41 responses to “Why women don’t go into engineering”

  1. Paul J Calrke

    I think it’s very unfortunate that people like this feel they have to comment. My first response is ‘Whatever’ as he has no idea and then ‘why is that at all important?’.

    Personally I don’t care one bit what my fellow work mates look like – I don’t care if they are women or men and certainly don’t care if they are good looking or not as that has no factor as to how good a engineer is. I think that it’s a stereotype in the same way men in engineering all wear tweed jackets with elbow pads (may have just offended a number of engineers) but it’s not the norm. By contrast I’m overweight, gone bald and can be a right grumpy so-and-so but that does not affect my engineering skills. Nor does my love of music like Lady Gaga make me better at laying out PCBs. I’m who I am and engineers except that – the same exception should never have limits.

    Engineers are just engineers and I think we firstly need to remove people with sexist remarks like this from the gene pool – contamination is never a good starting point. They maybe Women will not see engineering, science and other roles as a pure male environment and may take up engineering more. I say this because I think some purely do not enter engineering because of perceptions and is very sad.

    1. Brittney

      Hello,
      I am one of those super attractive women with a brain. Cheerleader throughout high school, sorority girl through college. I wear the heels, have my hair done, and yeah I sure do believe in doing my makeup everyday. I do spin classes after work. I was terrified to go into engineering. I have been told since a young age that I was at best, going to be a teacher. If I didn’t go into beauty school. I think the reason that women don’t go into engineering is because of the fear that they will turn into one of those stereotypical women engineers. Be single for the rest of there lives. You can be beautiful and smart. Never sell yourself short.

      1. Angela

        Sorry, but I have trouble believing that you are as brainy as you claim to be if you can’t even use “there” correctly.

        And you seem to be quite cocky of your looks. “Super attractive?” If you say so.

        1. Erik

          Apparently women don’t need men to try and kick them down a notch, they do it all to themselves.

          Funny really, if the genders were reversed this comment wouldn’t even be here.

  2. Miss MSE (@MissMSE)

    The saddest part is that I’m not surprised by this comment at all. While the culture varies between schools and sub-disciplines, I’m amazed how many guys will make this kind of comment around the women they work with, and then turn around and ogle the same women they just pronounced un-hot.

    Also, maybe women engineers are less stereotypically hot because we spend more time working on engineering projects instead of our appearance? Perfect hair and makeup takes an immense amount of time and money to maintain, which seems illogical and impractical.

    1. lindsay

      Ugh this makes me frustrated. Perfect hair takes as long a crappy hair. Makeup takes 5 minutes. Not forever.

      1. Jen

        Actually, for some of us, perfect hair takes an hour minimum to maintain and HOURS just to get to begin with. Makeup can also take a good 10-15 if you want to apply it right. Most engineers (at least, I do) wake up and are usually headed out the door after a quick shower and brushing their teeth. Just isn’t that much time.

    2. Stephan

      Cherish the Scientist is taking this way too personally. The sad truth is there are fewer women engineers and this isn’t because “there are sexist individuals” like the one in question (let’s leave superficiality out of this). At the start of my first semester in engineering, my lecture class was composed of nearly 40% women, yet by the start of the next semester (students could transfer in between), this percentage had dwindled down to about 25-30%. I can assure you sexism was not at play here. At the University of Notre Dame, the women engineers were just as competent and were always treated like so, regardless of their appearance, so let’s forget this notion that, “As it turns out, women are assumed to be more competent if they wear makeup . However, the more makeup a woman wears, the less people trust her” (This may have been characteristic of your working environment, but this is simply not so in most respectable engineering institutions like GE). Perhaps it is the sense of constant competition that is characteristic of certain fields in engineering and makes it less appealing, or some other underlying reason, but this is a reality and the idea that appearance has such a strong influence on women engineers (I know many who would attest to this) working in a field that involves such dedication and hard work is preposterous. I’m not speaking for all, but for the most part, people become engineers because they absolutely love what they do, otherwise they wouldn’t go through such rigorous schooling and preparation. This dedication for their profession is what drives engineers, men and women alike, and though it may have been prevalent in the past, sexism is not a large enough factor in this field today to account for the disparity between number women and men, and this would only be restated by my boss and other women engineers who follow their passions.

  3. Alexander

    Yeah… those kind of men are a problem.

