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Women in Civil Engineering: Contemporary Issues

What is the current representation of women in engineering & civil engineering?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS), women comprise roughly 13% percent of the engineering workforce and 13% of the civil engineering workforce. When looking at anticipated growth, civil engineering outpaces almost all other engineering disciplines and is expected to grow 24.3% by 2018, with the most growth anticipated in the Engineering Services arena.

According to the Engineering Workforce Commission (EWC), in 2010, 19.7% of all civil engineering degrees were awarded to women, in comparison to 18.2% of all engineering degrees awarded to women. The EWC also reported that over the past five years, civil engineering consistently awarded more Master’s and Doctoral degrees to women than any other engineering discipline, at 26% for each degree category, respectively. (Civil engineering outpaces all other engineering disciplines by 3% in the awarding of Master’s degrees and 4% in the awarding of Doctoral degrees.)

Of ASCE’s over 140,000 global members, 11% identify as female; of those, 4.4% identify as working in the academic sector and 4.2% identify as students. 

How does this information compare to overall representation, in engineering?

 Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science & Engineering: 2013 

Published, every two years, by The National Science Foundation, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering provides statistical information about the participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering education and employment.

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Why do women leave engineering?

Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering 

Why do many women choose not to stay in engineering careers? Conventional wisdom gives us one answer, telling us that many women engineers leave their careers to devote time to their families. But this groundbreaking study says this is not the case, and that the engineering culture is often more to blame.

ASCE Member Exclusive Webinar:

Why Women Leave Engineering - and what you can do about it

Join the authors of this groundbreaking research for an ASCE member exclusive webinar. ASCE members can register for the live webinar on Thursday, March 28, 2013 or to access the archived version of the webinar by visiting ASCE’s eLearning website.

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LME BlogWomen comprise more than 20% of engineering school graduates, but only 11% of practicing engineers are women, despite decades of academic, federal, and employer interventions to address this gender gap. Project on Women Engineers’ Retention (POWER) was designed to understand factors related to women engineers’ career decisions. Over 3,700 women who had graduated with an engineering degree responded to our survey and indicated that the workplace climate was a strong factor in their decisions to not enter engineering after college or to leave the profession of engineering. Workplace climate also helped to explain current engineers’ satisfaction and intention to stay in engineering. Read more. Published by William Hayden, Jr., April 2011

What are the issues related to Women of Color in engineering?

The Double Bind: The Price of being a Minority Woman In Science
This 1975 landmark report documented that minority women were the victims of two problems: racism and sexism. The biggest outrage: educational programs geared toward minorities gave preference to men. She also found that the few minority graduate students or professors in academe weren't often incorporated into each department's culture. 

 Unravelling the Double Bind

Little information exists about women of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), since most data are reported by race or by gender. This project conducted extensive searches of web databases, libraries, organizations' collections, and private collections to find empirical research that focused on women of color in STEM in higher education and careers. The project identified, compiled, and synthesized 116 works. Major findings and major gaps in the research were summarized in a white paper. In addition, findings were disseminated through 28 conference and meeting presentations.

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National Academies Conference:
Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color In Academia  

 Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color In Academia

On June 7-8, 2012 an ad hoc Committee on Advancing Institutional Transformation for Minority Women in Academia, under the under the auspices of the Committee for Women in Science, Engineering and Medicine (CWSEM), held a conference entitled “Seeking Solutions: Maximizing American Talent by Advancing Women of Color in Academia” in Washington, DC. In addition to participating in this groundbreaking conference ASCE submitted a testimony in support of the conference and it’s goals. Read ASCE's Testimony here.

The conference presented data on women of color in science, engineering and medicine in academia and discussed the challenges and successful initiatives for creating the institutional changes required to increase representation of this subset of women in the academic workforce. The conference featured leaders from research universities, minority serving institutions, industry, and the law, as well as federal policymakers and researchers with expertise in studying underrepresented minority populations. The conference also engaged these stakeholders in discussions of critical importance for increasing participation of women of color in academia. Experts were commissioned to synthesize data on the current state of representation of women of color in academia in science, engineering and medicine disciplines and the conference proceedings, which are available on the conference website.

Are there Pay Equity issues in engineering?

Graduating to a Pay Gap Study: The Earnings of Men & Women One Year after College Graduation

Graduating to a Pay Gap Study
Graduating to a Pay Gap: The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation explores the earnings difference between female and male college graduates who are working full time one year after graduation. The report provides an “apples to apples” comparison by looking at the gender pay gap after controlling for various factors known to affect earnings, such as occupation, college major, and hours worked. It also examines one immediate effect of the pay gap on many women: high levels of student loan debt burden. Graduating to a Pay Gap uses the latest nationally representative data available on women and men one year after college graduation.  

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What other resources are available?

Women in Engineering Proactive Network (WEPAN) Knowledge Center

WEPAN logo

 The WEPAN Knowledge Center (WKC) provides a publicly accessible tool for accessing information related to women in STEM and a professional networking platform for registered users. The goal of the WKC is to increase the number, scope, and effectiveness of initiatives to recruit, retain, and advance women in STEM. The WKC serves as a one stop resource for excellent research on women in STEM fields.

2011 NACME Data Book: A comprehensive analysis of the “New American Dilemma”

National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME)

Published by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), The NACME Data Book serves as one of the most authoritative data available on the state of minority groups—African Americans, American Indians and Latinos—that have been traditionally underrepresented in STEM education and professions. 

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New STEM Study Focuses on Girls  

Generation StemBy Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.
March 6, 2012
Civil Engineering Magazine

A study released this month by the Girl Scout Research Institute reveals that while 81 percent of girls are interested in pursuing a career in STEM, only 13 percent identify a STEM career as their first choice. 
Read more (ASCE log-in required) or read the full report here.


Pit Stops and Scenic Routes: How to Aid Women to Stay on Track in Their Careers

Norma Jean Mattei and Lisa Jennings
Leadership and Management in Engineering, Diversity Special Issue
LME special diversity edition coverJanuary 2008

Since 2000, the percentage of married mothers with infants and small children in the workforce has fallen an average of 5 percent. Should we care if women leave the workforce? If talented women choose to “off ramp,” their participation in public life is gone, along with their talents and their ability to positively impact society. Once they leave, they usually cannot regain the income or status they had. Women lose an average of 18 percent of their earning power when they temporarily leave the workforce, with women in professional sectors losing a greater percentage. Despite the media talk of “on ramps,” only 40 percent of high-powered professional women get back to full-time work after taking leave, usually at a significant pay reduction. With engineers in demand, many employers are finding it very important to lure “off-ramped” talent back into the workforce. This article explores potential solutions with a focus on policies that allow women and men the flexibility that life sometimes demands, be it time for young children, getting an advanced degree, or caring for an aging parent. 

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Extraordinary Women Engineers Final Report April 2005

The Extraordinary Women Engineers project (EWEP) is a national initiative to encourage girls to consider pursuing a degree and subsequent career in engineering. The project is led by a coalition of the country’s engineering associations and the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and WGBH Educational Foundation.

Formed in Spring 2004, the coalition began with a review of the question, “Why are academically prepared girls not considering or enrolling in engineering degree programs?” Read the Final Report from April 2005.

Back to Civil Engineering and Women's History

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