A lack of female colleagues and role models in the engineering community discourages many women from pursuing engineering as a career, according to Charlotte Blair, coordinator for the IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society’s Women in Microwaves program (IEEE-MTT WIM). Since women tend to bring a different perspective than men, the engineering community suffers from a lack of diversity as a result.
“Diversification of perspective and life experience is always valuable in advancing any field whether its politics or engineering,” Blair says. According to her, a major part of the problem is there are not enough women engineers within positions of authority, including IEEE Fellows, who serve as role models for young women. “We have to start at the grass roots and get more women to advance to senior and management levels,” she says.
What can the engineering community do to help bridge the gender gap? According to Blair, women need to be encouraged to become engineers at a young age. Focusing efforts at the high school and college level to get young women to consider engineering as a career path is a major step, but once a woman becomes an engineer she must be encouraged to stay.
“Women are social,” says Blair. “To be the only woman in an engineering department or group can be lonely.” IEEE Societies and other engineering associations can encourage women to continue their careers in engineering by organizing meet and greets for women at conferences and events, she added.
Many IEEE Societies are doing just that. The IEEE Microwave Theory and Techniques Society is at the forefront of this initiative. Several years ago, the Society – realizing it needed to do more to support women in its community – launched its Women in Microwaves program (formerly MTT Women in Engineering). WIM’s goal is to promote activities that help to enhance both the professional and personal growth of women involved in any MTT activity, including, but not limited to, all women RF or microwave engineers. The community is open to both women and men.
As part of its efforts, Women in Microwaves held two major receptions last year: one at the International Microwave Symposium (IMS2011) in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and another at the European Microwave Conference 2011 (EuMC) in Manchester, United Kingdom. Both events, focused around MTT industry conferences, were social events where women could network and socialize with other women as well as men in their career fields.
The IEEE MTT also established a gender-neutrality policy in 2011 aimed at preventing its women members from feeling isolated. As part of the policy, the Society adopted gender-neutral written communications in its governance documents and operations manual and encourages gender-neutrality in all its communications. It also formed an ad-hoc committee charged with enforcing the policy.
Blair says her participation in IEEE and the WIM program influenced her decision to stay in her own career as an engineer at Ansys, Inc. after taking years off to raise her children. “My involvement with IEEE played a role in my reintroduction,” she says. “I am now with a great company who supports my volunteer activities.”
How else can the engineering community better encourage women to pursue engineering fields?
Charlotte Blair, PhD, would like to thank Dr.Kate Remley, Dr. Dominique Schreurs, Dr. Rashaunda Henderson, and Sherry Hess for their significant contributions to the WIM program.