Women in engineering

Autodidact computer chip designer and inventor Jeri Ellsworth at the Bay Area "Maker Faire" in 2009.

Women have contributed to the diverse fields of engineering in modern and historical times. Women are often under-represented in the fields of engineering, both in academia and in the profession of engineering. A number of organizations and programs have been created to understand and overcome this tradition of gender disparity.


The history of women as designers and builders of machines and structures predates the development of engineering as a trade. Prior to the creation of the term "engineer" in the 11th century, women had contributed to the technological advancement of societies around the globe, including Hypatia of Alexandria (350 or 370–415 AD), who is credited with the invention of the hydrometer. By the 19th century, women who participated in engineering work often had academic training in mathematics or science. Ada Lovelace was privately schooled in mathematics before beginning her collaboration with Charles Babbage on his analytical engine that would earn her the designation of the "first computer programmer." In the early years of the 20th century, greater numbers of women began to be admitted to engineering programs, but they were generally looked upon as anomalies by the men in their departments.

The entry of the United States into World War II created a serious shortage of engineering talent in that country as men were drafted into the armed forces. To address the shortage, initiatives like GE on-the-job engineering training for women with degrees in mathematics and physics and the Curtiss-Wright Engineering Program among others created new opportunities for women in engineering. Curtiss-Wright partnered with Cornell, Penn State, Purdue, the University of Minnesota, the University of Texas, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Iowa State University to create an engineering curriculum that lasted ten months and focused primarily on aircraft design and production.[1]

Women also played a crucial role in programming the ENIAC from its construction during the World War II period through the next several decades. Originally recruited by the Army in 1943, female ENIAC programmers made considerable advancements in programming techniques, such as the invention of break points, now a standard debugging tool.[2]

In addition to the wartime shortage of engineers, women also made inroads in engineering fields due to the gradual increase in public universities admitting female students. For example, Georgia Tech began to admit women engineering students in 1952, while the École Polytechnique in Paris, a premier French engineering institution, began to admit female students in 1972.

Factors contributing to lower female participation

Gender stereotypes

Stereotype threat may contribute to the under-representation of women in engineering. Because engineering is a traditionally male-dominated field, women may be less confident about their abilities, even when performing equally.[3] At a young age, girls do not express the same level of interest in engineering as boys, possibly due in part to gender stereotypes.[4] There is also significant evidence of the remaining presence of implicit bias against female engineers, due to the belief that men are mathematically superior and better suited to engineering jobs.[4] Women who persist are able to overcome these difficulties, enabling them to find fulfilling and rewarding experiences in the engineering profession.[5]

Lower rates of female students in engineering degree programs

Women are under-represented in engineering education programs as in the workforce (see Statistics). Enrollment and graduation rates of women in post-secondary engineering programs are very important determinants of how many women go on to become engineers. Because undergraduate degrees are acknowledged as the "latest point of standard entry into scientific fields", the under-representation of women in undergraduate programs contributes directly to under-representation in scientific fields. [6] Additionally, in the United States, women who hold degrees in science, technology, and engineering fields are less likely than their male counterparts to have jobs in those fields.[7]

This degree disparity varies across engineering disciplines. While women are well-represented in environmental and biomedical engineering degree programs, receiving 40-50% of awarded degrees in the U.S. (2014-15), women are far less likely to receive degrees in fields like mechanical, electrical and computer engineering.[7][8]

Engineering culture

Another possible reason for lower female participation in engineering fields is the prevalence of values "associated with the male gender role" in workplace culture.[8] For example, some women in engineering have found it difficult to re-enter the workforce after a period of absence. Because men are less likely to take time off to raise a family, this disproportionately affects women.[9]


Percentage of total undergraduate engineering degree completions by women in Australia, Canada, the UK, and US[8]
Country % of women year
Australia 14.1% 2004
Canada 18.5% 2004
United Kingdom 9.5% 2005-06
United States 19.3% 2005-06

