. I just don't think Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering are very appealing. Even to men/boys whatever (aimed at the person who mentiond "girls" being used a lot). I mean a teenager picking a career would be mostly drawn towards something "flashy", like business/finance/med/law, the usual "is he a/will he be a doctor" motherly bs.

    Lately we have been getting a good ammount of media time, though we do not get seaparated between the diferent types of engineers, they just call us engineers. Wich is a bit insulting, they can tell the difference between a general physician and a specialist ... anyway.

    The thing is, how meny young women (better, word critics?) would want to be couped up in a small room doing calculations for several weeks and then doing a design for a month and then (still in the room) building a model. Many young women (making a generalization, not saying all) will tend to stay in the niche they were in high school, popular, rebel, geek (that's the CS majors, chem and bio meds), artistic (here come the archies RUN Civil Engineers RUN) or something like that.

    I mean Engineering, tough very team oriented profession, is still a lonely place once you sink your teeth into doing your part of the project. I don't mind it. Some people can't stand it. I have few women in my classes, it isn't society's fault. I mean if women don't WANT to be engineers, why are we supposed to force them into a field where they won't be happy?

    And some of you mention not knowing engineering was an option. Well, who's fault is that? What did you do in high school. You know men engineers don't make the decission in the middle of the night at a secret meeting spot, it's something you find out your sophomore year in highschool while doing AP Algebra at 1 AM on a saturday night. It's the preverbial light bulb ( i may make a good engineer). Or that dude in auto shop that sees something and goes "what moron put that thing there so i cant get to the drive belt?" and the shop teecher said "a mechanical engineer." If you ask a teacher in your high school who makes stuff that you want to make, someone will tell you.

  16. When I was in highschool and took tech courses, I found that there were too many guys and a lot of them were real control freaks when it came to projects. It was discomforting and most of them really assumed that a girl would not be interested in the work. They would just choose me to be in their group because they were more interested in dating than letting me do work with them. It really took away from the learning process and while ME was an option for me at that time, the highschool experience was a real turn off. I didn't want the same experience in post-secondary so I chose genetic engineering instead. I guess for me, it's the comfort level that mattered most.

  17. Make it easy to get into the field of engineering, and I'll go. I was in computer engineering, and they were teaching Pascal, which is the Latin of computer languages. At the time, people were programming in JAVA, Perl, Python, and a number of other different sorts of languages. And lay people were programming in XML, which was innovative at the time. I didn't know XML, JAVA, or any programming language that was being used at the time, and I was frustrated because people around me were putting out cool stuff while I was still being taught "Hello World!"

    It would also help if tuition were under $500 per semester, the classes flexible, and the teaching innovative. It seems it always happens *after* I leave school. Or maybe that was an illusion.

    I still would love to learn programming, as I have programming friends and I have lay friends who created an app of their highly-visible, highly-lauded book called _Spoon and the Moon_. This is why I've turned to something I can do well without being turned away at every attempt: writing.

    I hate that BOYS still think that WOMEN can't do anything, especially when these BOYS of even 30 years old can't spell to save their lives! As the editor of my Mechanical Engineer husband's Master's Thesis, I red-marked that paper til it had more red marks than white space, and when my husband cleaned it up, his professor thought I knew more about Mechanical Engineering than my husband did!

    And don't forget that one of the programming languages was named Ada, after Ada Lovelace, an English Mathematician with a Ph.D.

    People think that either it was impossible for NASA to have sent men to the moon or that they had computers. No to both. The "computers" at the didn't do anything more than an adding machine at the time. (Oh, I'm sorry--you don't know what an adding machine is: it's like a mechanical cash register.)

    The real computers were the women who worked at NASA. Their job title was COMPUTER. Their job was to take the information from Mission Control and work out the equations they needed to guide the rockets to their destination and back home. In the book _Rocket Men_ (Craig Nelson,Penguin Group, New York, 2009) they said that a woman with a Ph.D. in Maths would break down the information into equations that her woman employees worked and gave back to her. She took the results, calculated them together, and gave them to the Flight Director. They were the backbone of the Apollo Program. And they had to be good. They held the lives of the men of space in their very pencils and gravitational equations.

    We owe more of computer history to women than we think.

    Now. Let us be engineers and you will see what we can do for you, and with you.

    And I say that for the entire world: China, U.S., Japan, the African nations, the European Union, Russia (they like putting women in their technical programs), India, and also in the Muslim countries, where women and girls like Malala Yousafzai stand up and want to be all they can be.

    Give us the tools, and we'll give you the world, the stars, the planets, the black holes, and the means to get there!

  18. Hi, recently graduated female bioengineer here, working in biotech. I want to second the 'society says women aren't engineers' thing. There are a lot of messages in the culture that discourage women from going into engineering, things like "women aren't good at math and science" to "women just don't go into engineering" to "engineering is really unfriendly to women/full of mouthbreathers" to "the only women who could be interested in a STEM degree are control freaks/too ugly to get a man/ have something wrong with her because those are MAN things" to "Men don't like smart women, if you are a female engineer you'll be too intimidating". These are lies, but they're pernicious lies because they have some far-removed grain of truth and a thick outer coat of things people want to be true for some terrible reason.

    And saying "God, we really need some women up in here, it's such a sausagefest" isn't really helping. It's saying to women that they'll be treated as a girl first and an individual person second. In my experience, most women don't like to hang in all male groups for this reason. In a mixed or female-only group, your gender is not the thing that makes you unique from everyone else or the thing people will fixate on, so women are more comfortable. I see this issue in a lot of other male heavy groups I participate in, like biking and nerd stuff (both of which have worse male/female ratios that my engineering classes). Ironically, what will help most with getting girls to go into engineering is...getting more girls into engineering so they don't feel like 'the chick' of the group. The problem is how to build up that initial critical mass.

    I could fill a book with all the reasons women don't go (and don't stay) into engineering, but these are the big ones as they relate to women going into engineering degrees, and this post is already Tolstoy-long and too gender-studies intensive anyway. If you want to get women into engineering, support SWE, support the Sally Ride Festival, and do whatever the Biology departments are doing because that major has a one-to-one gender ratio now.

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