Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.
Sue Monk Kidd, Author

A Stubborn and Persistent Problem

  • In 1970, fewer than 8% of law degrees were earned by women. 40 years later, 48% of law degrees are earned by women.
  • In 1980, 24% of degrees in the physical sciences were granted to women. 27 years later, the representation of women among physical science degrees rose to over 40%.
  • In 1980 about 9% of degrees in engineering were earned by women. 27 years later, this number had risen to only 18% and has remained relatively flat since.
Stacks Image 35
Only about 20% of engineering majors are women and only 15% of working engineers are women. About 40% of women with engineering degrees don't stick with engineering. By age 30, 1 of every four women drops out of engineering compared to 1 in 10 men who drop out. Many efforts to reach gender parity and countless research studies to explain the gender gap have produced some change but not nearly enough. While in some engineering fields, like chemical engineering, the representation of women has jumped to 23%, other fields like mechanical and electrical engineering continue to post representation numbers at a stagnant 10% or less. No single engineering field can boast greater than 23% women.

What's going on?
Why the large and stagnant gender gap?

Thanks to a broad base of research, a lot of stuff has been named to explain the gender gap. The stuff includes hostile climate, incivility, isolation, marginalization, undermining, extreme work pressures, sexual harassment, macho culture, stalled advancement, mysterious career paths, oppression, lack of belonging, and paternalizing. Lack of confidence and lack of ability are notably absent from the long list of reasons why women leave engineering. And, this massive pile of stuff over which women feel they have little control contributes to their refusing to take an engineering job in the first place, dropping out of the major during school, leaving at early- to mid-career, or remaining in a workplace that leaves them unfulfilled and unable to reach their full potential.

We know the story needs to change. Now.

Time to Turn Stories into Solutions

Behind every statistic on women engineering lie stories. Embedded in every research study, whether qualitative, quantitative, or mixed method — are stories. Stories of women who have successfully navigated barriers to remain in engineering, stories of women who have left the struggle to exercise their talents in other fields, stories of women who have left the workforce altogether — and even stories of women who have not struggled in their engineering careers and may wonder what all the fuss is about.

We choose stories with the hope that they will bring the struggle of women in engineering closer to those in our web community. We agree with the general consensus of the those who study women in engineering that corporate and academic cultures need to change, companies need to foster inclusiveness, and managers at all levels need to show zero tolerance for incivility, undermining, and harassment. But, while we are waiting for this slow process to evolve from the top down, we encourage both women and men in the engineering workforce who have a heart for this struggle to engage and change culture from the bottom up.

Step in. Step Forward. Help us Turn Stories into Solutions

Left Out:
In male-dominated work settings, women, racial minorities, and other under-represented groups are often left out of important networks, exchanges, and activities that men take for granted. Being left out not only limits career advancement and promotion opportunities but also leads to feelings of isolation and reduces sense of belonging in the workplace which can, in turn, limit productivity, career growth, and work satisfaction. Read more here.

Egregious and overt forms of sexual harassment such as unwanted physical/sexual attention and sexual coercion have attracted a great deal of media attention over the last few years. But a much more common and pervasive form of harassment is gender harassment which subjects women to a chronically hostile work environment and often goes hand in hand with gender discrimination. Chronic gender harassment is as damaging to career and mental and physical health as less frequent and more severe forms of sexual harassment. Read more here.

Individuals who "don't fit the mold" are often vulnerable to negative stereotypes which diminish their value in the workplace. For example, in many engineering disciplines where women are highly under-represented, some may believe women are in certain job positions only to satisfy a diversity goal established by upper management. Or individuals who don't dress consistent with a geek stereotype may be thought of as contributing only superficially to difficult technical work. Similarly, those who communicate well but don't communicate in ways that are consistent with the prevailing culture may see their ideas marginalized or dismissed altogether. And, unlike unwanted sexual attention or sexual coercion, diminishment does not usually involve a single catastrophic blow to an individual's career or well-being. Rather, over time, repeated acts of diminishing an individual reduce self-confidence, impair promotion and advancement, and submarine job satisfaction. Read more here.

More about the Numbers:

Stories into Solutions is an active and ongoing project designed and maintained by a group of engineers and engineering faculty who are passionate about advocating for and creating better working conditions for women in engineering.    Additional stories about the struggles that many women face in engineering will be added to this site on a regular basis. If you have a story that you would like to share, please feel free to contact us using the link at the bottom of this page.

Explore Our Blogs