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Women in Engineering

Engineering degrees awarded by gender © SWE

Like in many engineering disciplines the population of women is very small. There are many reasons as to why there is so such a low number of women in engineering. One of those variables is that many women at an early age are told what to do with their lives. They are told they should be a house wife or an office worker. Not Lillin Gilbreth, she broke the field of adversity and became a renowned woman in engineering. A notable award that she achieved was the first women elected into the National Academy of Engineering and was said to be, “The First Lady of Engineering.” Being elected into the National Academy of Engineering is the highest honor an engineer could receive. Ms. Gilbreth really set a direction for not only many women in the engineering field but for women in general. She broke through many barriers and obstacles to become what she was.

Even though Lillian has been a great symbol of what a women could achieve the number of women through 1990 has been very steady. Over the last decade the number of women in engineering has actually dropped 3% from 20% of women in all engineering fields(1). The two fields of engineering with the most women are chemical and industrial engineering. From experience at Oregon State and what I see in my classes, I can say that this statistic rings true. From a study Amy Sue Bix of the National Science Foundation has found that the reason why there is a low amount of women engineers is that of lack of self esteem (1). The failure of not being able to visualize themselves in the role of an engineer can be a result from career recommendations from parents, counselors and etc. As mentioned this was true with Lillian where her father did not want her to further her education. She did not even see herself or had the passion of becoming an engineer until she meant Frank where he inspired her about this subject matter. Women are becoming discouraged from being engineers and are usually encouraged to become the traditional domestic women. Many women do not picture themselves in the future of being an engineer. The interesting thing is that a lot of women that pursue a higher education actually do better than men in grades. It is sad to see however that these women have the ability to do the work in engineering but do not want to pursue to become an engineer because of recommendations set by their peers, parents, counselors and the media.

Even though Lillian is an amazing figurehead for women in engineering, the numbers of women in this field is continually becoming low. To really change this it begins at an early age where parents should encourage their children to become whatever they want to become and not steer them in one direction as done traditionally. Another role is how the media perceives the field of engineering as being masculine. If we really want to have change then we must change how media works. I honestly do not see this changing, as the last 100 years there hasn’t been really a big increase in women engineers.

Final Thoughts

I thought Lillian Gilbreth was an excellent women to study as she was a phenomenal women. I didn’t realize that she had that many achievements throughout her life and the impact she plays with operators and a symbol for women. It was very interesting learning about some of the causes as to why there was such a low number of women in the engineering field. It seemed like an easy question in that women just do not perceive themselves as engineer but I was blind to that. I’m glad I selected Lillian as my topic since her subject area is also my subject area that I am currently learning about. It was great to learn about a pioneer in industrial engineering.

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