Organizations Rally Together to Attract Women to Engineering Careers

by Erin Hasinger
Woman engineer reviewing blueprints at site

Males still dominate the engineering industry these days, but universities, corporations, and others are becoming more and more aggressive at recruiting women engineers across the United States.

That's good news for the country, if a recent Washington Post article was on the right track by suggesting that the US must encourage women to study engineering in order to remain globally competitive, both in terms of the number of engineering graduates and diversity in American businesses.

The engineering field has been underrepresented by women for years: Women received just over 18% of the more than 78,000 engineering degrees conferred in 2003-04, according to the most recent research presented in the US Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics: 2005.

To increase the number of female engineers, engineering colleges and universities worldwide have been making concentrated efforts to recruit more female engineering students. Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, part of February's Engineers Week, includes the 2007 Global Marathon For, By and About Women in Engineering on March 22 and 23. Planned to coincide with Women's History Month, the Global Marathon will include 24 continuous hours of meetings, live web chats, and teleconferences hosted throughout the world. Each event is designed to encourage girls to consider engineering as a college major as well as address recruitment and retention issues.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is a huge event that spans beyond into the weeks after Engineers Week, which was held February 18-24. Businesses, government organizations, universities, youth groups, elementary and secondary schools, professional groups, and volunteer organizations across the nation pledged their involvement in a variety of creative ways to expose females to the world of possibilities an engineering career presents.

The efforts of groups such as Engineers Week seem to be having some impact: 29% more females received engineering degrees in the last 10 years, while the total number of degrees earned remained largely unchanged (Digest of Education Statistics: 2005, Table 281). This 10 year increase, however, only amounts to approximately 3,000 more female engineering degree holders nationwide, and annual increases each year have been minimal. Only 295 additional women earned engineering degrees in 2003 than in 2002.

Many other organizations have mobilized as well to help attract more females to study the various fields of engineering.

Engineers Australia, for example, declared 2007 the Year of Women in Engineering with myriad events to commemorate the industry. In addition, female engineering students at MIT participated in the new MIT Women's Initiative in January and visited high schools across the country to speak with female students about career possibilities in engineering.

Princeton University boasts one of the highest female to male engineering student ratios in the nation: nearly 34% of engineering undergraduates are female, according to the Daily Princetonian. The university attributes this to a high number of female faculty members in the engineering department, as well as a very active student chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) that spends a significant amount of time working with high school students to introduce them to the engineering field.

The Society of Women Engineers aims to increase female enrollment in engineering degree programs from 18% to 30% by 2020 and has in place dozens of programs to help meet this goal. Programs are aimed at girls of all ages from kindergarten through high school and include activities such as Lego building and coloring contests, engineering camps, and mentoring opportunities. SWE also works closely with the Girl Scouts to introduce young girls to technical professions and explain how engineering and other technology relate to day-to-day life.

As more and more organizations join the crusade to bring more women into the engineering field, students already thinking about an engineering education will find a wealth of resources at, including directories of colleges and universities all over the world, financial aid information, and a helpful series of career guidance articles and interviews.

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