By Joseph Madeley, Conference Coordinator, IDC Technologies
There are millions of university graduates every year across the globe, with many of these people qualifying from studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Out of these people, only an astounding 13 percent of mechanical engineering undergraduate students are female. To put this in perspective, the United States has 49 percent of women that are college educated, but only 14 percent of these women are practising engineering.
When developing new products, a team of male engineers often lead all stages due to their current dominance in the market causing issues (and confusion) in the design phase. Voice recognition software was initially programmed for male voices and failed to recognise female voices due to poor calibration. When the airbag was first released, it was designed to protect male bodies, resulting in easily avoidable deaths of female and child passengers. So how do we get more female engineers in the industry?
To increase the amount of women in the industry, we could start by encouraging them in the classroom at a younger age. We should emphasise how intelligent they are, explain what engineering is and how much the industry needs them. Guest female STEM professionals should visit students who are in the process of deciding their study path to provide an insight into the industry, their studying experience, and what’s really involved.
An additional method to increase retention rates of women in engineering would be placing them into leadership roles, boosting their confidence in a male-dominant sector. Placing these women in major projects or at the head of a team will prove that their perspective and skills are essential to further scientific progress.
Promoting a work-life balance and flexible organisation would significantly contribute to retaining female engineers in the workplace. When family commitments arise, such as having children, it can be daunting for a woman to return to the industry. This should be viewed as an opportunity to bring in a refreshed industry view and not be criticised for having a year or two break.
Daniela Tutman, a risk and safety engineer based in Perth, Western Australia shared her opinion on why women are important in engineering, saying “Women in engineering bring diversity to the workforce and ensure balanced perspectives. A female engineer leads by example, shows how work-family life can be balanced, contributes to her family's well-being as well as motivates her children to be curious, investigate, and find how things work and how things are made. This must be good for the future generation!”