Women in Engineering?

Ok, I obviously need to point out upfront that I’m not an engineer. I’m a female scientist who did once upon a time consider studying engineering at university. In the end, the science won out. That’s not to say I have any inherent dislike of engineering or engineers, but you can’t do everything!

The reason for this post is this article in Times Higher Education. If you’ve already hit your free monthly article limit, it’s effectively about the failure of marketing programs to try and get females to study engineering. Graduate numbers are dropping, not increasing.

I just want to point out the following three comments in the article in particular:

…marketing has tried to challenge perceptions that the discipline was masculine, boring and “a bit nerdy”, and has instead aimed for “girlification” – by using pink in prospectuses or highlighting the science of lipstick, for example.

…the solution cannot be to “dress it in pastels and pretend it doesn’t involve maths”…

Young women don’t have an innate dislike for engineering because when you emphasise the creative, people-based problem-solving and environmental aspects of engineering they start to see the appeal…

So, here’s the thing. I am exactly the kind of person these marketing campaigns are trying to target. I studied maths and several science subjects at high school, and was tossing up between doing science and engineering at university.

I like maths.

I like science.

If any marketing campaign had tried to under-emphasize these mathematical and scientific aspects of the degree, it would have been an immediate turn off for me. That’s what I like about it!

If any marketing campaign I’d been confronted with had tried the “girlification” of the degree by using pink, I’m pretty sure I would have sculled a bottle of red wine and puked my pink guts up all over the marketing manager. I hate pink.

I also find it offensive that a marketing campaign automatically assumes that females would be turned off by the “masculine engineering” stereotype, or the fact that engineering is “nerdy”. So here’s a newsflash – I’m female, and have absolutely zero hesitation in admitting that I’m nerdy. I like computers, maths, science, machines, robots, sci-fi…And I think these marketing geniuses will find that a great number of other females considering science or engineering as potential career paths aren’t actually all that dissimilar from me.

And finally, emphasis on the creative, people-based problem solving? Ha! That is the exact opposite of what I like. I like the technical, logical, mathematical. I dislike the creative, I like cold, hard facts. I also need a sign that says “does not play well with others“. I like working on my own. That’s not to say I can’t work in a team, my background clearly shows that I can. But trust me when I say that it is not a good selling point for me.

Go back to the drawing board.

My experience of engineering programs, is that quite a number of females enter first year and then change degrees. Getting the students from high school science into an engineering degree isn’t really the issue in my opinion. Perhaps these programs trying to convince women to study engineering would be better focused on retention and why so many drop out. I’ll give you a hint – take a look at their male classmates that they have to study with and the attitudes they have to put up with from them.


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