March 6, 2020
Women make up half the global population and bring valuable insights and perspectives to their workplaces. While there was a 54 percent increase in bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering and computer science to women in 2011, a SWE research survey revealed that only 30 percent of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering are still working in engineering 20 years later. This is a consistent trend that has been dubbed a “leaky pipeline,” where it’s difficult to retain women in STEM jobs once they’ve graduated with a STEM degree. That’s why experts say encouragement and having mentors is important.
“Increasing women’s participation in STEM will, as a result, increase their participation in important institutes and companies in our society and give women more power to contribute positively in important decisions in this field,” says IEEE Member Fernanda Kastensmidt.
It’s important that the world’s technologists and engineers equally represent the people they are working to help so that all voices are being heard. How can we ensure women feel supported to follow their passions in a male-dominated field? We asked eight female technologists to share their experiences and insights with us:
1. Encourage Women to Follow Their Interests
As women transition from college to industry, it’s important to encourage them to investigate their interests and follow their passions..
“Don’t be intimidated by a room full of men and always be confident,” says IEEE Member Sukanya Mandal. “Don’t hesitate to ask questions — it doesn’t matter if it is a silly one. Curiosity is one of the essential components of engineering — curiosity and the desire to learn allows you to create innovative solutions.”
Encouraging young women to explore and learn about different topics early in life will help them find a career that is worth staying in. “It is very rewarding to achieve success in what you like,” says IEEE Member Fernanda Trindade.
2. Establish a Strong Work-Life Balance
As women become more established in their careers, many face the dilemma of balancing family and work life. Finding ways to manage and stay passionate about work is crucial to keeping women in STEM.
“Being a woman in engineering and persisting at that level over long periods of time can be particularly difficult,” says IEEE Fellow Dimitra Simeonidou. “This is because for many of us, having children and young families can cause difficulties in trying to balance academic work and family life. It requires commitment and hard work on both fronts. However, it is extremely rewarding.”
3. Women Need Women Mentors
As women enter into higher education and the workforce, having other women leaders as mentors and for collaboration is important.
“The workforce was isolating,” IEEE Member Carmen Fontana recalls. “Many of my engineering classmates left the field quickly for more diverse professions, such as law and medicine. Those of us who were left found ourselves with few female colleagues with whom to connect. And virtually no female technical leaders to aspire to be.”
Creating opportunities for women to have mentors and seek advice from established female technologists will help women feel less isolated in the classroom and office.
“I think the women that are in STEM are the first ones that should help the young women to feel welcome in this area,” says Kastensmidt. “In our course we have a group of female students and professors that meet regularly and on social media to exchange some ideas and share their experiences. We also have received female professionals from IEEE that gave talks in our department about women in STEM.”
4. Celebrate Your Success with Other Female Engineers
Similar to finding a mentor, women should recognize their success and importance to the impact of engineering and technology. Seeking out support by attending conferences, speaking at events and working in organizations can encourage female leaders to rise up.
“I am attending the IEEE Women in Engineering Committee Meeting in New Orleans and presenting some of my projects for women empowerment through education, healthcare and entrepreneurship,” says IEEE Member Ramalatha Marimuthu. “In addition, I am also involved in the rewriting of the operation manual for Women in Engineering and I will be discussing the changes with the committee. So my International Women’s Day will be celebrated with 40 highly intellectual and celebrated women from all over the world handpicked to work towards improving the contribution of women in STEM fields.”
Organizing and starting clubs is another way to foster community and network with other women in the field. “A few years ago we launched our local IEEE Women in Energy group in Denver on International Women’s Day (IEEE WIE 5280), so I’ll definitely be celebrating that anniversary,” exclaims IEEE Member Kaitlyn Bunker.
5. Support Female Engineers to Speak Up
Women bring different perspectives to engineering solutions that their colleagues might not realize. Encouraging women to speak up and share their ideas is crucial to seeing real technological change.
“The perspective of both genders is important for the design of any technology to be universal,” says Marimuthu. “Leaving out the opinions of at least 50 percent of the population in the development may lead to the product being inaccessible to them.”
Women engineers and technologists have already made a significant and lasting positive impact on society, and continue to have the potential to help improve our everyday lives. “Engineers make the world work,” notes IEEE Member Jill Tietjen. “The world faces so many challenges – technical people are needed to face those challenges. What a wonderful way to make a difference in the world and provide value to humanity!”