Challenges for women in engineering

The retention of women engineers continues to be an ongoing challenge.

Women overcome many hurdles to enter the profession, starting with their education, where they often must scale exaggerated heights just to be considered equal to their male peers. Then once employed, women still leave engineering at higher rates than men.

Women engineers often face challenges and issues that their male colleagues simply don’t experience because they are in the majority. According to a 2022 Society of Women Engineers report, female engineers represent only about 14% of the total engineering workforce.


While some women engineers experience stress due to overt actions such as discrimination or harassment, that stress can also result from subtle environmental factors causing them to feel less valued or respected than their male peers. Some of these issues include:

Isolation

Due to under-representation, it can be difficult for women engineers to feel a true sense of belonging. This, in turn, can lead to self-doubt, imposter syndrome, or feeling they don’t belong.

Equally isolating is that there may not be any female role models in their environment. While mentors are critical for women in technology, many women may hesitate to approach others for mentoring.

Stereotypes

Stereotypes are firmly embedded within peer expectations, leading to unconscious bias. Common complaints include:

  • The pressure to behave in ways that have traditionally been considered “masculine.”
  • The need to avoid being characterized by appearance.
  • The assumption that the woman in the room is not in charge or is not an engineer.

Expectations of Assertiveness

Those in technical roles who embody any minority (e.g., gender, race, age, or another demographic) can find themselves in the position of having to work harder or prove themselves to be equal to the majority in the same role and receive the same level of respect.

Fear

Even when not explicitly expressed, there can be an underlying current of “If you fail, you’ve failed ALL women in this role.” This also applies to any sort of minority demographic, as those in the majority may be watching and making sweeping generalizations. 

Gendering of Skills

There can be a double standard regarding two skill sets valuable in engineering:

  • “Hard” engineering skills, including technical abilities and problem-solving.
  • “Soft” skills, including those we traditionally associate with leadership, such as communication, teamwork, and relationship-building.

In many environments, these skills are gendered, where the hard skills are considered more masculine and valued while the soft skills are perceived as feminine and of a less respected status. Then when women are promoted based on soft skills, they can unknowingly be relegated to that second tier where non-technical skills are less valued.

Flexibility

Many women – in any career field – need more flexibility when having families, and not all engineering companies or environments embrace or accommodate that need. 

Equity, equality, and fair opportunity for everyone are all part of our core culture at Thurman Co.

As a woman in technology, I’ve experienced variations of the themes mentioned here and have known other women who shared similar experiences. At Thurman Co., we do our best to remove these stressors where they might emerge. When each team member is given their best chance at success, everyone benefits: leadership, employees, and our clients.

We help businesses manage projects to significantly impact their success and growth. When you’re ready to put your project in the hands of a trusted professional organization, contact us to learn more about working together. 

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