image from IET's "Engineer a Better World" video, see below
If you’re wondering why there are so few female engineers, you don’t have to look far for an answer: Ask mom and dad. That was one of the takeaways from a study conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) in the U.K as part of its Engineering a Better World campaign, and reported in the IET’s Engineering and Technology magazine on March 30. The IET’s research focused on parental perceptions and their relevance to the low percentage of the UK’s female engineers (6%) and 4% of its technicians.
The situation is better (but not dramatically) in the U. S., according to a 2011 study by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASCE), as women accounted for 18.4% of the BSEE degrees that year and 13.4% of working engineers were women. The U.S. Department Commerce notes that women hold less than 25% of the jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, even though they make up 50.6% of the population and more than 47% of the workforce.
Only 7% of parents surveyed by the IET said they would encourage their daughter to pursue a career in engineering. They said they believed the careers their daughters would most likely be most interested in are education and child care (32%), healthcare (26%), and hair and beauty (23%). Parents of boys thought that their sons would be interested in IT careers (47%), sports (33%), and engineering (28%).
As the girls themselves however and a different message appears. About 39% of the girls age 9 to 11 surveyed by IET listed STEM subjects among their favorites, with IT and computing noted by more than half (52%) and 39% saying they also enjoyed design and technology.
Obviously, there’s disconnect between the careers parents “think” their kids are (or should be) interested in pursuing and what the kids actually enjoy. When the IET study team gave parents and children more information, interest levels rose dramatically, up 50% among boys and 91% among girls. The IET, ASCE, and other studies consider lack of parental knowledge about the engineering field as well as minimal encouragement by teachers as major contributing factors. The IET’s Engineering a Better World program is working to remove these impediments and change perceptions of what engineering is and what it can offer girls as a career.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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