    To be fair though, I think this issue of workplace climate varies dramatically between different organizations/teams/etc. Of course, the environments where sexism is rampant tarnish the reputation of the field regardless of how many environments are sexism-free.

    Personally, I do think this issue is partially a generational thing though, and things might improve (some) as generational shift occurs.

  4. Mike Burr

    I think they both have the gist of it covered. The “Fine Individual” that had the lack of foresight to post the comment was most likely a poor engineer in the first place. Most good engineers don’t get into it for the money or glamorous life, but to be creative in a field that allows it. If he is so worried about appearances, it sounds like he has personal inadequacy issues, in that he has to try to find something wrong because he can’t do anything right. Most engineers are smart enough to know and understand that engineering isn’t about catching face time because of appearance, but recognition for having done it right the first time.

    It takes our brain power to work through the problems, and we instinctively see the appearance issue as a non-starter to accomplishing the goals we set. We’re smart enough to differentiate between what’s necessary and what’s superfluous, and quickly dispose of the latter. When people are brought up with superficial beliefs, then they don’t think they can work in an area that requires real intelligence. So that’s why we have Admin types, they were never taught they could do something, only hindered by their environments.

    Alas, the individual that made the comment would most likely look at the comments and still not make the connection. For people like that, we have the sales engineer track. Leave the work to the people that can handle it and go play with your phone system.

    Just my $.02

  5. Chris Gammell

    Yeah, that comment was senseless and uncalled for. To be blunt, that guy was an ass. (Also, I happen to be an admin for that subreddit, so I can always take strong action if requested ;-) ).

    I don’t think the title is correct though; I don’t believe this is why women don’t go into engineering, though this kind of crap doesn’t help. It’s endemic of the ecosystem that exists today (fewer women in engineering) and the male culture behind it; if an office was full of women, regardless of how they look, w0uld this guy make such a comment?

    I hope this will get better over time. In fact, I often find myself being gender-blind (akin to color-blind in bigotry situations) and surprised when others aren’t. An example is when we were talking about an entrepreneur (Ayah) on The Amp Hour and Dave said, “Aaaand, she’s girl!”. My response being, “And?”. I find it natural to have women involved in engineering these days (and excelling) and I hope the trend continues. Over time, with enough people standing up to buttholes like this commenter on reddit (and real life if someone is uncouth enough to make comments like this), the behavior will hopefully decrease. Though like any prejudice, some people are bound to be unpleasant.

    1. agammy

      Chris, you are awesome by the way!

  6. JohnS_AZ

    Chalk that guy up to the unfortunate fact that while all guys grow up, very many never mature. Luckily, guys like that are EEOC lawsuit bait and either attorneys or their next female boss will have the opportunity to take them out at the knees.

    Interestingly, from MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE, women in engineering who display an advanced “fashion sense” and who show up to work with magazine perfect hair and make up, have pretty universally been lousy engineers.

    BTW, any woman doing good engineering (or science) is automatically ‘hot’ in my book, and I could make the assessment with my eyes closed.

  7. agammy

    Wow – I am sorry to hear how frustrating it is to be a female engineer. Just so you know, you’re not alone . . . it can be frustrating to be a female in any field, for all the same reasons you named.

    On a slightly different subject, I think that engineering is absolutely fascinating, and wish I had been encouraged more in that direction. I love writing and marketing, and it’s a great fit for me too, but the older I get the more interested I am in science, engineering, “how things work” and wish I had been more exposed to it as a kid. Ironically, my 10 year old brother (big age gap between us) is getting science kits, erector sets, and totally being encouraged in that direction . . . and I think that sort of stuff plays into why there aren’t more female engineers.

    Keep the the awesome posts!

  8. GMP

    I’m sorry you received such a douchey comment.
    But I don’t think engineers are particularly bad in this regard.
    There is a whole subculture of men who honestly believe a woman is entitled to exist only if she’s good looking. There is absolutely no other quality that is relevant in a female and these people completely ignore (when they are not busy belittling) women whom they are not interested in fucking; these “lucky” ones, in contrast, are recipients of way too much unwanted attention.

    I don’t think engineers belong to this misogynistic stratus any more than most other professional categories. I would guess that movie actors and fitness buffs are probably the worst offenders. We can all entertain ourselves by trying to figure out why these specimens are so insecure and actually hate women, but I am sure we have better things to do.

