Over the past century, two of the most powerful social trends to emerge were the women’s movement and the technological revolution. More than two-thirds of women now work outside the home, compared to just one-third only 30 years ago.
While we have watched women enter the workforce, we have seen the influence of technology expand and permeate every facet of our lives. Virtually every device that plugs into the wall or uses batteries has an integrated circuit in it, and an engineer made it happen. However, what we have seen is two parallel trends but they are not necessarily convergent.
Increasing the number of women in science and engineering is not a new objective. Only 14% of engineers are women. It is projected by 2020 that the U.S. workforce will be 50% female. Eighty-five percent of purchases and purchase influences are made by women. It is clear that everyone – government, industry, and education needs to find a way to encourage more women to explore STEM.
I am pleased that in Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering we have just reached a milestone – 30% of our students are female. That’s good, but we can do better. Starting early is one way to reach women. Here at Tech, we host an Engineering Career Conference for high school girls and offer a Technology, Engineering and Computing camp for middle school girls. We also support all women studying engineering on the campus. Through our mentoring program we match freshmen with sophomores, juniors and seniors in the same major. Together they talk about everything from study tips to goal-setting to the isolation and stress freshmen can sometimes feel on campus. Even our admissions office has a recruitment team focused solely on engaging women to apply at Tech.
In today’s high-tech world, engineers are gaining power and influence. The broader leadership opportunities for engineers have grown by leaps and bounds. Women need to be full partners and participants in these opportunities, and not be left behind.
We can all be allies and advocates in supporting more women to consider engineering by demystifying the field and showcasing its breadth, its creativity and its crucial importance to solving the grand challenges we face. We cannot afford not to have women’s intelligence, creativity, and values in the engineering workforce, especially if we see our field as integral to the solution of human problems. Since I am married to an engineer and have two daughters, getting more women into the STEM pipeline is not only good for business, it’s personal.