What's It Like To Be a Female Engineer?

What's it like to be a female engineer? This question is harder to answer than it might seem. First, you have to ask some women engineers, but there aren't all that many around. Only 12% of engineers are women and there are way fewer women in computing today than back in 1990, according to a new study by the venerable American Association of University Women (AAUW).

That report, along with an excerpt of a webcast hosted by TE Connectivity last month, is described in an article by Jessica Lipsky in our sister publication EE Times. The AAUW study found that the number of women in computing has fallen from 35% in 1990 to only 26% in 2015.

The proportion of engineers who are women has risen very slightly since 1990, from 9% to 12%. But the number of women in computing has fallen from 35% in 1990 to only 26% in 2015.

(Source: American Association of University Women)

The figures are especially low for African-American, Hispanic, and Native American women. Native American women, along with Alaska Native women, comprise only a fraction of a percentage of women in either engineering or computing. Hispanic women hold 1% of the jobs in each field, while black women are 1% of engineers and 3% of computing professionals.

Since the US will need another 1.7 million engineers and computing pros within the next 10 years, the study also looks at why women leave these professions, or don't join them in the first place. It concludes that gender bias and stereotypes continue to hold everyone back, including women themselves via negative beliefs about their own abilities. The study examines in detail just how stereotypes and bias negatively affect women in engineering and computing, and which types of work environments help them either happily stay put or leave the field altogether.


In the TE Connectivity-sponsored webcast, held Feb. 25 to celebrate the 65th annual Engineers Week, the company's senior vice president and general manager for Automotive Americas, Karen Leggio, moderated a panel discussion. Panel members talked about the roles of women in engineering and give advice to those considering the profession. Participants included Simona de Silvestro, Andretti Formula E team driver; Jennifer Farah, General Motors interior lighting global technical lead; and Mishal Shahab, SubCom cable installation engineer at TE Connectivity and senior vice president of Society of Women Engineers/New Jersey Chapter, among others.

Read what they said about this topic in Lipsky's article, "How We Got Here: Advice From Women Engineers" on EE Times.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 28 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

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