Women In Engineering: Inspired to WiredApril 07, 2011
When Elizabeth Bragg became the first American woman to earn an engineering degree in 1876, it seemed certain that women would advance in the field. Following in Bragg’s footsteps, Kate Gleason became the first woman to be admitted into Cornell University’s engineering school in 1884 and later became the first woman associate of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In addition to these formally trained women, self-taught scholars such as Emily Warren Roebling, who took over the building of the Brooklyn Bridge when her father-in-law and husband were unable to assist, used her aptitude in math and physics to make the decisions necessary to construct one of America’s best-known monuments.
Today, women earn engineering degrees in a wide range of topics including chemical, civil, mechanical, and computer engineering. However, according to the new report Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering, women make up only 11 percent of all engineering professionals even though they represent more than 20 percent of all engineering graduates. In an attempt to find the cause behind this gap, the authors surveyed 3,700 women with engineering degrees. Their findings reflect those in AAUW’s Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics report. Many women said that they left the field because they felt undervalued by their supervisors and peers and disliked the workplace environment. Others left because they lost interest in the field, wanted to spend more time with their families, or were unhappy with their working conditions and salaries. Several women said that they felt alone in a male-dominated field.
But this should not discourage women who want to enter engineering or who are currently within this field. There is a lot we can do to recruit and retain more women engineers, including identifying and celebrating the outstanding engineers of today. Limor Fried, who earned her master’s degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a shining example of a successful woman in engineering. She graces the cover — the first woman to do so — of April’s edition of Wired, a top technology magazine. Many of her projects are fun, insightful, and useful, including several social-defense mechanisms such as the Wave Bubble, which jams cell phone signals to thwart annoying chatters in public.
Women like Fried are setting a great example for younger girls and helping to increase awareness and appreciation of women engineers, and AAUW is working to do the same! To increase the number of women engineers and make work environments more welcoming, AAUW is collaborating with nine other organizations, including the Society of Women Engineers and the Association for Women in Science, to introduce 10,000 10-year-old girls to the field of engineering by May 8, 2011, as part of the 10 for 10 campaign.
To join our work on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), find us on Facebook or Twitter @AAUWSTEM.
This post was written by AAUW STEM Programs Intern Gaby Obedoza.