On February 20, organizations and companies across the country held events to celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, a holiday created to encourage more girls to consider engineering and STEM-related careers in what was once a substantially male-dominated industry.
Diversity in STEM careers has certainly improved over the last 20 years; the Pew Research Center says half of U.S. employees in STEM occupations are women, but that figure is skewed based on occupation. According to the study, “Women account for the majority of healthcare practitioners and technicians but are underrepresented in several other STEM occupational clusters, particularly in computer jobs and engineering.” As of last year, only 13% of engineering professionals were women, an insignificant increase since 1990.
To encourage more girls to consider engineering as an achievable and exciting career, numerous organizations and businesses across the U.S., including NASA and Collins Aerospace, hosted events to introduce young women to potential career opportunities.
Villanova, Entrepreneurial Startups Host Engineering Events
At Villanova University, Dr. Andrea Welker, the associate dean of academic affairs for the College of Engineering, organized two events to introduce grade-level girls to engineering: “Girls’ Day In,” which explored a Villanova engineering degree for high school students, and “Engineering is for Girls Day,” aimed at middle and elementary school girls.
“Engineering is for everybody because we’re solving problems that are for everybody,” Welker says. “We need to still fight against the dropoff of interest in math and science that happens with girls in middle school because we want everyone to stay engaged. Even if you don’t become an engineer, as long as you appreciate what technology does for your life every day, that’s a step in the right direction.”
When she was in seventh grade, Welker herself attended an event designed to encourage girls’ interest in STEM; She says the event really opened her mind to engineering as a career. “I was not one of the people that knew from the age of five that I wanted to be an engineer,” she explains. “I actually didn’t really know what engineers did [before the event].”
Future Founders, a Chicago-based organization providing resources and mentors for young entrepreneurs, used Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day to announce the launch of their Startup Spring Break program. A “week-long entrepreneurship bootcamp to empower middle school girls to build the skills and confidence they need to create their own opportunity,” the program partners with Google to give girls female role models to help them accomplish their goals and explore STEM-driven careers.
“Future Founders believes that 21st-century careers require 21st-century skills,” says Kelly Bertog, the marketing manager at Future Founders. “This camp allows us to reach young girls across Chicago and introduce them to the incredible world of STEM. Throughout the week, participants not only learn about STEM-based skills and careers – they actually meet with a group of amazingly talented female coders, designers, entrepreneurs and more. By connecting these two groups, we open participants’ eyes to the possibility of a STEM-related career path, and ultimately, empower them to create their own opportunity.”
How Can We Recruit More Girls into Engineering?
34% of Villanova’s undergraduate engineering students are women, but Welker is still working to get that number up.
“We need to get rid of that stigma that you have to be a math genius and make sure that we really emphasize the fact that you can really get into engineering at all different levels,” she says.
As with many other stigmas, the best treatment in this case is exposure. Giving these girls the opportunity to speak to mentors and role models in the field makes engineering more feasible as a potential career.
So how can your industrial business help? As with Manufacturing Day, the best option is usually the development of strong partnerships with schools. The opportunity is mutually beneficial; inspire girls to pursue engineering and spread the word that your company supports diversity in STEM. In a world of consumers concerned with corporate social responsibility, the gesture will make a lasting impression.