“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
What do you picture when you think of an engineer? When full-stack engineer Isis Anchalee was featured in her company’s 2015 ad campaign, she discovered she didn’t fit the mold many Facebook and Twitter users believed an engineer should look like.
“Some people think I’m not making ‘the right face,’” Anchalee shared on Medium. “Others think that this is unbelievable as to what ‘female engineers look like.’” She encouraged readers to share the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer, and share they did. The hashtag went viral as women around the world redefined what it means to be an engineer.
Anchalee’s experience offers a glimpse into how stereotypes and a lack of diversity are damaging the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions, including mechanical engineering. Let’s take a look at the gender gap in mechanical engineering and explore some solutions for fostering diversity and inclusion in the field. If you’re interested in advancing your own mechanical engineering career, keep reading. You may find a solution of your own.
A Look at the Gender Gap
Women make up half of the overall STEM workforce yet are severely underrepresented among engineers in the U.S., accounting for just 15% of the field. The situation is as bad, if not worse, around the world: Women represent only 2% of engineers in Japan.
What about mechanical engineers? Less than 1 in 10 mechanical engineers are women. Reasons range from peer pressure to insufficient role models, but the perception that engineering is exclusively an “old man’s club” may be the most damaging. Women are responsible for many of the greatest mechanical engineering innovations of our time, such as AMD CEO Lisa Su’s semiconductor breakthrough, and the field is inarguably better for their inclusion.
Not to mention that an impressive salary awaits any woman eyeing a career in mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineers earned a median annual salary of $95,300 in 2021, with the highest 10% of earners making over $136,210 per year. Of course, money isn’t everything. U.S. News & World Report ranked mechanical engineering the No. 2 best engineering job, in part because of the healthy work-life balance professionals enjoy. We only hope more women can experience the phenomenal benefits and opportunities the field can offer.
The Link Between Diversity and Innovation
Basic human decency is reason enough to promote a diverse workforce. But for the people in the back: Diversity is essential in mechanical engineering — in any field, for that matter. Solving complex problems is generally easier for teams of people with differing perspectives and information processing styles. That’s not to say that a professional’s worth is defined solely by aspects of their identity, such as gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. However, research has shown a direct connection between inclusive teams and better, faster decision making, with gender diverse teams making better decisions 73% of the time.
Closing the Gender Gap
How do we close the gender gap in mechanical engineering? We may be biased, but it starts with college recruitment. Women in the U.S. are more likely than men to enroll in college, and most bachelor’s and graduate degrees are awarded to women. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about engineering degrees. Less than 30% of engineering master’s degrees or research doctoral degrees were awarded to women in 2018.
The University of Texas at Austin strives to support women as they pursue and advance their careers in this competitive field. One quarter of the graduate students in the Cockrell School of Engineering are women, many of whom are in our 100% online mechanical engineering programs. There’s also the UT Austin Women in Engineering Program (WEP), which offers educational services to women and works to raise enrollment percentages to match the percentage of the Texan population that’s female: 50%.
Mentor Women in Mechanical Engineering
All of this brings us to you. Mechanical engineering is in desperate need of women with the creative, leadership and technical skills required to make a difference. Advance your career and you can become a mentor and role model to up-and-coming female professionals, supporting them as they come into their own as mechanical engineers.
Become an Industry Leader at UT Austin
Many of the barriers women face in mechanical engineering may be beyond your control, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. UT Austin offers two 100% online mechanical engineering programs that will provide the skills, knowledge and credentials you need to earn your seat at the table:
Executive MS in Mechanical Engineering: This 30-credit-hour, non-thesis program takes a comprehensive look at current engineering topics, teaching students how to utilize emerging technology in preparation for leadership roles.
Mechanical Engineering Controls Graduate Certificate: This 9-credit-hour program takes an in-depth look at the critical competencies expected of mechanical and petroleum engineers and can be completed in as little as one year.
Online and asynchronous, our programs work with your schedule. Complete coursework after a day at work, or spend your weekend working ahead. And if you’re in need of company, you can always reach out to other Texas Engineers in your cohort using our online discussion tools. At UT Austin, you’ll have the support you need to earn a career-defining master’s degree or graduate certificate and forge your own professional path.
Apply to one of our 100% online mechanical engineering programs and prove to the world (and yourself) that you have what it takes to be an industry leader.