Cover of this week's EE Times, the electrical engineering weekly industrial news rag:
"Where Are The Girls?"
Bottom line: in America, 97% of all engineers are male.
I'm an electrical engineer. According to the Society of Woman Engineers, there were 574,461 people in America in the electrical/electronics engineering profession. Of those, 64,539 were female. That's 10.1 percent.
The Society of Woman Engineers is a reasonably exclusive club, it would seem.
A 2000-word article on the dearth of graduating woman engineers concludes that the reason women are not attracted to the field is that "The perception of engineering is not what it needs to be. More advertising is needed. "
One presumes during airing of "The OC", between ads for Acuras and trendy jeans, there should be advertising targeting young women to seek college bachelor's degrees in engineering.
Though, my daughters would simply use TiVo to skip over those ads.
There is no doubt engineering is a field dominated by males. And if one were to take a negative slant on things, you could presume the reason for that is that the dominating males seek to remain in control. That there's a systemic behavior of denying women opportunities. Because the converse seems absurd. If the "system" had been going out of its way to attract women, the halls of Intel, Motorola, Sun Microsystems, and Texas Instruments would be lousy with them. The ratio of women-to-men in engineering careers would track that of the general populace.
But that's not happening.
In fact, the ratio of women-to-men in the halls of any legitimate electronics or software company in America directly tracks that of the demographic of the graduating classes of the major universities. And because girls are simply not signing up for engineering school, no matter how aggressive a company can be in their hiring practices, they're not there to be hired by the likes of IBM, AT&T, or Microsoft.
I've been in technical management for the past 23 years. I've seen the industry go from being neutral on hiring women, to being fanatical about hiring as many women as possible in the late 80's, to where we are today, which is to accept the reality that a woman engineer is a rare commodity. If we're lucky enough to get a woman's resume, we'll tend to put it at the top of the pile because we managers know that all-male technical teams don't function as well as heterogeneous teams.
I might also point out that there is a dearth of minority engineers in America. And please note that by "minority" I do not include my Asian and Indian brothers and sisters. In many Silicon Valley companies the number of Asian and/or Indian employees exceeds the number of white male American engineers. This also tracks the demographic. While American universities graduate about 50,000 engineers a year, universities in Asia and India graduate about 3X that many. Compound this with the fact that many graduates from U.S. universities are Asian or Indian, and you can see how & why our work population is skewed the way it is. (In my profession, for instance, I can't think of a single company where the number of Asian engineers + the number of Indian engineers is smaller than the number of white engineers.)
It's also very true that when I'm scanning resumes if I do come across a woman's resume, it's much more likely to be the resume of an Asian or Indian national seeking permanent work in the U.S. than that of an American citizen. Let me also confront a non-PC issue by answering the unspoken question with a resounding "yes", even the female American citizens who apply for engineering positions will tend to be of Asian or Indian descent.
Because again -- they're the ones going to engineering school.
So the question remains on the table: "Why doesn't 18-year old white, middle-class Jane Smith from Wheaton, Illinois want to become an electrical engineer? "
I suspect it has nothing to do with the lack of prime-time engineering school advertising. I suspect it has nothing to do with discrimination against one particular demographic. I suspect it is not a conspiracy, or the desire of some cadre of "white male elite" to retain control of America's high-tech industry (In Silicon Valley, you'd have to also include an "Asian male elite" and an "Indian male elite" in that equation to make that comparison legit).
At issue is something deeper. It resides at the bottom of the American cultural psyche. It's something we all do without knowing we're doing it.
Last week I went up to Cal State Sonoma with some friends to visit my daughter who is a student there. She took us all around the gorgeous wine-country campus. While we walked in soft afternoon air, my friends asked her questions like, "how many students do they have here?" "What majors do they teach?"
Two of her answers stuck in my mind, and the reasons she gave I believe point to directly to the "why our kids want to be medical examiners instead of engineers" question.
She told us the population of Cal State Sonoma is 71% female, and 29% male. (In fact, I was surprised to learn the entire U.C./Cal State system is tilted rather dramatically toward a female majority by more than a couple percent.)
The reason my daughter gave for the rather huge female-male disparity was because the most popular courses of study offered by the school were teaching and nursing.
Ahhh...I hear you thinking. Of course. It's a teaching and nursing school. Of course.
Now you know why only 7% of the engineers in America are female. That number will change just as soon as you bring yourself to a point where you stop thinking of teaching and nursing as "nurturing", "development oriented", and consequently, feminine.
Let me know just as soon as you get that done.
Engineers are nerds. They're socially inept. They recite Star Trek episodes word for word. They shower once per week. Wear the same clothes for days. They believe the Muppets are real just to antagonize you. They don't wear leather jackets or ride motorcycles. They've never had sex. They trip over their own shoelaces. Their clothes are stained with coffee and body fluids -- can't really tell which is which.
Of course, they're capable of amazing feats of computer magic. They put men on the moon. They make a lot of money. They are all myopic. They made Star Warz an entirely digital movie projected from a hard drive, whatever that means.
As soon as you stop believing that, more of our kids, in general, will be attracted to engineering.
As soon as you stop believing programmers can't dance, your daughters will want to be engineers, and not a moment before.
As soon as you stop with the: "they're not like us..." idea, it will all be fine.
(By the way, black people have been saying this since the nineteenth century.)
You have to stop believing, and that's a hard thing to do because believing engineering is a fundamentally arcane art for smart people seems harmless. Hell, even a lot of engineers think that way. You can talk yourself into not saying, "nerds can't play sports," at the wrong time, but you have to stop the thought from going through your head in the first place. And that's very hard for us. It's the essence of bias.
Of course, this may not seem like it's a problem to you. In which case all I can suggest is that we stop thinking about it and move on to something more important.