It’s no secret that women are a minority in the engineering profession. Despite a 58% increase in bachelor’s degrees in engineering and computer science awarded to women from 2012 to 20171, only 13% of engineers are women2. Although outnumbered by men, women in STEM professions have proven time and time again to be just as skilled and successful as their male counterparts. What can we do, as individuals and a community, to encourage more girls to pursue engineering?
We spoke with three BHB engineers: Chandler Iozzi, EIT, Graduate Mechanical Engineer; Ali Buron, PE, Mechanical Engineer and Project Manager; and Maria Sanders, EIT, Graduate Civil Engineer. Throughout these conversations about their experiences and education, a common thread appeared: the visibility of women in STEM (or lack thereof) and how it has inspired them. Maria, for example, was inspired by interactions with a woman named Katherine Johnson who designed the subdivision where she grew up. She also had a high school math teacher she describes as “an extremely bubbly and smart woman” who served as somewhat of a mentor to her at the time.
Similarly, although initially exposed to engineering by her father and grandfather, Ali found inspiration from Margaret Ingels–the second woman in the U.S. to receive an engineering degree and the first to complete a graduate engineering degree. Margaret is also known for developing the “effective temperature” scale, which considers relative humidity and air movement to determine a “feels like” temperature. Her impact on the HVAC industry also includes the invention of the sling psychrometer, which measures the amount of moisture in the air.
On the flip side, Chandler’s exposure to women in STEM included only her AP Physics teacher in high school. It was in that class that she decided to pursue a career in engineering; after that she says she didn’t have a single female STEM instructor throughout college. “I think this made me want to pursue engineering even more,” she says. “I like being one of the minorities and bringing a different way of thinking to the industry.”
Ali and Chandler agree that one of the greatest barriers to young women pursuing STEM careers is a lack of exposure. Chandler has always felt that promotion of the profession doesn’t give enough information of the many different divisions and opportunities available. It may be hard for women with little knowledge of the profession to see where they could fit in–especially when already intimidated by a male-dominated industry. For Ali, she thinks that without the influence of her family, the lack of STEM clubs, role models, and specific knowledge about a career in engineering would’ve led her down a different path. “I would have never considered a career in engineering simply because it was not a commonly discussed career path for women. I think we need to take a more active role in promoting interest in STEM skills in women at an early age.”
As a company, we actively work to introduce our women engineers to students and other local organizations whenever possible. Ali has spoken at meetings of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) at her alma mater, Texas Christian University (TCU). Shonnah Driver, Director of Marketing, is an active member of Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) of Fort Worth; the organization has a partnership with Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA), exposing them to career opportunities in Commercial Real Estate (including architecture, engineering, and construction). In addition, BHB has hosted students from local ISD’s for job shadowing and often sends female engineers to represent the firm at career fairs.
What advice do our engineers have for young girls interested in engineering or other STEM fields? Maria encourages them “to look at what people are doing, in the field you are interested in, and follow them. See how they do it and gain knowledge and perspective of what they do on a day-to-day. It gives you a good idea of what a career in that field would look like and if you’d be happy doing that.” Ali advises finding a role model, club, or camp that will further your interests. She also says to “be fearless–women are capable of whatever we set our mind to.”
- Mad Science of Dallas & Fort Worth “[designs and delivers] innovative hands-on STEM maker programs and services to families, community organizations and educational institutions.” Click here to learn more about their on-site, on-line, and hybrid programs.
- The University of Texas at Dallas offers Summer Tech Camps for ages 7-19, virtually and on campus. Learn more
- The Society of Women Engineers is the world’s largest advocate and catalyst for change for women in engineering and technology. Click here to learn more about the organization and how to get involved.
- The Young Women’s Leadership Academy is Fort Worth ISD’s first single-gender school, providing sixth- and seventh-grade girls a college preparatory curriculum with an emphasis on math, science, and technology. Learn more
- The Women’s Engineering Society launched International Women in Engineering Day in the UK in 2014. Learn more