Still few women in engineering

Once again, researchers are trying to figure out why few women get into engineering.

In a recent study on women and engineering by the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan, researchers found that many women have stronger verbal and reading skills than their male counterparts — and many choose to leverage those skills in careers that lead them away from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

"It’s not lack of ability ... that orients females to pursue non-STEM careers, it’s the greater likelihood that females with high math ability also have high verbal ability," says Ming-Te Wang, one of the study’s authors and a psychologist at Pittsburgh.

On a related note, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has just published its 12th SEW literature review on women in engineering. The resource lists, distills, and analyzes data from about 400 recent studies and books on the issue.

For the first time, it’s also presenting information on how women balance their work and personal lives.

"So much has changed, but women today still face the pressures of finding time for their work, families, and personal development," says Alyse Stofer, SWE president.  SEW reviewers Peter Meiksins of Cleveland State University and Peggy Layne of Virginia Tech concur, citing a 2012 article in The Atlantic that posits that it's not surprising when women leave demanding careers because of these pressures.

Scientific American has posted a followup piece on how to leverage the findings of Wang to address the stagnant numbers of women in engineering — by teaching math and engineering in a way that appeals to polymaths. The idea is to lure more women skilled in both math and communication with Renaissance-type teaching that integrates the works of Kurt Vonnegut, M. C. Escher, and Katherine Boo into engineering courses that engage both the left and right brain.

Photo courtesy National Science Foundation and John McCormick • Virginia Tech.

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Elisabeth Eitel

Elisabeth is Senior Editor of Machine Design magazine. She has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Fenn College at Cleveland State University. Over the last decade, Elisabeth has worked as a...
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