    Bottom line: these comments are hurtful, but try not to let them get to you. It is true that no matter how beautiful a woman is, I assure you that at some point in her life someone told her (often repeatedly) that she doesn’t look good. This was just some random dude on the interwebz. I am sure Mr Cherish thinks you are smokin’ hot, and that’s pretty much all that matters! :)

  9. Charles J Gervasi

    Call me part of the problem, but the premise of the linker’s question is completely wrong in this case.

    It’s hard for me to think about the important social issues when the discussion began on such a faulty premise.

    I hope they don’t link to my profile article asking why so many short and gawky engineers b/c there’d be a bit of truth to that in my case.

  10. Deja Vu with a different ending « FCIWYPSC

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  11. gasstationwithoutpumps

    I recently commented on women in engineering (more specifically in CS). It doesn’t look to me like the ratios are getting better:
    http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/40-increase-in-female-cs-majors%e2%80%94not-as-good-as-it-sounds/

    @Charles J Gervasi, I was confused by the expression “short and gawky,” since for me the term “gawky” means “ungainly or awkward as a result of being disproportionately tall”.

    1. Sam

      there is a difference between getting a degree in engineering and excelling in engineering. A bachelor degree is only an introduction, the real engineering starts at the Master level. All this feminists are only in it to irritate and parasite men’s haven rather than inherently being competent. Let me know if there is a new method developped by a woman.

  12. FrauTech

    Another great post Cherish. I think this is even worse in industry and I’ve actually noticed the reverse. Because pretty much everyone in management is a male at my company I have a theory that for the few female engineers they do agree to hire are more attractive than the average woman. There are not a whole lot of female engineers there over the age of 35 to begin with. But the few ones we do hire always seem very pretty and polished. I figure I was an anamoly since I came into the company another way. Of course, I guess there’s always another explanation.

  13. GMP
  14. Eileen W

    Sadder than anything is that this entire conversation took place fifty years ago.(These strange people had no Web to use, but managed in panel discussions, in the classroom, on campus, at lunch and at social affairs)

    Nothng has changed much. Title Nine gave young women a sense of self confidence that they could be part of all the cool endeavors out there.Science fiction movies certainly encouraged me. (I didn’t realize how much “fiction” there was)

    Hasn’t worked out very well and that’s a shame To leave such an important profession totally in the hands of men is pathetic and dangerous.

    1. Susan

      Sorry Eileen, I’m not sure if you are familiar with the engineering field today, but in contrast with the author’s beliefs, I believe there has been an incredible amount of change that is evident in any leading engineering firm throughout the country and all my coworkers would agree to this. Engineering is not in the hands of men, men and women in my profession work hand in hand and are constantly developing the latest innovations in tech.

  15. Leesa

    Hi everyone,

    I am working with Global Marathon this year. For those of you not familiar, Global Marathon For, By and About Women in Engineering and Technology is an annual worldwide forum connecting professional women, college students and girls for virtual and in-person conversations about education and careers in engineering and technology.

    This year we are looking to stimulate questions and topics for Global Marathon from outside sources. What would you be interested in hearing discussed at Global Marathon 2012? I would appreciate your feedback. Thank you!

    Leesa

  16. Sam

    Most ppl i see these days…all they care about is how to be politically correct and answer without offending, i am amongst the last ppl who will do this.

    The truth and matter is, very few women out there who have the real capacities that engineering field require. Engineering requires not only intellectual, analytical, problem-solving prowess, it requires large amount of efforts and dedication to keep up with the challenges. and Like i said few women are capable of handling these kind of demanding environment. I am also a firm believer that while some women are smart, when it comes to intelligence that is cutting edge problem solving, u find it mainly in the other spectrum of the other gender.

    In addition, for 150 years women have been in the sceince field but very few invention, no theories, couple of noble prizes, are attributed to women…that’s gotta tell u something.

    I vehemently denounce those dude that try to appeal to the feminists by being politically correct.

    1. Katie

      Dear Sam,

      As a woman studying engineering, I’m not suprised to see this comment. It simply reinforces the ignorance of some engineers. Now, I’m prepared to overlook your careless use of the English language even though I can find, in one quick glance, seventeen glaring errors. I’m certain there are more. You might want to try and learn a little more about the singular and plural forms of words. I’d also recommend brushing up on your capitalization rules.