United States

Females are underrepresented as both graduate students in engineering and working engineers.[10][11] The number of bachelor's degrees awarded to women dropped from 20.4% in 2003, down to 17.8% in 2009, and back up to 18.9% in 2012.[12] The percentage of master's degrees awarded to women has not changed much from 2003 (22.3%) to 2012 (23.1%).[12] The percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to women in engineering increased from 11.6% in 1995, to 17.4% in 2004,[13] to 21.1% in 2008,[14] then to 22.2% in 2012.[12]

The workforce remains the area of lowest representation for women. In 2009, women comprised 48% of the total workforce, but only 14% of the engineering workforce.[7]


Only 14% of engineers in Australia are women.[15] The retention of female engineers is also disproportionally low; in 2006, 62.6% of qualified male engineers were employed in engineering professions, as opposed to 47.1% of qualified female engineers.[16]


Though women tend to make up more than half of the undergraduate population in Canada, the number of women in engineering is disproportionately low.[17] Whereas in 2001, 21 percent of students in engineering programs were female, by 2009, this had fallen to 17 percent.[17] One commentator attributed this drop to a number of factors, such as the failure of higher education programs to explain how engineering can improve others' lives, a lack of awareness of what engineers do, and discomfort of being in a male-dominated environment and the perception that women must adapt to fit in.[17]

In the 1990s, undergraduate enrollment of women in engineering fluctuated from 17 to 18%, while in 2001, it rose to 20.6%.[18] In 2010, 17.7% of students in undergraduate engineering were women.[19]

2010 percentage of women enrolled in tertiary education programs in Canada[19]
Province Undergraduate Graduate Doctoral
Alberta 22% 23.3% 23.3%
British Columbia 16.5% 27.5% 27.5%
Manitoba 16% 22.9% 22.9%
New Brunswick 15.9% 19.3% 19.3%
Newfoundland and Labrador 20.9% 20.6% 20.6%
Northwest Territories
Nova Scotia 18.7% 15.8% 15.8%
Ontario 17.7% 21.4% 21.4%
Prince Edward Island
Quebec 16.3% 20.4% 20.4%
Saskatchewan 19% 27.9% 27.9%
Yukon Territory
Canada 17.7% 21.9% 21.9%

Female undergraduate enrollment was highest in 2010 in environmental, biosystems, and geological engineering.[19]

The number of women enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral engineering programs tends to vary by province, with the highest number in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.[19]

On average, 11% of engineering faculty are women and the percentage of leadership roles held by women is an average of 9%.[19] The University of Toronto has the highest female faculty rate in Canada at 17% and École Polytechnique de Montréal, University of British Columbia, and Dalhousie University all have a female faculty rate of 13%.[19]

CCWE1992 goals for 1997 and actual 2009 percentage of women involved in engineering in Canada[20]
Women in... 1997 2009
1st year undergraduate 25-25%
Undergraduate programs 17.4%
Master's studies 20% 24.1%
Doctoral studies 10% 22%
Faculty members: professors 5% Full: 7%
Associate: 11%
Assistant: 18%
Eng. degree graduates 18% 17.6%
Profession 10.4%

In 2011, the INWES Education and Research Institute (ERI) held a national workshop, Canadian Committee of Women in Engineering (CCWE+20), to determine ways of increasing the number of women in the engineering field in Canada.[21] CCWE+20 identified a goal of increasing women's interest in engineering by 2.6 percent by 2016 to a total of 25 percent through more incentives such as through collaboration and special projects.[21] The workshop identifies early education as one of the main barriers in addition to other factors, such as: "the popular culture of their generation, the guidance they receive on course selection in high school and the extent to which their parents, teachers and counsellors recognize engineering as an appropriate and legitimate career choice for women."[21] The workshop report compares enrollment, teaching, and professional statistics from the goals identified in 1997 compared to the actual data from 2009, outlining areas of improvement (see table, right).

