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Encouraging the Next Generation of Women Engineers

When determining how to recruit more women into the engineering field, it is important to discover why they are joining in the first place.

There’s an on-going joke amongst the students at the University of Wisconsin – Platteville, a small engineering school located in southwestern Wisconsin, about the ratio of male to female students within the engineering department. The snickers of “three men to every one woman” abruptly stops after graduation when it is realized that continues to be a common scenario in the professional world.

According to a study by the Society of Women Engineers, only 9 percent of mechanical engineers are women. This number is only marginally smaller compared to electrical engineering, which is 10 percent women. In addition, only 17 percent of civil engineers are women, while industrial and environmental engineering represent 24 and 35 percent of women.

“When I was in engineering school, my undergraduate class at Northwestern University was less than 30 percent women. A recent article cited that Northwestern’s percentage has now, nearly a quarter-century later, inched up to only 34 percent, and women still make up only 24 percent of the total industry. I sincerely appreciate all the inspiring women who have influenced my career, but it’s important to continue mentoring, supporting, and encouraging more young, female leaders in this field,” says Martha Larson, director of sustainability at RMF Engineering.

The struggles of recruiting more women to pursue a career in engineering are not uncommon. Sure, there is the fear that they will be the only woman in the room, but from a young age, girls are steered toward more “creative” ventures due to ongoing stereotypes of what women can and cannot do or be interested in. Engineering, while heavy on STEM subjects, also enables professionals to be creative in ways that people don’t realize.

“As engineers, we often work with architects and design sophisticated building electrical systems,” says Beth Crutchfield, principal at RMF Engineering. “There is a technical and functional aspect to our designs, but the architects, who have much more training in the creative aspects of building design, are looking for the visible part of our designs to also be aesthetically pleasing. That has helped me recruit females because there is creativity involved. Often, engineers do have an artistic and creative side. The creativity in our designs lets us express that side, while still doing very technical work, and that appeals to a lot of women.”

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Career & Staff Development