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What is it like to be a woman in engineering?

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John’s Answer

Jane despite the great strides made toward gender equality over the last century, there are still a number of arenas where women are underrepresented in the workforce. Currently, engineering is one of those industries. Despite efforts being made to increase the number of females working in STEM fields according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, only 14 percent of all professionals working in the engineering are women. This number is drastically lower than the percentage of women who are part of the entire U.S. labor force as a whole. The Department of Labor reported women made up 47 percent of the country’s workforce as of 2010.

Despite the increased interest in engineering among women, there are still a number of challenges that are contributing to the continued gender inequality. One barrier that is often pointed to is the lack of female role models in the field. Because the number of women in the field is low, there are also few female leaders in engineering, which can make it difficult for new generations of female engineers to find mentors whom they feel they can relate to. This catch-22 is a hard one to resolve, as the best way to increase female leadership in engineering is by encouraging more women to enter the field. When engineering first became a popular career choice in the U.S., working in math and science was not a common career path for women. But as times have changed and the STEM fields have become more inclusive, more and more women are pursuing careers that interest them without worrying about gender stereotypes. While the fact that only 14 percent of the workforce is composed of female employees, it is a drastic increase from the only 5.8 percent in the 1980s.

A number of factors are believed to have contributed to this trend. According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, many K through 12 schools and universities alike are making intentional efforts to encourage women to enter the field. By making STEM subjects come alive for students earlier in their academic career and then following up with appropriate resources at the collegiate level, women are more likely to pursue a career in engineering. However, while engineering remains disproportionately filled by male professionals, the imbalance does not tell the whole story of the state of the industry. Though less than a quarter of engineers are female, that number has been consistently growing over the last several decades, adding a large number of qualified women to the engineering workforce. As more women choose to pursue degrees in and enter the field, there is still much that can be done to continue to encourage this trend. As more women take on prominent roles in the industry, it helps to shape the environment of the workplace to be more welcoming to other female engineers.


Women are often under-represented in the fields of engineering, both in academia and in the profession of engineering. If you are a woman who getting ready for college to study engineering and looking for a scholarship, then our scholarship list of “Best Scholarships for Women in Engineering” may help you achieve your goals. There are a variety of scholarships are available for women who are seeking to pursue higher education in Engineering.

The SWE scholarships Program • • Scholarships range from $1,000 to $15,000
• Deadline: February 15 for sophomores through graduate students and May 1 for freshmen every year.
The Society of Women Engineers is pleased to announce the SWE scholarships. The program is open to full or part-time students who are entering any year of engineering school, including graduate school. The program provides financial assistance to women admitted to accredited baccalaureate or graduate programs, in preparation for careers in engineering, engineering technology, and computer science. Scholarships range from $1,000 to $15,000 each and some are renewable.

Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Foundation Women In Scholarship • Deadline: September 30 and April 30, every year
• Award: $2,500 •
The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS) Foundation is pleased to announce its annual three scholarships named as the WomenIn scholarship, the Randy Pausch scholarships, and the Mark Beaumont Scholarship. The program is open to a female-identifying full-time undergraduate student who is starting their second year or a graduate student attending an accredited college or university in the United States.

Women in STEM Academic scholarship • • Deadline: April 15th every year • Award: $3000
The BHW Group is excited to announce its Women in STEM academic scholarship. The program is open to Women who are pursuing an undergraduate or master’s degree and are majoring in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics during the 2017 school year.

Jane you may have heard that majoring in engineering is tough. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll find getting an engineering degree extremely difficult. People who have an “engineering mind,” that is people who enjoy working out tricky problems, taking things apart and reassembling them, etc. often really enjoy their engineering classes. This is because, even if the work is challenging, it makes sense and interesting to you. All engineers learn how to solve problems, work independently and as part of a team, and design and carry out experiments. By the time you complete your engineering degree, you’ll be well-prepared to begin a career in your engineering specialty.

Hope this was Helpful Jane, Good Luck

John recommends the following next steps:

Take Advanced Math and Science Classes – You’ll need to prove your math and science skills before you can be accepted into an engineering program, and many schools will expect to see evidence of high-level math and science classes as early as high school. Excellent classes to take include calculus, statistics, chemistry, physics, and computer science classes.
Strengthen Your Extracurriculars – Having impressive extracurriculars will give you a better shot at getting into the school of your choice and may even qualify for engineering scholarships. Future engineering majors will want at least some of your extracurriculars to relate to STEM to show that engineering is really a passion of yours.
Research Different Engineering Specializations – Once you begin your engineering degree, you’ll need to decide fairly early on which area of engineering you want to major in. It’s possible to switch from one type of engineering to another, but this may end up delaying your graduation date if you need to take a lot of new classes. Avoid this by doing research on different types of engineering while still in high school.
Get Some Engineering Experience – Having a bit of engineering experience under your belt before you start college will not only impress the schools you’re applying to, it can give you a better idea of whether engineering is the right career path for you and which engineering jobs you’d enjoy the most. There are multiple ways to get engineering experience as a high school student. You might job shadow a current engineer, get an internship or volunteer engineer position, attend an engineering-focused camp, or even do some research that relates to engineering.

