Among the many activities that marked Engineers Week 2006, which took place Feb. 19-25, the sixth annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (Girl Day) on Feb. 23 took place with a fervor not present in the previous, albeit successful, Girl Day events. Why? In part, the increased emphasis is because of the findings of a recent study by the Extraordinary Women Engineers Project Coalition (EWEP) – a national initiative to encourage girls to consider pursuing a degree and subsequent career in engineering that is led by a coalition of 60 engineering organizations.
The study found that more than 90 percent of high school girls do not even consider engineering as a career option. Such disinterest in the engineering profession by young women likely accounts for the fact that just 20 percent of engineering undergraduates are women and that less than 10 percent of the engineering workforce are women.
These statistics are disappointing since the benefits of diversity are so well established. Of course, diversity can be achieved with demographic variables other than gender, but men and women certainly bring unique perspectives to any situation and the advantages of having such distinct outlooks benefits the engineering profession, our clients, and the general public. Additionally, engineering has not been a popular career path recently for graduating high school students in general, a trend that could have dramatic consequences for America’s future economy. The bottom line is that we need a fresh pool of well-educated engineers entering the profession and that pool needs to draw women as well as men if we are going to sustain our country’s growth and prosperity.
According to the EWEP final report, Girls and the people who influence them – teachers, school counselors, parents, peers, and the media – do not understand what a career in engineering looks like and therefore don’t consider it as a career option.” With this in mind, the EWEP is taking steps to educate these audiences. During Engineers Week, it launched a book called, Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers” by Sybil Hatch, P.E. It is a celebration of the contributions of women engineers to every aspect of modern life. The book provides young women, and the adults who are helping them learn about careers, real-life stories about remarkable women engineers, what they have achieved and what their careers and lives entail.
Girl Day happens only once a year, but introducing girls (and boys!) to engineering is something that can be a year-round activity for engineers who wish to encourage engineering as a profession and appreciate the benefits of having a diverse workforce. Get involved with one of many programs in line with your interests.
Shanon Fauerbach, P.E.