engineer working on computer

International Women in Engineering Day 2023

This year marks the 10th International Women in Engineering Day (INWED). The day aims to ‘enable the celebration of women in engineering to become global.’

Launched by the England-based Women’s Engineering Society (WES) in 2014, it gained greater traction after receiving UNESCO patronage in 2016.

The 23rd of June therefore presents an opportunity to reflect on engineering today and provide hope for future generations of women looking to build a career in this field.

The theme of this year’s INWED is #MakeSafetySeen. It asks us to think about all the ways women in engineering are helping to promote safety in the field. Let’s have a look at some of the stats from engineering today, and the pioneering work that can help young girls aspiring to a future in the field.

Women in engineering

Engineering has been found to be one of the key scientific disciplines that women are poorly represented in. Valuable research is helping to identify the factors contributing to the gender gap in engineering today.

Environmental factors, like biases in education and negative stereotypes about girls’ ability in subjects like mathematics have been found to contribute to the lower uptake of engineering among girls early on in life.

Furthermore, negative stereotypes about girls’ abilities can have an effect on girls’ self-belief. Evidence shows that girls self-assess their abilities to be lower than boys’ despite having similar mathematical abilities.

Importantly, recent data from Engineering UK provide insights into how to better accommodate for women in engineering across different levels of education.

Data from Engineering UK

Today, women make up 16.5% of the UK engineering workforce according to 2022 Engineering UK statistics. This, encouragingly, marks a considerable improvement on the figures from 2010, when women made up only 10% of the UK engineering workforce.

The organization notes that there is a link between the low percentage of girls studying both physics and mathematics at A level (advanced level qualifications for students aged 16 and above in the UK) and the gender disparity that exists in engineering and technology at university.

Finding ways to encourage girls to study both subjects at A level could help to bridge the gap in the engineering workforce in the UK.

At university, implementing changes like greater representation at the faculty level and broadening the curriculum can encourage women to pursue a career in engineering.

Indicators in the US

To bring light to some other stats, let’s have a look at key indicators in the US. Here, the percentage of STEM workers who are women and who hold at least a bachelor’s increased from 42% in 2010 to 44% in 2019.

The percentage of women in STEM who do not hold a bachelor’s remained the same, at around 26%. In 2019, of the 31% of women with a STEM degree who entered the STEM workforce, less than one-tenth began a career in engineering.

For further information on women in STEM in the US, have a look at the Society of Women Engineer’s webpage. You can also check out the work they’re doing to help improve access for women in engineering.

Word from the field

Understanding the driving factors and opportunities that help women in engineering to thrive is key to ensuring greater representation across the field.

We are delighted to be able to share the stories and advice of Prof. Dr. Angelica Reyes, Prof. Chiara Bedon, and Dr. Lucia Romano, who continue to make breakthroughs in their engineering careers.

Prof. Dr. Angelica Reyes

Prof. Dr. Angelica Reyes is an Associate Professor at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and Visiting Researcher at the University of Essex. Her research interests include autonomous vehicles, human–computer interactions and artificial intelligence. Here are a couple of words from Dr. Reyes on her interest in engineering:

“I  studied in Mexican public schools and got a scholarship for my academic performance, allowing me to do a doctorate in Spain.

I have never stopped working with great enthusiasm, thinking that engineering allows us to create a better and more equal world.”

Encouraging girls to pursue their dreams

It’s difficult to build the courage to navigate a workplace where there is uneven representation. Dr. Reyes has some encouraging advice for girls looking to build a career in this field, as well as girls looking to pursue their dreams in less accessible disciplines:

“I would say to girls that pursuing our goals is worth studying very hard. And we must all collaborate to help girls to be what they want to be without giving up anything. Because we need girls with big dreams and a lot of strength to pursue them.”

Prof. Chiara Bedon

Prof. Chiara Bedon is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Trieste, Department of Engineering and Architecture, Italy. Her subjects of interest include structural analysis, construction and numerical simulation and modeling.

Working in a male-dominated space can be taxing, and it means women have to carve out a space that doesn’t necessarily exist for them, all while facing more hurdles, such as biases in the workplace. Prof. Chiara Bedon notes that:

“After more than 10 years of research activity in structural engineering field, and a long list of experiences in international committees, research networks, projects, I still see that key / leadership positions are mostly covered by men. It’s a matter of fact.

But at the same time, I also recognize and strongly appreciate that I am there with them. And several awards, responsibilities, grants, international invitations, etc., confirm for me that I’m not so bad. Starting from nothing, working hard, everything is possible!”

Building confidence

While the roadblocks limiting women in fields like engineering cannot be traced back to lack of confidence, finding ways to build girls’ confidence can be helpful when other forms of encouragement are not made readily available. Prof. Bedon’s experiences in engineering have helped her to formulate advice for girls and early stage researchers looking to build a career in engineering:

“My suggestion for girls and early stage researchers? Follow your passion, never abandon your idea, and remember that we are strong and tenacious enough to interact, collaborate and compete with our male colleagues.”

Dr. Lucia Romano

Dr. Lucia Romano is a senior scientist in micro- and nanofabrication. In 2016, she was a guest professor at ETH Zürich and is now part of the Paul Scherrer Institution. Dr. Romano specializes in nanofabrication engineering and has a background in materials sciences.

Speaking on her career in engineering, Dr. Romano notes the importance of strong and supportive networks within academia. She also acknowledges the value of choice when considering the trajectory of our careers:

“Luckily, I met many people during my career pushing me to believe in myself and in my capabilities (e.g., my PhD supervisor at University of Catania and my boss at ETH Zürich), recognizing my unique way to face a problem and to be efficient in proposing a solution. I may have lost some opportunities, but I am happy and confident with the choices I made because they were my choices.”

Making space

INWED highlights the importance of removing the roadblocks faced by women in engineering and seeks to better recognize and promote the efforts of women engineers worldwide.

The space carved out by women engineers today will hopefully provide a clearer pathway for young girls and women looking to work in this field.

Getting involved

It’s as important a time as ever to take a pause here and appreciate the work that’s being done to ensure greater representation for women in engineering, and the improvements in the field in the last decade. But there is more work to be done.

Check out the INWED website if you’re looking to learn more about the specific ways you can help to platform women in engineering. You can also raise awareness about this year’s campaign by posting the hashtag #MakeSafetySeen on your social media pages.

MDPI is celebrating International Women in Engineering Day this year by platforming women in engineering, and calling for papers on topics related to the field.

Open access publishing makes research visible to all. There are lots of resources on women in engineering and other areas of STEM available in MDPI journals.