Electrical engineering has a history of being neglected in the humanities, but a new study suggests the gap is widening.
The study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) finds that in the last 20 years, there have been only 15.4 female engineers in the United States.
But while the number of women in engineering has remained stagnant over the same period, it has risen to 25.7% of all undergraduate engineering students, and it is on the rise in the profession’s top 100 graduate schools.
The AAUW study also found that there is a gender gap in the number and quality of technical training in the sciences and humanities.
Women are significantly less likely to obtain graduate degrees in engineering than men, with women graduating from more junior science and engineering programs and receiving less advanced training than men.
Women also receive lower scores on quantitative aptitude tests, and those who do receive fewer formal training in STEM fields than men do.
The lack of diversity in the STEM fields means that women are still not receiving the education and training that they need to succeed in the technology sector, says the study’s lead author, Dr Maria F. Rodriguez.
Women’s representation in technical jobs is increasing, too The AAUW study found that women accounted for about 25% of the population in 2011, but just 9% of engineering and computer science jobs in the US.
This figure has increased from about 10% in 2003, but the numbers of women and men in these fields have not kept pace with each other, says Rodriguez.
The AAW study shows that while women are getting a better education in STEM, the gender pay gap is still far larger than in most other professions.
In 2012, women earned on average 77 cents for every dollar men earned, a gap that grew even more pronounced in 2014.
Women in tech fields are still paying a smaller share of their income to their families than their male counterparts, and the gap continues to widen.
And in some cases, women are making more than their men colleagues.
Women working in technology occupations made $18.8 million in 2011 from salaries and tips alone, the study found.
This compares to men making $15.6 million.
Women still earn less than men in all occupations, but in STEM those numbers have increased significantly.
The gap in salaries has increased by 12% since 2003.
Women have earned an average of $14,000 less in real wages from their careers than their fathers and husbands, says Dr Rodriguez.
In 2014, the average wage of a woman in STEM occupations was $56,700, compared to $60,400 for a man.
Dr Rodriguez says it is critical that the number, quality and diversity of women’s technical training be enhanced in order to help women become more employable.
“As a society, we have been very slow to make gender equity a priority,” she says.
“We’ve really missed the boat on this.
We need to change that.”
What are the key skills to becoming an engineer?
The research team also looked at the skills needed to become an engineer.
Women who completed a PhD were more likely to have been able to identify the roles of technical information and control systems and build software applications that support them, compared with men who did not complete a PhD. These women were also more likely than men to have received a bachelor’s degree or higher.
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” says Dr Ramirez.
“This is an area that’s really important for us to address in the future.”
Dr Rodriguez is also hoping that the AAUw study will help bring a new focus to the subject.
“It’s so important that there are more female engineers because they’re just as capable and can do things in this field as men,” she explains.
“I think we can learn from these studies and continue to make progress towards equality in the field.”
The AAE has a number of strategies to support women in the engineering field, such as the American Engineering Assn.’s Women in Engineering program, which provides support to women in technical roles.
But there are other ways to increase diversity in tech, says F.D. Davis, president of the AAE.
For example, women can become involved in the development of tech products and technologies, he says.
And, companies can help female engineers connect with other engineers in their industry.
“You need to work to change the culture of engineering, and I think that’s why the AAIW is so important,” says Davis.
“The fact that there’s more and more women working in engineering makes it more challenging for women to get the skills and training they need.”
The AAIB study also highlights how important it is for women in tech to be able to get into engineering.
Of the 2,000 women who received degrees from top engineering schools in 2011-12, only 44% had a degree from a top engineering school in the previous year, says A. Michael Kuehn, professor of computer science at the University of California, San Diego.