Gender Equality in Engineering and Science: Gender Gap and Inspiring Women

Elham Taghizadeh
Wayne State University

Although under-represented roles for women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) remains a global concern, according to the UNESCO Science Report, by 2030 53% and 48% of bachelor’s/master’s degrees and PhD’s, respectively, will belong to women [4]. Nevertheless, in only 28% of STEM fields do women occupy a research position [4]. These predictions reinforce my personal experiences as a female engineer who had recently started her job search in industry. In the 20 interviews to which I was invited, a prevalent pattern emerged: a dearth of women involved in hiring groups. Of the 20 interviews, only two featured women as part of the leadership in the hiring team. And in each of those cases, there was a single woman on the hiring team. For computer science and engineering jobs, men are generally far more likely to be hired than women [6].
This article briefly summarizes possible reasons for the gender hiring gap in engineering and science fields. The article also presents potential solutions for these challenges, as well as highlighting a number of female role models who have found success as STEM scholars.

Current Gender-Equality Practices in Science and Engineering
Gender equality in STEM fields has progressed at different rates around the world. For instance, the share of women’s graduation in engineering and science has increased in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States, and Asia. There were increases of 31% and 42% among female engineering graduates in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia, respectively, since 2000. In Europe and North America, however, those rates were lower: Canada, Germany and the US reported a 19% increased, while Finland reported an increase of 22%. Moreover, considering just computer science, the UN reports a decrease (between 2-13%) of female graduates since 2000 [4, 5].
But in both Malaysia and India, there were steady increases in the rates of female STEM graduates [3, 5]. This may be the result of information technology (IT) sectors in those countries which prepare women and men equally well for the work environment. In addition to industry practices, cultures also play a role: families in those countries are generally supportive of their daughters’ entry into prestigious industries. Indeed, computer science and engineering roles are viewed positively by society, with many female role models finding success. The United Arab Emirates has introduced a policy to train and to employ more Emiratei citizens, including a high percentage of females in the engineering field, to prioritize a knowledge-based economy. The government attracts more Emirate female engineering students by offering more careers in engineering and ensuring their involvement in creative projects. Combining culture, government policies, and appropriate infrastructure is a powerful tool to increase women’s STEM roles [7, 5]. Encouraging female participation in STEM fields not only accelerates sustainable development in low-income countries, but also gives developed countries access to a new stream of change-makers and innovators [1].

Inspiring Women in Science and Engineering
This section summarizes the number of women leaderships and the process of presenting females in engineering in different nations.


There is an illustrious history of female achievement in STEM fields. Marie Curie was a French-Polish physicist who in 1906 became the first female professor at the University of Paris, and was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes. In 2015, Tu Youyou became the first Chinese woman to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, after discovering a malaria therapy. Maryam Mirzakhani was an Iranian professor of mathematics at Stanford University, and was awarded a Fields Medal, which is amongst the most prestigious honors bestowed upon mathematicians under the age of 40 [2]. Sarah al-Amiri is the first Minister of State for Advanced Sciences at the United Arab Emirates, where she has successfully led and coached different engineering and space projects. As U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres emphatically stated, “women and girls belong in science, and there is a dividend to be gained for countries that acknowledge this truth.”

Moving Towards Gender Equality
UNESCO has published guidelines for improving gender equality in the STEM field [8]:

  • Establishing new attitudes, social norms, and cultures towards engaging women in STEM society. This may happen by promoting and highlighting women with STEM careers, especially in leadership positions, business enterprises, and universities, and highlighting different gender perspectives in science communication and formal or informal STEM education.
  • Encouraging girls and women to attend STEM primary and secondary education or technical and vocational training, as well as promoting gender balance among STEM teachers and in educational materials. By training this new generation, improvements in gender equality may be more permanent.
  • Attracting and keeping women in STEM higher education at all levels (including graduate school) by preventing gender bias in the student admission and financial aid processes. Gender equality can happen by promoting it in the international mobility of students and making daycare/childcare facilities available for students, especially in STEM fields.
  • It is essential to promote gender equality across industry as well as academia. Companies and universities can promote gender balance in leadership positions through STEM professional certification.

Although this report provides evidence of a gender-equality gap that still exists, it also specifies practical policies and strategies required to overcome that gap, specifically in STEM fields.



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