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Why Women Should Consider Careers in Engineering

Historically speaking, women have had a huge impact in the way we live today. Unfortunately, most of us don’t even realize how much of our everyday accommodations were invented by female “engineers.”

Inspired by the Past…

Ever use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth? Of course you have, but did you know that Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr invented the patent for “Secure Communication Systems” during WWII for the United States military so they could use frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication to secretly guide missiles without enemy detection or the interference of jamming signals? Today, wireless communication technology based off Lamarr’s engineering, has become so encompassed in our everyday lives, that most of us don’t know how to live without it.

Next, take Mary Anderson who invented and patented the rubber windshield wiper blade. Originally intended for trolley cars, in 1903 Mary solved an issue most had accepted as a normal burden for the newly accessible automobile.

Another great example: Martha Coston who finished the work of her late husband Benjamin when creating safety flares for the U.S. Navy to use when night signaling. Martha had no formal training and limited knowledge of chemistry, so she instead educated herself while working alongside hired chemists and firework technicians to engineer her invention.

Finally, as you may recall from the film and book Hidden Assets, man may not have landed on the moon without the efforts of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who were instrumental in calculating the algorithm and lending their mathematical and aerospace engineering expertise to the flight of Apollo 13.

…And the Present

Unfortunately, many of these women did not receive credit, recognition, or even compensation, for their ingenuity and hard work. While engineering is a field that has a wide reach, and is crucial to many business verticals, there’s long been a stereotype that women won’t succeed in these careers. This may have been true in the past, but the industry is beginning to see more women leaders and entrepreneurs.

If you’re looking for role models, there are a number of contemporary engineers, who not only defy stereotype, their ideas, expertise, and leadership have tremendous impact on their fields. While the list could be considerably longer, you may want to read about NASA astronaut Christina Koch; Gwynne Shotwell, who’s the President and COO of SpaceX; Melonee Wise, the CEO of Fetch Robotics; Mary Barra, the Chairman and CEO of General Motors Company; Limur Fried, the CEO and Chief Engineer of Adafruit Industries; and Yoky Matsuoka, a co-founder of Google X, and currently the CTO of Google Nest.

Starting with Education

While the reputation of engineering not being a strong career option for women is unfortunate and inaccurate, it has been hard to shake. As a result, the number of women who major in engineering in college, and later enter the field, has been impacted. However, there’s a push to even the gender imbalance, and women are being actively encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities in engineering careers.

The professional prospects for an engineer are vast with roles in many areas of interest and the industry’s range of sectors are broad – there’s Automotive, Aerospace, Rail, Construction, Water, Energy, Chemical, and more, for you to consider.

Over the past four decades we have seen an overwhelming increase in females pursing higher education. According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, since the mid-1980s women now double the number of men graduating with degrees. The study details how recently there has been a large push towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) learning. As a result, more and more females are focusing their education on STEM degrees. Since 2010, STEM degrees have increased 66.3% reports the NCES. Of that percentage, the number of women pursing degrees in a STEM-related discipline has almost doubled from 143,018 (in 2009/2010) to 237,874 (2017/2018). Still women only account for 32% of the STEM degrees annually obtained, and the percent is even less when focusing on Engineering degrees, where it’s estimated that only 20% of Engineering graduates are female.

Currently there are 53.73 million women employed full-time in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), women make up half of the total number of employees working full-time in U.S. Yet, in Engineering careers, women only account for 14% of the Civil/ Mechanical/ Electrical employees in the United States.

Why Not Engineering?

Despite the poor optics, the need for qualified engineers has never been stronger. And, because of the imbalance in gender, companies want to hire qualified female candidates, making it the perfect time for women to confidently enter the space. That’s not the only reason, though. As recruiters specializing in Infrastructure, Energy, Utility, and Manufacturing roles, Planet Forward sees first-hand how valuable careers are in Engineering. Here’s why.

A stable and growing industry

The engineering industry is more stable than many others. As essential employees ensuring the power, gas, utility, healthcare, and communication grids don’t fail, engineering careers are well-positioned to weather economic periods of uncertainty. In fact, the BLS projects steady employment growth for engineers, estimating that 140,000 new jobs will be added through 2026. Specifically, mechanical engineering is projected to add 25,300 roles, mechanical engineering is projected to add 16,200 positions, and civil engineering is projected to add 32,200 jobs.

High compensation

Another check in the pro column when considering the engineering field: Compensation. Although salaries vary by field, location, and education, compensation in the industry is higher than average for degreed engineers.

Mechanical engineering is a diverse discipline with many career options. Because of the range of industries where these engineers are needed, it’s unlikely the market will become saturated with candidates. This allows for a lot of room for entry-level engineers. Average starting salaries for mechanical engineers can be as high as $80,000 depending on location and specialty.

Electrical engineers are also continually in demand. The field includes power engineering, instrumentation engineering, and electronic engineering. The broadness of the field’s possible career paths means that there are many jobs available. Depending on the source, industry averages for electrical engineers start in the $60,000 range.

Civil engineers are sought-after, too. They build the essential infrastructure on which our world turns. Like mechanical engineering, there are many branches of this field, which means more opportunities for recent graduates. Civil engineering may include structural engineering, environmental engineering, road/highway engineering, and transportation engineering. The average starting salary can vary but is generally in the high $50,000 range.

You can make a difference in the world

It may sound cheesy, but engineering gives real life purpose to making the world a better place. The one thing all engineers have in common is the ability to problem solve and design applicable ways to improve.

We may be biased, but let’s face it, engineering careers are cool. Seriously, we listen to candidates everyday describe in detail the projects they are working on, and we never get bored. They tell us about their experiences working on bridges, skyscrapers, building out American manufacturing, designing systems for landfills, finding better ways to implement renewable energy, and even working with nuclear power.

Striving for Gender Equity in Engineering

If we’ve made a compelling case for a career in engineering, but you’re still unsure how as a woman you’d fit into one of these roles, it’s important to note that gender equity in engineering matters greatly, especially now.

The pandemic has allowed companies to reset and prepare more effectively for work and workplace changes. As a result, the years ahead are expected to accelerate innovation and development utilizing the best ideas from diverse voices. For example, a few of the critical engineering challenges facing us today are the need for clean water and energy, sustainable manufacturing, and sufficient food resources, as well as pioneering medical technologies. These issues affect us all and illustrate the necessity of women’s inclusion in engineering processes.

But don’t just take our word for it. Seek out peers in the industry for some straight talk. Try one of the several networks and communities dedicated to empowering women and careers in engineering, like: Women’s Engineering Society, The Society of Women Engineers, Women in Engineering – which is a global organization, as well as Women Who Code, a US-based network that provides resources to women in the software development sector.

So as women, why not focus your education and careers in engineering? There’s certainly a lot to be optimistic about for the future of the industry. Engineers today are creatively working to understand the complex needs of their constituencies. Then they’re meeting those challenges by turning needs into products, buildings, and processes. And who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Photo credit: Canva

by Brittany Adams, National Recruiter, Planet Forward