Worldwide, women make many contributions to engineering, but they still represent a small minority of workers in the field. As established female engineers grow more visible and vocal, more young women are following them into the discipline.
Engineering is a diverse, challenging field that grapples with tough technical questions. As major engineering projects profoundly impact society, the discipline can reach even greater heights by leveraging women’s contributions.
Women in Engineering: An Overview
In 2013, research indicated just 7% of the engineering workforce in the United Kingdom was female. Some additional growth has been seen in the U.S., due in part to the great expansion in college enrollment among women during the past few decades. In fact, women as a whole outpace men in total college enrollment today.
Recent estimates have suggested as many as 15% of employed engineers in the U.S. are women, and based on research by the American Society for Engineering Education, more women are earning terminal degrees in engineering than ever before. Naturally, this means a greater number of women are contributing to thought leadership in the field.
Studies have shown that women’s participation in engineering, in both academic and non-academic roles, can have an important impact on their younger peers. Opportunities for mentoring and communication help enhance young women’s success as both engineering students and up-and-coming professionals.
The Important Role Women Play in Engineering
In today’s fast-growing startup environment, women have more opportunities to launch their careers in many different types of enterprises. They have been successful both in small and large enterprises, whether as senior executives or team members contributing to innovation.
Some of today’s most prominent female engineers include:
Amanda Stiles — Mission Operations Engineer and Software Developer at SpaceX
SpaceX is one of the leading brands driving the privatization and commercialization of space travel. Stiles was essential to training and simulation development crucial to preparing crews for the challenges of space. Since then, she has moved into a software development role at the company.
Lisa Earnhardt — President and CEO of biotech firm Intersect ENT
Intersect ENT develops medical devices including the Propel steroid-releasing implant for patients with chronic sinusitis. Earnhardt has stood at the helm of Intersect ENT since its early clinical stage, helping it navigate a complex commercial and regulatory environment. Previously, she was president of the cardiac surgery division of Boston Scientific, which is known for high-quality defibrillators and stents.
Deborah Kilpatrick — President and CEO of digital health startup Evidation Health
During the past few years, healthcare providers have shifted toward full-scale use of electronic medical records. To centralize and leverage these records, new IT solutions are necessary. Deborah Kilpatrick’s Evidation Health helps provide the analytics and other platform capabilities needed to select healthcare technology solutions with proven results. Kilpatrick’s background includes executive and team-level leadership in a wide range of bioengineering and biomechanics-focused roles.
Ayanna Howard — Founder and CTO of Zyrobotics; formerly with NASA
Ayanna Howard is an extremely prolific roboticist whose work has been chronicled in more than a dozen articles. A multiple award-winner who has appeared at many conferences and on TV, she came to international attention in 2008 when MIT named her one of the world’s top technology innovators under age 35. Since then, she has been perhaps best known for her “SnoMote” robots designed to research melting arctic ice. She heads technology and innovation strategy for Zyrobotics, a top provider of advanced adaptive devices.
Karen Schramm — Senior Director of Engineering at chipset developer Broadcom
Broadcom is one of a small handful of chipset developers whose technologies are present in virtually all modern mobile devices. Tiny, even fractional improvements in performance can be major market differentiators, and demand immense engineering skill — particularly at the chip level. Schramm has been particularly active in developing novel technological solutions for the computer networking and telecom infrastructure sector.
Women have participated in modern engineering since the start, but there remains much to be done. By leveraging women’s abilities to the utmost, a more productive and effective world of engineering is possible. When that outcome is fully realized, everyone will benefit. Thankfully, more women of all backgrounds and interests are striving to make it a reality.
Ohio University offers an advanced degree program for engineers who want to become leaders without losing their foundation in engineering. Our online Master of Engineering Management focuses on leadership and management skills and their direct relationship to engineering process improvement, project management, effective communication, and innovative solutions.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, “Engineering Still Needs More Women”
Pew Research Center, “Women’s College Enrollment Gains Leave Men Behind”
Business Insider, “23 of the Most Powerful Women Engineers in the World”