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Elena’s Answer

Hey! I'm a senior software engineer at a pretty large tech company, and I'd like to add that there's a huge difference between being a woman engineer in school/university, and a woman engineer in the real world.

When you're in school, chances are everyone's on their own, competing against each other. Your grades? Curved based on how your peers do. Getting into classes or research opportunities? You're competing for spots against your peers. Getting internships and jobs? Many applicants for a few spots. In my honest opinion, this will be the hardest part of your journey. You have to understand that women are just as capable as men with their skills, but the biggest issue lots of women often face is confidence when faced with rigor. A lot of my male peers were extremely vocal about their successes AND failures! They would say "oh well, it's only a C, but I totally aced the last quiz!" or "oh, you're only on question 2? I finished that hours ago!" Meanwhile I, and the few women in my class would see this and enter an endless cycle of blame and our own incompetence.

When you're out in the real world, it will get "easier", but you will face a different challenge. You are still (eventually) competing for higher positions, but most companies rely on teamwork. Your success in the industry will be related to how well you perform on your given tasks and how well you work with a team. There are now repercussions for discrimination and in a lot of places, you are legally protected. Then, like the responses above mentioned, you won't have female role models in every step. The challenge here is to either seek out female mentorship, or (easier said than done, I know) ignore everyone's gender for a bit and just look up to whomever you find successful. There's no harm in wanting to be as skilled as Bob, your super senior team lead. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to think "he's successful because he's a man, therefore I will never be as good as he is".

Lastly, I'd like to add my opinion about the topic of representation in the STEM fields. A lot of women who do not have great experiences in engineering almost always involve incidents with a male peer. What surprises me is that we tell young women to do X Y Z in order to get them to join the field, but nobody focuses that much on telling men and women who are already in the field to be welcoming to newcomers. This is the most important aspect - retention. Know that majority of engineers love the *work* they do, and are happy just solving problems with their teammates, regardless of what they look like. My best advice is to do the same - focus most of your attention on persevering and sharpening your skills (math, science, coding, problem solving), and less of it on "what if?"s
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Julia’s Answer

Jane, - confidence and respect are the most important things you (or anyone else) can learn. You will face many situations in life where you are in the greater minority as a female.

I studied mechanical engineering in college. Some of my classes I was 1 of less than 5 females out of 100 in a class. Did that stop me from asking questions in lecture? No. Be sociable, be outgoing, don't be afraid to ask for help, everyone needs it, and having a good group of friends can be really beneficial.

Now, working. I am a principal architect working in a technology field at a large finance company. A lot of times I am the only women at at the meetings. I am respectful, polite, and friendly. I have great working relationships with all of my male coworkers and have never felt discriminated against. I speak up in meetings and feel respected when I talk. Don't be afraid to speak your mind. When you can see the problem, speak out and support your opinion.

I second that! There is a lot of difference between school environment and professional environment. As Julia has rightly mentioned, you will always feel a part of the team and there is no discrimination based on gender! Professional culture is far more respectful and provide enough freedom to voice your concerns and expertise. Nimesh Patel

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Yijing (Jenna)’s Answer

Yes, there is still a bias on women in Engineering and Technology despite all the ongoing efforts, but you should not be discouraged by all those. Women can do very well in the technology and engineering fields. I had been to several engineering schools and got multiple engineering degrees. I have been working in engineering/technology for almost twenty years for multiple fortune 500 companies in different industries. Yes, women are still minority, but I have been seeing more and more women build very successful careers over years.

To get there, first of all, you need have the confidence knowing we can not only do as well as the men with the technology and engineering, but can also excel in those areas. You just need find your strengths and build on those strengths - it can be hardcore engineering, product design, uses experiences, as well as project managements and training, etc.

You need also lay a solid foundation for yourself - you need to be good at mathematics, logical thinking, problem solving etc. It takes quite some hard work to master those. You will find that it is a very fulfilling experience.

Keep learning and stay current with the new technologies/methodologies. It is challenging, but because of that, you will never get bored with it. There a lot of fun there.
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Billicarole’s Answer

Hello! I am currently a manufacturing engineering and I work with a lot of men. Sometimes it is frustrating, I won't lie. BUT being a women in awesome. You have a life and energy and perspective that men don't have! Pursue the career and kick butt!! I know you will do well!
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Crystal’s Answer

I'm early in my career as a woman engineer but I must say, so much is dependent on the environment you are in and choose to be in. I went to a university with a large number of women engineers compared to industry standards. Entering the workforce through internships and fulltime, I was acutely aware of the imbalance of women engineers in certain areas of my workplace.

However, I recognize the efforts in place and my workplace has a really friends work environment so I haven't felt uncomfortable during my time working. I'm optimistic of the direction the industry is going with supporting women engineers. I feel like in the next few decades, being a women engineer would be more and more supported and encouraged on all aspects. Furthermore, I have found mentors who are women engineers at various stages of their career that have been supportive.