      I would try and address all of your “points” but they’re nothing more than sweeping generalizations and unsubstantiated anecdotes. A scientist should know that an argument needs proof and sources. However, I would still like to make a few points. Women have been in the “sceince [sic] field” since the dawn of time. Women have made incredible contributions to science and engineering. A few of my heroes include Marie Curie, Elizabeth Blackwell, Grace Hopper, Rosalind Franklin, and countless others. It is not a matter of political correctness but of accuracy.

      I hope that your mentality is merely the result of immaturity and ignorance, and that you will grow out of this delusion as you mature. Best wishes on your journey.

    2. GEARS

      I’m not going to mince words. Those types of comments are exactly why women don’t get to prove themselves in engineering and science fields. Preconceived notions on supposed “proper” gender roles that are fueled by assholes like you are a major reason why technology couldn’t advance further. We have 51% of the population that is denounced by some members of the other 49% because they feel threatened that, GOSH NO, some woman might be (and in your case is) smarter than you.

      It is an attitude like that which will ultimately keep you from succeeding in life. Normally I’d feel sorry for someone not being able to fulfill their potential but since you’re such an asshat, I don’t feel sorry in the slightest.

    3. Chris The Admin

      Ah Sam. Sammy sammy sam. How I would love to see you compared to my friends who are women engineers; I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t stack up. I’m guessing insecurity is a big part of your comment above and for that I pity you. And my guess for the reason you likely have never seen any women in engineering? No woman (or person, for that matter) wants to be around an attitude like yours.

      While EB will remain a place for open discussion about engineering, sexist comments such as yours (and yes, they were, believe me) will not be tolerated. I’m only allowing your comment to remain so others may see an example of your ignorance.

      Perhaps a viewing of my article on the importance of the soft skills of engineering would serve you well?

    4. paul hopwood

      Sam, people that can, do; those that can’t, troll.

      Whilst I don’t agree with all the views of the authors here they at least are able to hold a constructive debate on the issues at hand.

      … Dude.

    5. Anonymous

      Believe me, from a female engineer who just found out she’s being paid a fraction what her male colleagues are being paid while being asked by the boss to check the work of male colleagues who are supposed to be on a higher job level…and dealing with all the mysogynistic remarks and patronizing tones from male colleagues.
      There are days when it’s not exactly a party to be a female engineer.

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  18. Charles J Gervasi

    If women haven’t has as much achievement in engineering as a group as men it does tell us something, but not necessarily what a redneck might first think. It might be that women weren’t allowed or taken as seriously in scholarly journals / societies as their male peers.

    Suppose, though, that it does say that women, as a group, are lousy at math. Maybe 1993 Barbie is right: Math it tough (for girls).

    Are you not even going to look at someone’s work on account of a group she belongs to?

    That’s a good thing about engineering? If it meets spec, you can’t argue with it. If someone can bill 100 hours and get a product that meets spec, whining about someone’s sex or race won’t get you anywhere. All clients care about is whether you can get your shit working. Usually when people carry on about race, sex, nationality, “being a team player”, etc, it means their design isn’t working.

  19. Ruby Lee

    I’m half way through my degree in Electronic Engineering, I’m now returning to my course to complete my masters degree after spending a year on industrial placement. In that year I learnt two things.
    1) I’m good at engineering and love the buzz I get from it.
    2) Some men are threatened by that.
    The social climate of my workplace was so awful sometimes that I couldn’t even bring myself to talk about it. I spent days listening to colleagues discussing my clothing choices, my weight, and whether or not I was geek sexy (whatever that means). I got the cold shoulder if I was praised by managers, I even had instances where I was purposefully ignored, especially when the guys spoke about cars or anything “masculine” like DIY.
    I really wish I could feel positive about my career choice, I wish I could go back to my degree with a spring in my step thinking it’s only 2 years till I’m back to the job I love. Instead I’m dreading graduation because I don’t want to go back into a job where I feel awkward dressing like a woman, where I don’t feel comfortable wearing make-up, where I can’t be myself.
    I want this to change. This needs to change. I hope I find a forward thinking place to work, which isn’t filled with misogynists. Engineering is the right job for me, it’s just the environment that’s so poisonous.

