Solving the gender gap in engineering: IEEE announces a “simple three-step process”

It doesn’t look so simple to me, but the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers says it has a “simple three-step process for inspiring, engaging, encouraging and empowering women worldwide to pursue a career in engineering.”  Here are some excerpts from the press release:

NEW YORK, Sept. 17, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Women represent only approximately 25 percent of the total current global workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. With engineering being the fastest growing occupation around the world, there is a significant opportunity for more women to break into a field that can have a significant impact on our everyday lives, while also garnering a median starting salary that is nearly double that of those in other fields.

Members of IEEE, the world’s largest professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for humanity, and the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE), the largest international professional organization dedicated to promoting women engineers and scientists, today announced a simple three-step process for inspiring, engaging, encouraging and empowering women worldwide to pursue a career in engineering. To close the gender gap in STEM careers, females need early and constant exposure to engineering and the sciences from elementary school through to the university level, existing social obstacles to be broken down in corporate settings and role models to inspire the pursuit of engineering careers for women.

Step 1: Expose Girls to STEM Fields at a Young Age
Parents and teachers need to play a bigger role in motivating girls to consider engineering as an attractive option for what they can do when they grow up. Creating a solid foundation for young girls to pursue a career in engineering and science requires introducing them to the various fields of engineering and the impact engineers have on society, providing encouragement to take more science classes, as well as exposing them to extraordinary female role models.

“Children are surrounded by engineering innovations everyday and it rarely occurs to them to think that engineers were responsible for any of them,” said Maura Schreier-Fleming, IEEE Senior Member and Member of WIE. “Girls need constant exposure from parents and teachers to the more technical side of the world around us and how they can grow up to be a part of creating things that positively impact our daily lives.”

Step 2: Focus on Engineering Careers
The number of females enrolling in undergraduate engineering programs is significantly less than that of males in most parts of the world; like in the U.S., women represent 18 percent and in Brazil it is 10 percent.   

“It is difficult for a girl to choose engineering as a major when she knows that she will have mostly boys as classmates throughout college, and find it even more daunting when she thinks about how her future colleagues will be mostly men,” said Maria Cristina Tavares, IEEE Senior Member in Brazil.

The most popular STEM fields for women globally are in the chemical and biological sciences, while the majority of engineering enrollment is in biomedical, chemical and environmental engineering. Electrical and mechanical engineering lag drastically behind.

“The disparity between men and women enrolled at universities as engineering majors globally underscores the importance of a targeted recruitment program, especially towards the less popular fields of electrical and mechanical engineering,” said Dr. Karen Panetta, IEEE Fellow, Past Worldwide Director of the IEEE WIE and U.S. Presidential Awardee for Engineering Education and Mentoring.

Step 3: Break Down Social Barriers
The final element to attracting and retaining women in engineering jobs involves breaking down social barriers upon entering the workplace. Making sure women are on the management track to senior positions can help solidify the interest in transitioning from academia to corporate life. Additionally, using alternative methods to preserve work-life balance by offering the ability to work remotely and building in flexible hours make it more attractive for women to pursue a lasting career in engineering.

“Women who graduate with engineering degrees are typically stereotyped and moved into ‘girly’ jobs, like sales, consulting and marketing,” said Teresa Schofield, IEEE Member and member of WIE in the U.K. “We need more women, like Diane Greene, Ursula Burns, Marissa Mayer and Virginia Rometty, to generate excitement for our young women to pursue STEM careers.”

“Critical steps must be taken during adolescence, as well as at every major educational and post-graduate juncture, in order to guarantee successful penetration of females into STEM fields,” said Miki Haseyama, IEEE Senior Member and Chair of WIE in Sapporo, Japan. “IEEE’s Women in Engineering provides the necessary resources for parents and children to explore different career paths in engineering.”

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