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Why aren't there more women in Engineering? #Iamanengineer, #Ilooklikeanengineer

Lilly Vogelesang By Lilly Vogelesang Published on November 6, 2015

When I first studied Mechanical Engineering in California in the early 2000s, the ratio of women to men started in the first year at 1:6. By the time I actually graduated, the number was probably closer to 1:8. According to the National Science Foundation, in the U.S. the number of women studying Engineering has actually dropped since I was in University. The number of women in Computer Science has similarly dropped.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, with less than 20% of Engineers being female, when most people think of Engineers they picture a man. That’s not to say, however, that female Engineers are in any way less important than our male counterparts.

In fact, female Engineers tend to quickly surge to the front of the pack. Check out this list from 2012 of some of the top female engineers, including Linda Cureton, CIO of NASA; Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!; Ruchi Sanghvi, head of Operations at Dropbox; and more.

What concerns me the most is how can we encourage young girls to pursue maths, science, and Engineering?

I was shocked to find out that as recently as 2005 Harvard President Lawrence Summers said “…there are issues of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact less factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.” I may agree that there are still social factors, but aptitude? I find this offensive.

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I started to think about this more, and I wonder whether it’s a social or a personality thing that makes more men pursue Engineering than women. After all, in North America today there are very few barriers for entry for women in these fields. In fact, many companies are looking for female talent to diversify their workforce. So when the careers are there, and they’re high-paying, rewarding work, why not?  Universities are dying to accept more women into their Engineering programmes, so it's not that either.  

Thinking about personality types, this may have a huge influence on the types of careers that people are suited for. If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs test, then you know that there are some personalities out there that are more common than others. When I was younger, I scored an INTP - when I did the test again this year, I scored INTJ. Only around 2% of women have the same personality as me.  INTPs are known at “The Thinkers”, while INTJs are “The Scientists.” Both of these would be ideally suited personalities to do Engineering. “Introverted”, “Intuitive”, “Thinking”, “Judging / Perceiving.” Arguably the most important qualifiers for Engineering are probably “Introverted” and “Thinking.”  This study on Software Engineers in particular finds that 24% are ISTJ - that's a huge number.  They conclude the study by stating although personality plays a major role in choice of career, it is not necessarily a predictor of success.

When we look at statistics of the breakdown of Myers-Briggs test by sex, we find some shocking truths. When it comes to “Thinking”, 56.5% of males fit this attribute verses only 24.5% of females. Instead, most females fit “Feeling”, with a whopping 75.5% to the males’ 43.5%. For ISTJs, only 6.9% of women fit this type compared to 16.4% of men - more than twice as much.  This is the area across the spectrum where males and females differ the most, and is arguably the most critical for the heavy science jobs. The Myers-Briggs organization describes this the following way: “This third preference pair describes how you like to make decisions. Do you like to put more weight on objective principles and impersonal facts (Thinking) or do you put more weight on personal concerns and the people involved (Feeling)?

"Don't confuse Feeling with emotion. Everyone has emotions about the decisions they make. Also do not confuse Thinking with intelligence.”  http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/thinking-or-feeling.htm

If I think about this logically (as, of course, I’m always wont to do), then this doesn’t mean that women aren’t capable of Engineering jobs. It just means that a lot of us may not enjoy them very much. Even myself, and I have an aptitude for this to begin with, I got frustrated when I was in a job that was too static, where I felt like I was in a basement crunching numbers all day. I’m much more happy leading a development team, being the problem-solver that tackles unexpected obstacles and strives to achieve the impossible. Could I do the crunching numbers thing all day? Sure. Do I want to? Not really. I don’t even feel as though that’s a good use of all my talents.

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Looking at it from this perspective, it seems unlikely to me that there will ever be a balance between the sexes in Engineering jobs. And I kind of think that’s okay - if that's what women want. The important thing is fostering a world free of discrimination where women feel comfortable and socially accepted no matter what job they are doing. It’s also important to do our best to encourage youth of all kinds to go into science and Engineering. The future will be built upon the minds of the youth of today. As long as women like me can choose to be Engineers, and change the world for the better, then we will continue to forge our own path.

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