Assistant professor, Arizona State University
Kevin Bair, an ASU graduate student, was working with Santos developing multiple anthropomorphic robotic hands in early 2011. Things were progressing on this sophisticated project when Bair died in a kayak accident. Though Santos and the lab were grieved by his loss, they eventually pressed forward. With her guidance, ASU completed the project and, in Bair's honor, named the robotic hand Bair Claw.
@ttemple: It's certainly true that the number of women engineers should be based on desire and aptitude, rather than a fixed number. On the other hand, I also think that there are strong cultural factors that tend to discourage women from considering engineering as a career. (If that weren't the case, you'd expect the percentage of women engineers to be more or less the same in every country; it's not. You'd also expect the proportion to be more or less constant over time; in fact, it's steadily increasing).
Discrimination? Not so much. But, unlike your daughter, many young women don't have anyone encouraging them to go into engineering. Until they do, we aren't really going to know what the "proper" or "natural" number of women engineers is.
For what it's worth, neither of my daughters seems to be particularly interested in an engineering career, and that's fine with me. The important thing is for them to be aware of all of their possible career opportunities, and to choose what works best for them.
How many female engineers should there be? And what do you base your answer on?
I don't think it is fair to assume that if 50% of the people are women in this country that 50% of the engineers should be women. To assume this is to assume that women and men are completely wired the same, and are similarly suited to all tasks, and have the same desires. There are things that the "average" woman can do much better than the "average" man, and vice versa. The men and women that I know generally have different interests.
I think as many women as truly have the desire and aptitude to be engineers should be engineers. Not some percentage based on gender distribution.
I tried to get my daughter to get interested in enginnering. She had very good math skills, and I felt that she would be good at it. She was not interested, and I didn't press it. She is a practicing doctor of physical therapy, which is what SHE wanted to do.
I don't find it unusual or unacceptable that there are more male engineers than female, unless there are discriminatory practices keeping women who desire, and are able, from becoming engineers. Is anyone asserting that discrimination is causing this?
Dave, thanks for the stats. They are definitely encouraging. On entering Caltech, my niece would have preferred to concentrate entirely on academics. But she found it necessary to get a boyfriend right away: the guys were literally lined up outside her door. The unequal numbers meant she had to give time and energy to social issues that would be better used for getting through what's a grueling enough experience. I hope that situation will change, soon.
@Ann: According to the ASEE report I linked to below, in the U.S. in 2011, 18% of engineering bachelor's degrees and 23% of engineering master's degrees were awarded to women.
At first, it may seem strange that relatively more women are getting master's degrees than bachelor's degrees. Keep in mind, though, that 44% of engineering master's degrees (compared to just 7% of engineering bachelor's degrees) are awarded to foreign students. Many of these students come from countries, such as China, where there is greater gender balance in engineering than in the U.S.
On the other hand, some of the top U.S. engineering schools seem to be well ahead of the curve. Women earn 45% of engineering bachelor's degrees at Olin, and 43% of engineering bachelor's degrees at MIT. Some of the historically black colleges, such as Howard and Tuskegee, also have high percentages of women engineering graduates (38% and 36%, respectively).
I agree with you that progress is slow, but there is real progress.
Regarding women in STEM, an older friend of mine said the proportion of women students at Caltech was about 5% when he went there in the late 60s. A younger friend (male), who went there in the 80s said it had increased to about 10%. By the time my niece got there in the early 00s, it had reached 20-25%. That's really slow, but at least a definite trend.
@Charles: According to 2011 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up just 5.5% of mechanical engineers and 8.8% of electrical engineers. So it's unfortunate, but not surprising, that only 2 out of the 25 "Rising Engineering Stars" are women.
That being said, the proportion of engineering degrees awarded to women, while still low, is significantly higher, suggesting that the number of women engineers -- and, hopefully, the number of women "Engineering Stars" -- may steadily increase over time.
Regarding the small number of women on the list: I agree with Dave that part of the problem is the comparatively small number of women in engineering. I don't know what the percentage is today, but I believe it hovers around 10%-15%. In 1988, one of our editors, Gail Robinson, wrote a great in-depth look at this issue (about ten pages long, as I recall), and offered suggestions from experts on how to begin changing it. At the time, the percentage of women in engineering was between 10% and 15%. And now here we are -- 25 years later -- discussing the same problem, and I don't know if the percentage has even changed.
This year, Design News is getting a head start on the Fourth of July celebration. In honor of our country and its legacy of engineering innovation -- in all of its forms -- we are taking you on an alphabetical tour through all 50 states to showcase interesting engineering breakthroughs and historically significant events.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.