The Future Of Women Engineers
Andrea Loubier | Forbes
Women only make up 24% of the computing workforce – and that number is declining. In fact, four out of ten women are leaving STEM careers despite engineering and computer science jobs being some of the fastest growing and highest paying around the world.
With computer science and engineering fields having the highest return on investment compared to any other field of study, these jobs play an important role in the future of women and our world. Not only will bringing more women into these jobs stimulate innovation, but it’s one of the best ways to help women and girls break the cycle of poverty in developing nations in regions like Southeast Asia.
One of the biggest challenges we have in the tech space is showing women around the world, that STEM careers are not just for men. We need a diverse set of minds to solve the world’s problems and come up with innovative ideas. So, how can we increase the number of women pursuing a career in engineering and other STEM fields?
We need to start in the classroom, by encouraging young girls from an early age to explore their interest in STEM fields and giving them the support to pursue it as a career. Young girls can be equipped with the necessary tools to be excited about and successful in these fields. One of the first steps in achieving this goal is to get technology companies on board. NRG Energy recently started sponsoring a competition called FIRST. It’s where teams of high school students are challenged to raise funds, design a team brand and work together to build and program industrial-size robots that will compete against each other.
Jennifer Brunelle, Head of Charitable Giving at NRG, believes it’s important to be involved in the competition, as it’s crucial for our youth to be educated and excited about science – especially young girls. The best part is that it’s paying off. Not only does the competition inspire kids to get creative with their tech skills, but it’s a great way for those who can’t afford college tuition to secure funding. More than $50 million college scholarships are being made available to FIRST participants this year.
Since FIRST started over ten years ago, its studies have found that students who participated are 2x more likely to major in science or engineering. Plus 33% of female participants went on to study engineering. But FIRST’s most impressive statistic is that more than 75% of FIRST alumni are either studying or in a STEM profession.
Women In Leadership Roles
Our work doesn’t stop once we have women working as engineers. The next step is to ensure that women are considered for leadership positions and feel confident enough to stay within a male-dominated arena.
Women approach leadership differently to men. Many of the “skills of the future,” like empathy and collaboration, come naturally to women. In fact, according to The Empathy Index, this leadership trait is crucial to successful businesses as it directly influences growth, productivity and earnings.
We need this diversity to not only encourage the next generation but strengthen our teams and scientific progress.
Creating a Beneficial Work-Life Balance
One of the biggest factors that sees women leaving their STEM careers is a realistic work-life balance. More than 43% of women quit their jobs when they have children, as they can’t afford daycare or a full-time nanny. It’s why flexible working conditions have become a non-negotiable point for Millennial women. It’s also why many have been turning to sites like SkillCrush to learn tech skills that can help them earn an income from home.
Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company, offers its employees daycare. Parents can leave their children at the after-school programs that offer science camps, math lessons and other activities into the evening. By creating innovative programs like these, it helps women retain demanding leadership roles without having to choose between their family and work.
As the way we work is changing, it’s more important than ever to make sure employees, especially women, have the support they need to succeed. While we have come far, there’s still a lot more work to be done to help female engineers succeed. By capturing their interest at a young age and creating flexible workplaces that promote female leaders, we can avoid a think tank that only includes half the population.
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