At McMaster University, 40 per cent of assistant professors in engineering are now women and the school is working hard to make the profession more equitable for women. (Shutterstock)
Engineers are good at solving problems. We make bridges safer, computers faster and engines more efficient. Today, the profession is working on an especially thorny problem: gender equity in higher education.
While other fields of study continue to make significant advances towards gender equity, engineering schools are still struggling to pull their numbers of women students past the 20 per cent threshold.
This week, McMaster University is hosting a conference for more than 150 deans of engineering from schools around the world. One of the major issues we’re discussing at this Global Engineering Deans Council Conference is the gender imbalance that remains a challenge across the field.
We are making progress, but we need a breakthrough.
Our increasingly automated, mechanized world requires more engineers than ever, and demand for them is expected to grow. And the largest pool of under-utilized talent is right here: the women who would make great engineers, but choose other careers.
Why don’t they choose engineering? Some turn away as early as Grade 6. Research shows that this is the point when many girls simply turn off math and science, even though they have performed as well as their male classmates until that point.
We must reach kids before this juncture to show them how useful engineering is to everyday life. We need to show them how easy and interesting it is to write computer code and build apps, to help them use technology to build things and solve problems.
Robotics camps and classes can introduce girls to the creative dimensions of engineering at a young age. (Shutterstock)
Some say women are just not interested in engineering. Once, they said women were not capable of succeeding in engineering. Clearly that was untrue, and so now we are trying to correct the idea that they are not interested in engineering simply because they are women.
Could it be the way engineering has portrayed itself? For too long, engineering has presented itself as a field that recruits top brains from the abstract realms of mathematics and science and shapes them into problem-solvers.