New Zealand needs more engineers, and one way to achieve this is to encourage more women to consider engineering as a career. The benefits of having more women in engineering are many. Engineering jobs these days are often team efforts, which typically benefit from team diversity. And dare I say it, more women many have a civilising effect on male workplaces.
However, there are still challenges to encouraging young women into engineering careers, some of which have been discussed in Siouxsie’s recent post on “Why Science is Sexist”. These include
- A limited understanding of what engineering is
- Where engineering is understood, the focus can be on mechanical engineering, vehicles etc and gadgets
- Intentional sexism by science, mathematics and engineering teachers
- Unintentional sexist by teachers and society in general
Some examples of such discouragement are described in the following video
So how do we encourage more women into engineering?
First we have to eliminate the negative messages that young women receive that engineering is a masculine domain. Where young women demonstrate ability or interest in mathematics and science they need to be encouraged to follow their interests. And for those who teach engineering we need to show that it is more than engines and gadgets. Engineering covers a wide range of areas which are making significant contributions to the advancement of society, from chemical and biotech engineers working on new drugs and other products to civil engineers who are providing the means for people in third world countries to get clean water and energy.
A wider pool of future engineers can also be encouraged by making sure engineering, mathematics and science in schools and tertiary institutions is taught in meaningful contexts which encourage students to see the relevance of topics such as calculus (see video below). Practical experience of engineering needs to be offered to students, not only at high school level but also at intermediate and primary schools.
Studies across many disciplines shows that diversity in teams leads to better solutions. Engineering can’t afford to miss out on the contributions women (and other under-represented groups) can bring to the field. There is clear evidence that women are just as capable as men in mathematics and science, and that these skills are needed for a better future for humanity.