Overall, don't be discouraged if you encounter any roadblocks, reach out to other women engineers for help if needed, and enjoy engineering!
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Nancy’s Answer

Engineering continues to be a male dominated profession. Some engineering fields more than others. After over 40 years in engineering, I've seen some significant progress, but there are still glaring equality issues (these vary from company to company). First and foremost, you need to be comfortable working with men and making your voice heard.

Take your queue from the people around you. Do they communicate in short bursts of information? Then avoid long explanations. Do they interrupt each other? You might need to learn to do that. Are they loud? Be loud. Absolutely be sure that you speak in declarative sentences. Avoid having your voice turn up at the end of every sentence. Look at the body language of the people you work with. Be sure your body shows your confidence. Sit up / stand up straight and tall.

Being a woman in engineering is the same as being a man in that it can be incredibly interesting and rewarding. It can also be very frustrating.

Nancy recommends the following next steps:

Read books, take courses, whatever is available to learn different communication styles, how to have your voice heard. Practice what you learn even if it's uncomfortable.
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Donna’s Answer

Jane, while the above answer is so true. I work as an engineer in the telecommunications industry. Technology is moving so fast and there is plenty of opportunities for women and minorities to move forward. As a woman all you need to do is find your voice. Be confidant in your assessments and ideas. Be willing to follow and learn from other engineers. As in any job you have to earn the respect and confidence of your peers. Never be afraid to say you don't know and do the research to find the answers. Good luck in your endeavors.
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Anne’s Answer

Happy to share my experience as a woman in engineering! I'm a Principal Quality Engineer (Software Tester) in the Education Technology space. I have always been interested in and excelled at math/science. I remember in my computer science classes in college there were very few women, but I didn't feel like I was looked down on as a woman in those classes. My college had a Women in Computer Science group that I joined that my Academic advisor led- this was a great place to learn more and help strengthen each other. I asked questions, sought out mentors (both male and female), worked hard and always strive to respect and be kind to all people. I have continued this strategy into the workforce and it's worked well. I still find myself working with more men than women, but once again, haven't really had many bad experiences. I am also in a Women in Technology employee resource group at my company that offers many resources and allies! There has been a lot of advertising and work both in the workforce and out of the workforce to help work on biases that might exist against women out there. I also feel companies know that they have a smaller representation of women in their workforce and are looking to hire more women and diversity in general. So my advice would be- if you are passionate about engineering, go for it!!! Loving what you do is the most important thing and don't let whether there are more females or males in a field ever stop you. Keep working hard, doing what you are doing and reaching out for help when needed. Wishing you the best!
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Glenn’s Answer

I worked in aerospace for many years, while I was not an engineer, I worked with many engineering leaders, there were only a few women that were engineers at the time, it is likely easier now to get an engineering job as there is much awareness in the field to help women achieve higher roles in leadership. Find a passion once you select the industry that you get your first job in. I was shocked at the many opportunities and very specific areas of specialization that were available. I went into 3D computer graphics working with a prototype aircraft building portion of the company. This dynamic nature and challenging area always had new surprises versus a more standard role of working on only one aspect of a particular technology.
Join meetings that are outside your specialization.

Skills to refine and always work on:
Be open to new opportunities that need to be figured out, unless you like the stability of becoming a master in one field.
Spend all of your time learning everything you can about the products and use cases you will be focused on
Understand the business aspect of everything you do. A big part of your job will be to help sell the vision of how your approach for a product will overcome issues. I recently attended a workshop on story telling, I highly recommend you take some training on this.
You will be selling your vision to business leaders, you need to be able to explain things in ways that can be understood.

In engineering you will meet many people that are logic oriented, facts and figures will drive many conversations, but each effort that someone works on will be the product of their creativity. Try to nurture the creativity of everyone and find was to help them find their passion.

Over many years I have also had the luxury to working with many manufacturing companies that most people may not have heard of.
Danaher Corporation for example is an amazing engineering company that has subsidiaries in many high tech industries. Dental, Life Sciences, Diagnostic Equipment, Water Treatment and Environmental products.

Please feel free to reach out to me and I would be happy to share insights on various companies that I have run across in my career.
Aerospace, Manufacturing, Financial Services, Patent Law, Service industries, Technology companies are all things that I could provide guidance around.
Connect with me on Linked in and I would be happy to assist you in your career.
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Amber’s Answer

Hi Jane,

I am not an engineer, but I am a program manager who has been working with engineers in software development for 15+ years and am very familiar with what it is like to be the only woman in the room. Here are my tips.

Amber recommends the following next steps:

Look for a mentor - could be male or female. You don't need to say "Will you be my mentor?", you can ask, "Do you have time for a coffee chat every couple of weeks while I am learning about this company?"
Look for technical women focused networking groups for support e.g. Geek Girls
When you are new, it can be scary to speak up in group meetings. Do it anyway. Ask questions. Share your ideas. Sometimes it feels like when you are new, you don't have much to contribute but you do! If you are at a company with a positive company culture, people will be supportive and interested in your contributions. If it is not a positive company culture and get shut down or ignored too often... it might not be the company culture that is good for you longer term.