Professional organizations promoting women in engineering

This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
Organization Country
African Women in Science and Engineering (AWSE) Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda
Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology Global
Association of Francophone Women in STEM (AFFESTIM) Canada
Association of Korean Women Scientists and Engineers Republic of Korea
Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN) Nigeria
Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering South Africa
German Association of Women Engineers (dib e.V.) Germany
Global Women Inventors and Innovators Network Global
Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing United States
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering Global
International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists (INWES) Global
International Network of Women Engineers and Scientists Japan (INWES Japan) Japan
Ontario Network of Women in Engineering Canada
Robogals Australia, United Kingdom, United States, South Africa, Canada, Japan, Philippines
Society of Women Engineers United States
Stemettes United Kingdom
Vietnam Association for Intellectual Women Vietnam
WISE United Kingdom
WomEng Global
Women in Aviation United States
Women in Building Services Engineering United Kingdom
Women In Engineering ProActive Network United States
Women in Engineering Student Society United Kingdom
Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) United States
Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (WSTEM) Mongolia Mongolia
Women in SET United Kingdom
Women in Technology International Global
Women's Engineering Society United Kingdom
Women of STEM United States

See also


  1. Bix, Amy Sue, "'Engineeresses' Invade Campus: Four decades of debate over technical coeducation." IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Vol. 19 Nr. 1 (Spring 2000), 21.
  2. Abbate, Janet. "Recoding Gender: Women's Changing Participation in Computing". MIT Press.
  3. Jones, Brett D.; Ruff, Chloe; Paretti, Marie C. (2013). "The impact of engineering identification and stereotypes on undergraduate women's achievement and persistence in engineering". Social Psychology of Education An International Journal.
  4. 1 2 Hill, Catherine; Corbett, Christine; St. Rose, Andresse (2010). "Why So Few?: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics" (PDF). AAUW.
  5. Buse, Kathleen; Bilimoria, Diana; Perelli, Sheri (2013). "Why they stay: women persisting in US engineering careers". Career Development International. 18.2: 139–154.
  6. Fox, Mary; Sonnert, Gerhard; Nikiforova, Irina (2011). "Programs for Undergraduate Women in Science and Engineering: Issues, Problems, and Solutions". Gender & Society. 25 (5): 591. doi:10.1177/0891243211416809.
  7. 1 2 3 Yoder, Brian L. (2015). "Engineering by the Numbers" (PDF). American Society for Engineering Education.
  8. 1 2 3 Franzway, Suzanne; Sharp, Rhonda; Mills, Julie E; Gill, Judith (2009). "Engineering Ignorance: The Problem of Gender Equity in Engineering". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 30 (1): 90. doi:10.1353/fro.0.0039.
  9. Evetts, Julia (1993). "Women and management in engineering: The 'glass ceiling' for". Women in Management Review. 8.7.
  10. "Data on Women in S&E" (PDF). p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 19, 2007.
  11. "Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine". Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Retrieved 10 Apr 2012.
  12. 1 2 3 Yoder, Brian. "Engineering by the Numbers" (PDF). ASEE. American Society for Engineering Educatio.
  13. "Table 2. Doctorates awarded to women, by field of study: 1995–2004" (PDF). National Science Foundation. Retrieved 10 Apr 2012.
  14. Scott Jaschik, Women Lead in Doctorates, Inside Higher Ed, September 14, 2010 (accessed June 18, 2013)
  15. "Who, What, Why". Robogals. Retrieved 10 Apr 2012.
  16. Kaspura, Andre (2014). "THE ENGINEERING PROFESSION: A STATISTICAL OVERVIEW". 11. Engineers Australia: 117.
  17. 1 2 3 Myers, Jennifer (9 Nov 2010). "Why more women aren't becoming engineers". Retrieved 24 Mar 2013.
  18. "Women in Engineering". Engineers Canada. Retrieved 30 Jun 2012.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Canadian Engineers for Tomorrow: Trends in Engineering Enrolment and Degrees Awarded 2006 to 2010" (PDF). Engineers Canada. Retrieved 30 Jun 2012.
  20. "INWES Education and Research Institute: CCWE+20 National Workshop Project Final Report" (PDF). INWES Education and Research Institute. Jul 2011. Retrieved 24 Mar 2013.
  21. 1 2 3 "Canada needs more women engineers—how do we get there?". University of Ottawa. 26 Jul 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2013.

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/1/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.