Women in engineering

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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 academics and as a profession. A number of organizations and programs have been created to understand and overcome this tradition of gender disparity.


Factors contributing to lack of female participation[edit]

Incentives in higher education[edit]

Enrollment and graduation rates of women in post-secondary engineering programs are very important determinants of how many women go on to become engineers. Undergraduate degrees are acknowledged as the "latest point of standard entry into scientific fields."[1]

Percentage of undergraduate women in Engineering in Australia, Canada, the UK, and US[2]
Country  % women to men year
Australia 14.1% 2004
Canada 18.5% 2004
United Kingdom 9.5% 2005-06
United States 19.3% 2005-06

Countries such as the United States and Canada have more flexible entry requirements into post-secondary education, whereas countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia may demand that students study math, physics, and chemistry in high school.[2] Of the four countries, the percentage of undergraduates completing an engineering degree was 18.5% female in Canada in 2004 and 19.3% in the United States in 2005-06. In comparison, the percentage of undergraduates completing an engineering degree in the United Kingdom was 9.5% female in 2005-06 and in Australia, the enrollment rate of women in engineering was 14.1%.

There are disparities within the undergraduate engineering degree. Women are less likely to study mechanical, electrical, and aeronautical engineering than chemical or civil engineering.[2] This may "reflect the popularity of environmental engineering among women."[2]

All explanations for women persisted difficultly are of two main kinds. One is about capital characteristics, another one is about gender difference.[3] Stereotype threat includes gender identification, gender endorsement, engineering identification and gender ability perceptions.[4] women in engineering experience difficulties related to the male-dominated aspects of engineering but women who persist are able to overcome these difficulties enabling them to find fulfilling and rewarding experiences in the engineering profession.[5]


United States[edit]

Females are underrepresented as both graduate students in engineering and working engineers.[6][7] 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.[8] Master's Degrees awarded to women has not changed much from 22.3% in 2003 to 23.1% in 2012.[8] Doctoral degrees awarded to women in engineering increased from 11.6% of total degrees awarded in 1995. to 17.4% in 2004,[9] to 21.1% in 2008,[10] then up a slightly again in 2012 to 22.2%.[8] The workforce remains as the area of highest under-representation for women; only 11% of the engineering workforce in 2003 were women.[11]


Only 9.6% of engineers in Australia are women, and the rate of women in engineering degree courses has remained around 14% since the 1990s.[12]


In Canada, though women tend to make up more than half of the undergraduate population in Canada, the number of women in engineering is disproportionately low.[13] Whereas in 2001, 21 percent of students in engineering programs were female, by 2009, this had fallen to 17 percent.[13] One commentator attributed this to a number of factors, such as failing 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.[13]

In the 1990s, undergraduate enrollment of women in engineering fluctuated from 17 to 18%, while in 2001, it rose to 20.6%.[14] In 2010, 17.7% of students in undergraduate engineering were women.[15]

2010 percentage of women enrolled in tertiary education programs in Canada[15]
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.[15]

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.[15]

On average, 11% of engineering faculty are women and the percentage of leadership roles held by women is an average of 9%.[15] 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%.[15]

CCWE1992 goals for 1997 and actual 2009 percentage of women involved in engineering in Canada[16]
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.[17] 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.[17] 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."[17] 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).

Initiatives to promote engineering to women[edit]

Organization Country
Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology Global
Women In Engineering ProActive Network United States
Society of Women Engineers United States
Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing United States
Robogals Australia, United Kingdom, United States, South Africa, Canada, Japan, Philippines
Women in SET United Kingdom
German Association of Women Engineers (dib e.V.) Germany
Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN) Nigeria
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Women in Engineering Canada
Ontario Network of Women in Engineering Canada
South African Women in Engineering South Africa
Women in Engineering Student Society United Kingdom
Women's Engineering Society United Kingdom

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ a b c d 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. 
  3. ^ Evetts, Julia (1993). "Women and management in engineering: The 'glass ceiling' for". Women in Management Review 8.7. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  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. ^ "Data on Women in S&E" (PDF). p. 4. [dead link]
  7. ^ "Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine". Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Retrieved 10 Apr 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c Yoder, Brian. "Engineering by the Numbers" (PDF). ASEE. American Society for Engineering Educatio. 
  9. ^ "Table 2. Doctorates awarded to women, by field of study: 1995–2004" (PDF). National Science Foundation. Retrieved 10 Apr 2012. 
  10. ^ Scott Jaschik, Women Lead in Doctorates, Inside Higher Ed, September 14, 2010 (accessed June 18, 2013)
  11. ^ "TABLE H-5. Employed scientists and engineers, by occupation, highest degree level, and sex: 2006" (PDF). National Science Foundation. Jan 2009. Retrieved 10 Apr 2012. 
  12. ^ "The Case for Robogals". Robogals. Retrieved 10 Apr 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c Myers, Jennifer (9 Nov 2010). "Why more women aren't becoming engineers". Retrieved 24 Mar 2013. 
  14. ^ "Women in Engineering". Engineers Canada. Retrieved 30 Jun 2012. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f "Canadian Engineers for Tomorrow: Trends in Engineering Enrolment and Degrees Awarded 2006 to 2010" (PDF). Engineers Canada. Retrieved 30 Jun 2012. 
  16. ^ "INWES Education and Research Institute: CCWE+20 National Workshop Project Final Report" (PDF). INWES Education and Research Institute. Jul 2011. Retrieved 24 Mar 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c "Canada needs more women engineers—how do we get there?". University of Ottawa. 26 Jul 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bix, Amy Sue. Girls Coming to Tech!: A History of American Engineering Education for Women (MIT Press, 2014)
  • Rosser, Sue (2014). Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science. NYU Press. ISBN 978-1479809202.