Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Why Aren't There More Female Engineers?

My 6-year-old nephew Obi has a huge crush on a fellow female classmate because she likes, you guessed it, LEGOs. It's like a match made in heaven. It reminded me of this survey I received recently from my alma mater. They're doing research on:
  1. why there aren't that many women majoring in engineering (10% in my particular specialization).
  2. why women who majored in engineering leave their engineering careers.
I fill out their long, 20-page survey, answering questions about the importance of work vs. life balance, treatment of female engineers in the workplace, etc. However, none of them really addressed what I felt was the main issue.

I rarely think about engineering and technology in my free time, even though I am mentally competent at it. While I like using technology like computers, I rarely think about the guts of the equipment I'm using and how it works. I don't read technical articles/blogs, tinker with machines, or watch TV shows like How It's Made. I am more interested in crocheting and knitting, reading fiction books, blogging, and hanging out with friends.

The most successful careers are ones that match your passions in life, and I think women leave engineering because it does not align with their personal interests. (In fact, 3 female engineers I worked with all left to go into teaching.) Some people will say, "That's because girls are raised to play with dolls, not cars." Well, I was given access to both LEGOs and My Little Ponies when I was a kid, but even when I played with LEGOs, I built houses with kitchens and bedrooms, instead of robots and jets like my brother LDK.


A childhood creation I re-made at the LEGO store

I went into engineering originally because I was good at math and science in school, and therefore everyone around me encouraged me to enter engineering as a stable career that fit my strengths. Then I found out that I don't really care about developing and designing new technology products; I was just good at taking tests. After college, I did tech support for test and measurement systems and then moved into business management of industrial automation products. Nowadays, I work for a marketing firm that targets engineering and science companies, but I wouldn't say I'm in the engineering field anymore. I like working with engineers because I get them and understand what they're trying to do, but I'm just not naturally drawn to technical details like they are. ::shrug:: For women who are true techies, power to them. For women who aren't, why try to force them into a career just to bump the percentage numbers?

P.S. I always wanted to be a vet, but my mom told me in 4th grade that it was a bad idea because every little girl wants to be a vet so it's a really competitive field where I'd only get a job treating livestock. Click here to see if she was right.

3 comments:

Jennifer said...

Great Post! I started out as a double major in Architecture and Civil Engineering because just like you I was good at taking tests and scored high in Math and Science. I had a lot of people telling me this was the right fit, but it just wasn't.

I remember thinking if I had to solve any more water pipe problems I was going to scream., lol. I spent the next 6 years trying to find the right thing. I dropped Civil after a 1 1/2 years, to which some of my classmates wanted to know if it was because it was too hard. They looked at me like I was crazy when I told them no, I had a 4.0 it just wasn't what I could see myself doing the rest of my life. I then changed to Landscape Architecture and then changed again to Horticulture. I remember having to explain what Horticultre is to several people and getting asked if they make any money.

So what am I doing now? I'm a stay-at-home mom who taught myself how to use photoshop and loves doing digital design. I find that everything I have enjoyed had some aspect of design in it, but its more artistic and less engineering.

So all that to say that I agree with you that women should be allowed to do what "fits" them, even if they would make great engineers. :) BTW I wanted to be a vet growing up too.

A Gamer's Wife said...

Thanks for sharing your story! I totally relate to what you've been through. That's awesome that you're doing digital design now. I've been meaning to teach myself Photoshop, but since K is so good at it, I always just get him to churn something out for me. ^_^;;

jumkelly said...

I agree completely! I feel like I'm stuck in the wrong industry. A crafter inside of a competent project engineer.
Although I have to say, crafting seems to bring out the engineer in me. I LOVE to adjust patterns to my needs so its like searching for the solution in a very methodical engineering way.
Too bad my outer being pays better than my crafting needs.