Overcoming the Hurdles to Gender Parity in Engineering Will Take Concerted Efforts

female civil engineer
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An internet search of the top engineering breakthroughs of the 21st century reveals impressive results. Groundbreaking innovations like the Sky Crane, the Large Hadron Collider, the Burj Khalifa, 3D printing, and the Mars Opportunity and Curiosity rovers make the list. But, according to a new report from the Society of Women Engineers, one much-desired advancement continues to elude nearly all fields of engineering in the United States: gender parity.

Each year for the past two decades, SWE has examined social science research to understand this underrepresentation of women in engineering. In this year’s report, “Women in Engineering: Analyzing 20 Years of Social Science Literature,” authors Peter Meiksins, Ph.D., professor emeritus of sociology at Cleveland State University, and Peggy Layne, P.E., F.SWE, found that while the percentages of women earning engineering degrees, holding engineering faculty positions, and working as employed engineers have all increased through the years, the growth has been slow. Women earned only 23% of engineering degrees in 2020, held just 18.5% of engineering faculty positions in 2021, and accounted for a mere 14% of engineering employment in 2019.

“We want to make sure researchers are paying attention to the issues regarding not just recruitment but also retention,” said Roberta Rincon, Ph.D., the associate director of research for SWE, in a press conference.

“Right now, we’re hovering around 14% of the engineers in the workplace being women,” Rincon said. “That has increased over the last 20 years from about 11%. It is slowly increasing, but it is far below what we’re seeing among engineering graduates. Why is that? We have to understand the factors that are preventing us from diversifying the engineering profession because if we just continue on this path, it is going to take us a century to reach anywhere close to gender parity.”

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