How Do We Get More Women Involved in Engineering
Written By: Kristen West
Date: February 21, 2019
Women bring a unique perspective and comprehensive skills to engineering. Today, we’re taking a moment to look at our amazing women engineers who build community through exceptional professional service and dedicated community outreach. We sat down with Alanna Watts, PE, and Jillian Nava, PE, to learn about what inspired them to be an engineer and how more women can be encouraged to get involved.
Engineering is a male-dominant profession. The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) reported in 2018 that only 13% of engineers are women. Part of the problem is that of the few women who enter STEM degree programs in college, 32% switch programs, and only 30% who earn their bachelor’s degree in engineering are still working in engineering 20 years later. So, what’s the deal?
“For me, I was seriously intimidated,” said Alanna. People who work in highly technical fields like engineering face a lot of pressure from their communities, their colleagues, even themselves. “It’s the worst thing for creativity and success to doubt yourself.”
“I fear that some women who face those challenges feel they are not cut out for the engineering world,” Jillian said. “But, there is always a place for you.”
Women have a lot to offer to the profession. “There’s a need for communication skills that we tend to all have readily available,” Jillian said. “I see myself and other women in the engineering world going above and beyond to serve their companies, clients, and local communities consistently.”
From a psychological standpoint, “women and men think and process information differently,” Alanna added. “Being one of the few women in the field has been a big advantage because my brain tackles problems differently than my male coworkers.” The added benefit to companies is that, “anytime a problem is approached from multiple avenues, a better solution can be reached more quickly.”
Women have valuable insight, so what can we do to encourage more women to pursue and continue with engineering careers? “I think we need to start wiring their young brains to look at challenges differently,” said Alanna. “Confidence is contagious, so if we see more women confident in the field, it is likely to rub off in a positive way.”
Both women are active in promoting the profession in the local community. Jillian recently attended a Lunch & Learn with the Whitacre College of Engineering and talked to about 40 women who are pursuing a variety of engineering careers.
“I wanted them to know they are very capable of being the best engineer they can be,” Jillian said. “I wanted to remind them what they are working towards and how rewarding being an engineer can be.”
It’s typical for students in these programs to burn out and forget why they started in the first place. “I really enjoyed math and science growing up and was drawn to how things worked,” Jillian added. “Showing students what we do and helping them envision doing similar work in the future is key.”
Alanna had a similar inspiration. “I always knew I loved math,” she said. Now that she is a full-time mechanical engineer at Parkhill, Alanna has spoken at the Texas Tech student chapter of SWE. “While speaking with these women, I was able to see how much the chapter has improved since I was a member. I can tell this positively impacts these women!”
Women engineers, including all the women here at Parkhill, are encouraged by each other’s examples of leadership and support. Their hard work and success pave the way for tomorrow’s women to pursue their dreams.
Thank you to the National Society of Professional Engineers for supporting women in engineering. Read more about #Eweek2021, #LicensedPEDay and additional efforts to encourage girls interested in STEM on their website. Read more about what inspires women in our engineering sectors here.