Faced with a profound lack of women engineers, the National Engineers Week Foundation is calling upon the engineering community to discard the myths of what's holding girls back and focus instead on fighting the problem during Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, held Feb. 21, part of Engineers Week 2008, Feb. 17-23.
"Girl Day," as it's known among engineers, is the only outreach of its kind aimed at and organized by a single profession. On Feb. 21, and in programs throughout the year, women engineers and their male counterparts will reach as many as 1 million girls with workshops, tours, online discussions and a host of activities that showcase engineering as an important career option for everyone.
The "Engineer Your Life" campaign and coalition launches on Feb. 20 as part of Girl Day 2008. An outgrowth of the Extraordinary Women Engineers Project (EWEP), Engineer Your Life aims to make a national impact on the way engineering careers are presented, particularly to college-bound high-school girls.
Three new messages developed and tested by EWEP creativity has its rewards, explore the possibilities, and make a world of difference form the centerpiece of their national campaign. The Engineer Your Life Web site, a guide to engineering for high-school girls, is at www.engineeryourlife.org.
Currently, about 20 percent of engineering undergraduates are women. Just 10 percent of the engineering workforce is comprised of women. For years, false notions of girls' innate inability in math, lack of science preparation in high school, and assumptions about the effects of historical and institutional discrimination, have been offered as causes for this startling disparity.
Recent surveys, however, refute most of those theories, including ones that question girls' academic readiness to study engineering when they leave high school.
Girls and boys take requisite courses at about the same rate, with girls' enrollment often exceeding that of boys. For example, 60 percent of boys take Algebra II, and the enrollment rate for girls is 64 percent. Similarly, 94 percent of girls and 91 percent of boys take biology, while 64 percent of girls and 57 percent of boys take chemistry.
Physics is the one science course in which boys' enrollment exceeds girls'; the rate is 26 percent for girls and 32 percent for boys. Still, less than 2 percent of all high-school graduates will earn engineering degrees in college.
Assertions of the effects of institutionalized discrimination certainly a major factor historically seem undercut when compared to professions such as medicine and law that also were largely bastions of men a generation ago, yet now have a majority of women pursuing those degrees.
Instead, experts contend that the major culprit is one of perception among girls and the people who influence them, including teachers, parents, peers and the media.
In short, girls have to perceive that they can be engineeers before they can become engineers. According to the National Engineers Week Foundation, nothing conveys that message as effectively as mentors and role models.
A 2005 EWEP study found that exposure to role models is essential to drawing young women into the profession. High-school girls react positively to first-person stories about how engineering "makes a difference" and offers a financially and personally rewarding career. The study also notes that since few of their influencers understand or even have knowledge of engineering, chances are it's not on female students' radar. If a girl hears about a career in engineering, it's most likely that an engineer is the one who told her.
"There are countless television shows featuring doctors, lawyers, police and other professions, so a child readily grasps that these may be career paths," explains Terry Lincoln, Global Signature Programs Manager at Agilent Technologies. "Unless we directly reach these girls with engineering, they won't get it, and we will miss up to half of all potential engineers. It's not just the right thing to do, it's crucial to the success of our company and to our country."
Visit www.eweek.org/site/News/Eweek/2008_nationalpledgeroster.shtml to access Girl Day activities nationwide.