  20. Christine

    As a female Civil Engineer who has worked in Engineering almost six years, it’s been an interesting journey. Through high school and university, women did only account for 10-15% of my classes. Often we are at the front always asking questions or trying to quietly blend in among the boys. Why did we enter the field in the first place? Some of us are extremely smart and are very logical and analytical. Some of us just enjoy numbers and working in a science that uses our creative minds. Admittedly, we don’t go into Engineering for the glamour – we know it isn’t glamorous. We have to use our brains not our appearance. But every day that’s what the men see. So either they see the macho tomboy or the attractive female. Not meaning to be arrogant, but being one who pays attention to how I present myself, being considered attractive has it’s down sides – the sexist guys only look at your body, they don’t take you seriously and try to pass you the jobs that are more administrative rather than Engineering. If they sense that you do know what you are talking about and are in cases smarter or more qualified, they feel threatened and try to intimidate you, belittle you and openly oppose & humiliate you. They compete with you. Maybe that’s what males generally do.
    But I do now understand, why many women leave the profession. It may not be that women are incompetent technically but perhaps they lack the mental toughness required to last.

  21. Jessica

    As an engineering student at a top school, I definitely see the difference in numbers for women and men. There have been several of classes where I have been the one girl out of thirty students. It doesn’t bother me much, and I haven’t seen it bother anyone else. At some points I can see myself having to prove my worth more than if I were a man, but I’m not too worried about that. I’m at the top of my class, proving that women are COMPLETELY COMPETENT and can be more so than men – that is probably the most frustrating argument I saw on this thread. Many of my female engineering friends are quite amazing people, and are at the top their class as well.
    It is actually an advantage to be a women in engineering. I feel like a celebrity (although I’m not one to like much attention) because it is easy for my classmates to remember me, since I’m different (as in, I’m not a man). There are also more scholarships available per person as a woman.
    I don’t know why there aren’t many women in engineering. Bioengineering is pretty female-dominant, however, and Chemical Engineering isn’t so bad either. I’m in Aerospace, but overall, I don’t really feel like I’m being put down by my peers so perhaps this is progress.

  22. Mitch W

    People blame sexism for the low number of women in engineering. Yet, that sexism must have existed in medicine, law and other previously male dominated professions. Yet, there are much larger numbers of women in these professions. So, is it really sexism then that keep women out of engineering?

  23. Isabel R

    I am an Electrical Engineer. I graduated from the Univ of Puerto Rico, where more than 50% of the graduating engineers are women. Although they mostly graduate from Industrial or Chemical Engineering. In EE about 10 years ago when I was studying it was around 30% women. This is the highest in the US University system.

    I had a very strong math and science base from high school. I even was math club president. I was lucky enough to be in a great environment to develop. My classroom was mostly girls all my life and combined with strong academics; this created an environment of cooperative competition. What I’m trying to say is that it is sexism, but at a much younger age that determines if girls even have the skills required to be engineers.

    I’ve been working for over ten years in the US mainland and I have dealt with my share of sexist issues. Between sexist jokes, not being taken seriously, being passed up for leadership positions and the inappropriate comments and looks, it is not easy being a woman engineer. But I found my niche, went into consulting and when I have to deal with all those things at least I can think how much more I’m getting paid to be there than all those other male engineers.

  24. Colleen Spiegel

    Great writing — and interesting topic. Although I think that the guy that made that comment is not very intelligent (what intelligent girl would give that guy the time of day?) — unfortunately — this is how our society (and the human race) is. When I was a new engineer (I have been an engineer for 13 years) — I naively thought that “looks” do not matter, and corporate america would judge me upon my work and merit alone. Boy was I wrong!

    As a new engineer at 23 years old, I would go to work with my hair all over the place, and with an Army jacket on (I know — this is bad). I remember that my boss asked me if I was in some sort of strange group. During the next few years, I graduated to a more professional wardrobe, and my position, pay, and respect for my work increased accordingly.

    I know that this does not seem right in an ideal world, however, the sooner that any “engineer” accepts this — the better that they will do at their job. What no one tells you in engineering school is how important social interaction and a professional apperance matter. You do not have to be extremely good looking — but you do have to be clean, neat, and professional.

  25. Colleen Spiegel
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  27. Spesiellinor

    I am a process engineer (from Norway so appologize my writing if it is not perfect), and I wear makeup. I dont overdo the makeup in the office, but mostly because of broad daylight. And I dont think it is a waste of time.
    I even know female engineers that do modelling in their spare time.
    I think we will have more female engineers in the future, since more engineering students are female. And then we will probably have the same distribution of attractiveness as the rest of the society :)