At the start of the new millennium, women accounted for only 9 percent of engineers in the workforce – and only 20 percent of engineering students. While these numbers are slightly higher than they were two decades ago, in many ways engineering remains one of the final professional frontiers for women to conquer. With the industry expected to continue growing over the next several years, many firms are focusing on bringing more women into the field.
Women & engineering – perfect together?
As every engineer knows, it takes more than advanced math and science skills to succeed in the field. Engineers must approach problems with an open mind and be willing and able to work within a team to find unique solutions. Women tend to have a high level of creativity, strong communication skills and the ability to work well within groups, making them an innate fit for engineering.
If women’s natural aptitude for engineering isn’t enough reason to take an interest in attracting more of them to the field, consider this: diversity promotes creativity. It’s generally acknowledged that men and women tend to approach problems differently, so it makes sense that the more diverse your team is, the more likely they are to find new and different ways to solve problems. In a field where advances are made every day, a team comprised of both genders could give your business an edge over the competition.
How to close the gender gap.
Your company may be eager to hire more female engineers, but with so few women entering the industry, there just aren’t enough to go around. That’s why it’s crucial to attract younger women to the field – beginning when they’re in middle or high school. Some experts believe this can be accomplished through better marketing of the industry, so consider the following approaches:
Promote the variety.
Many women may not realize the wealth of opportunities available in engineering, so creating awareness of the various fields (chemical, mechanical, electrical, environmental, etc.) and positions is vital. With more than 25 recognized engineering disciplines – and subgroups within each of those – women can choose from a variety of career paths, including the following non-traditional options:
- Racing engineering
- Astronautical (space) engineering
- Mechanical engineering: toy manufacturer
- Beer brewing management
- Fire protection engineering
- Food production
- Management consulting
In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects ongoing demand for qualified engineering professionals through 2012, with continued growth and increased career opportunities in scientific research and development within the following industries: pharmaceuticals, energy, biotechnology, petrochemical and nanotechnology.
Getting the word out to young girls and women that these opportunities exist will go a long way toward attracting more of them to engineering as a whole.
Focus on the numbers.
In 2006, four of the top ten bachelor’s degrees awarded were in engineering – with mechanical and electrical engineering taking the top two spots. That same year, engineers claimed the top four spots on the pay scale for new graduates – chemical engineers were first with an average starting salary of $55,900, followed by computer engineers, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers. Civil engineers placed eighth with an average starting salary of $44,999. The question is: how many young girls and women are aware of these numbers? The engineering industry as a whole must do a better job of spreading the word to women that engineering is a growing field with the potential for high compensation.
By changing the perception of the profession, young girls and women who have an aptitude for math and science – but are unaware of all the opportunities and benefits available in the field – may be drawn to engineering as a career option.
No time to waste.
Changing women’s idea of engineering has to start early. Fortunately, your firm can play an active role in this process:
If you haven’t already, reach out to colleges and universities in your area and set up an internship program for promising students. And there’s no need to stop there – you can attract younger women to the field by creating a “Career Day” program that invites talented high school students (perhaps those taking advanced math and science classes) into your firm for a day to see firsthand the exciting work engineers are doing. This is a great way to create interest and excitement about the profession.
Encourage the engineers on your staff – especially the women – to speak to high school science and math classes about the field and the opportunities available for talented women. Create a scholarship program for female engineering students – or even just a stipend to help cover the cost of books. This will help foster loyalty among women in the field, and will attract more women to your business when they are looking for jobs.
Consider creating a special section of your company’s website dedicated to attracting diverse employees. Highlight the achievements of women in your company – and the profession as a whole, and post podcasts covering various engineering issues. You can even create a “Day in the Life” blog or podcast that gives visitors a glimpse into the exciting realm of the engineers at your firm. And don’t miss the opportunity to connect with young people – female and male – where they spend a lot of time: the Internet. Creating a presence for your company on Facebook and MySpace will increase awareness of your business and help drive visitors to your firm’s website.
Expand your network.
Consider partnering with professional engineering organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the GEM Consortium of Washington, D.C. to identify engineering talent. In fact, the Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network’s (WEPAN) 2008 national conference will focus on strategic communication, research and implementation tactics that enhance diversity.
These organizations are an excellent resource and can provide your company – and the women you hire – with much needed support. If your firm doesn’t have a mentorship program, think about setting one up with the more experienced women on your staff mentoring those who are new to the industry.
Recognize women whenever possible.
When your business succeeds at hiring women engineers it is to your benefit to do everything you can to keep them. So, promote qualified women to leadership positions whenever possible. This will bolster morale among the other women on your team – and will likely attract more women to your company. Be sure to recognize the accomplishments of the women on your team, and give your talented female engineers the same opportunities to work on challenging projects as you would their male counterparts – tackling tough projects gives any engineer valuable experience and increases their chance of being promoted.
It’s just good business.
Keep in mind that everyone in your firm stands to benefit from these female-friendly policies. After all, as women take a more active role in engineering and their numbers grow, your firm will be better positioned to meet the demands of the future thanks to a talented, diverse workforce.