The Key to Bringing in More Female Engineers

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Lina Nilsson, innovation director at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley, discusses how to potentially fix the deficit of female engineers in the U.S.

Executives at a handful of prominent technology companies (most notably Google) have blamed the lack of diversity in STEM fields on this country’s educational pipeline, which they claim doesn’t encourage women and minorities to pursue degrees in engineering, science, and similar categories. Nilsson proposes what she thinks is a relatively simple solution: frame STEM work in a way that appeals to women.

“If the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves,” she wrote. “That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.”

Nilsson and her professional colleagues reached out to universities across the country and found that engineering programs clearly aligned to solve societal problems or improve lives generally attracted a healthy percentage of female students. “It shows that the key to increasing the number of female engineers… may be about reframing the goals of engineering research and curriculums to be more relevant to societal needs,” she concluded.

There’s much more in the op-ed, which has already generated a fair amount of discussion.

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7 Responses to “The Key to Bringing in More Female Engineers”

  1. I am an engineer at heart, I don’t see something that needs to be fixed.

    You either enjoy the type of work that is in the STEM field or you don’t. Making the training seem fun, just to get out into the real world where the job is not going to be fun seem cruel. It is bait and switch.

    And yes there are STEM job working for socially meaningful companies, but they want/need people who like the STEM work.

  2. Fred Bosick

    Why encourage targeted minorities to sign up? They’re only going to have to train their lower cost, outsourced replacements anyhow.That prominent technology companies are pushing for this is quite rich. Is it because they wish to spread the misery of eventual tech unemployment to a wider demographic?

    It very chic to pick on older white guys. After all, everyone of us has *equally* benefited from the Dead White Male hegemony built up over generations. I learned the secret handshake and got my ID card when I turned 18. But when you bring on the underrepresented groups and *then* force them to train their replacements. the optics gets bad very quickly. In fact there’s a new article discussing exactly that on an online forum by a well known periodical. The featured unemployed person is Hispanic AND female. A twofer for HR!

    DICE, why do you have to be so cruel?

  3. I must agree with Darian Dunn here. A person either likes STEM work for its own sake or they do not. If one must couch the STEM professions in societal terms perhaps the person would be better served working in a different field. Social work comes to mind, maybe even marketing. Even if the educational institutions couch STEM work in other terms, the graduate will be in for a rude awakening when they enter the marketplace and find that STEM work was not as glamorous as they were made to believe.

    I am reminded of my Computer Science students showing me a book that aimed to make computer programming “fun” by constructing the chapters in terms that were more “fun” such as sports, games, art, etc. By my way of thinking, computer programming and software engineering are already fun in and of themselves. People who enter into any STEM field do so for the love of the subject matter itself, it doesn’t have to be made “fun”. It’s the difference between the attitude of “having” to take a computer course or “getting” to take a computer course.

    Perhaps the reason few females opt for a STEM career is that they are simply not interested in STEM for its own sake. Any attempt to artificially skew the demographics is doomed to failure in the long run and leave in its wake a great many disappointed females.

    • Fred Bosick

      That doesn’t make a lot of sense. Even though they may love their career, they still need to maintain themselves and their household. Those employed in Tech are considered professionals and need to look the part. If nothing else, their wardrobe must be clean and in good repair.

      The same question can be asked of any other professional. Would *you* give up your salary? Considering the salaries of CEOs and Directors, those employed in tech are not breaking the bank.

  4. Penny L.

    I am an electronics engineer. There are several engineering fields which are already “societally meaningful,” such as civil, environmental and biomedical engineering, without having to bring in all the political baggage that comes with such an ambiguous slogan. It is up to the individual engineer to create the meaning they need to stay in the game, not the political rhetoric of critics and least of all, non-scientific, non-technical academics. There are lots of female role models in science and engineering and that’s enough. It’s about how it’s taught, too. But there’s no getting away from the love of doing it, if only because we can!