A big misconception looms over the engineering sector that women aren’t interested in it and don’t think there are career opportunities for them. Yes, there is disparate representation — women account for less than 30% of STEM workers, yet they make up nearly half of the US workforce. But the disconnect isn’t from a lack of interest; it’s from a lack of awareness, exposure, understanding, and encouragement.
Women’s top career pathways have included teaching, dental hygienists and assistants, childcare workers, administrative assistants, dietitians and nutritionists, medical assistants, and hairstylists and cosmetologists.
But what about engineering roles, like packaging production? Why aren’t more women pursuing them?
Myths surrounding female engineers.
Too many myths about engineering discourage women from entering career pathways within it. Common ones include:
• You can’t be a parent and an engineer:
Being a full-time parent and professional definitely has its challenges, but it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Especially today, more women are starting families while still enjoying full-time careers because of supportive employers and the proper infrastructure.
• Women don’t excel at science, math, and technology:
For decades, it’s been assumed that women are not as good at science, math, and technology because engineering has been predominantly male. However, the Women’s Engineering Society published a paper that stated, “Girls are now more likely than boys to achieve high A*-B grades across nearly all STEM GCSE subjects (sometimes spectacularly so, e.g., in D&T where 49.9% of female entrants achieve A*-B compared to 29.4% of male entrants, and in engineering, where the respective figures are 36.8% girls, and 17.3% boys achieving A*-B grades).”
So, where is the disconnect? Why are women not pursuing engineering pathways? According to the stats, it would seem that cultural norms and other factors are discouraging women from even trying.
• There’s no place for creativity in engineering:
Most assume engineering jobs are limited to office jobs for eight hours or more a day, which is untrue, especially for packaging and production engineers. Packaging and production engineers are responsible for designing and developing packaging solutions made from different materials for various products. Their expertise encompasses a range of skills, including logistics, graphic design, marketing, materials and packaging science, and lead time management.
Packaging and production engineers’ creativity help optimize packaging solutions that keep products safe during transport and make them visually appealing to customers. Creativity is essential for maximizing the use of space and keeping costs down, especially for shipping.
• Women can’t climb the leadership ladder:
There is definitely a lack of representation of women leaders in STEM-related fields. Currently, women make up approximately 30% of the sector, and according to a report from the Equal Employment Opportunity, only 25% of those are in leadership positions. There are ample opportunities for women to move up the ladder; however, with the lack of representation, there is a small percentage of women available to even advance into leadership positions.
• Engineering is all dirty and dull:
As mentioned above, most people hear engineering and think of a desk job with little creativity, and others think of greasy engines and dirty work environments. Yes, some of that still exists today, but so many other types of roles involve engineering, including computer software, nanotechnology, packaging design, spacecraft design, and bridge construction. With constant advancements in technology, new roles in engineering are expected to be created.
• Women are too timid and lack technical skills:
For decades it’s been difficult for women to be heard in a room filled with male colleagues. Negative stereotypes about women’s technical abilities have discouraged some from pursuing engineering and manufacturing. However, more women are finding the confidence to share their opinions and be heard.
Also, soft skills that women typically master — like empathy, self-awareness, self-control, and the ability to listen — are essential to being a great engineer. Engineering teams need to be able to communicate effectively with one another and customers, and they also need to remain flexible and adaptable.
Why more women are needed in engineering roles.
Now that we busted the myths surrounding women in engineering, we must answer why the engineering sector needs more women to join.
The 2021 Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute Manufacturing Talent study predicts that, by 2030, 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled. Women represent nearly half the workforce but only 30% of jobs in engineering and manufacturing. Recruiting more women to the engineering sector would help significantly decrease the current skills gap.
Women represent nearly half the workforce but only 30% of jobs in engineering and manufacturing. Recruiting more women to the engineering sector would help significantly decrease the current skills gap.
Furthermore, men and women think differently. Bringing in more women and diversifying the sector would increase idea generation and diversify thought processes. According to an article from MANTEC, diversification also “minimizes downturn in a sector, increases ROI [return on investment], and provides for a wider variety of alternatives in terms of products and service offerings.”
What needs to change?
So what needs to change to get more women involved in engineering and wanting to pursue engineering careers?
First, we must start the conversation surrounding engineering opportunities earlier than high school. As a sector suffering from a skills shortage, we need to expose girls to engineering at the elementary school level. Communities must pull together and find creative ways to raise awareness and maintain girls’ curiosity as they move from grade to grade. But how? Here are a few suggestions from Edutopia:
• Look for or create opportunities to introduce girls to STEM fields, such as FIRST Robotics.
• Help girls get involved with local STEM programs.
• Support organizations, such as the Girls Scouts, that help girls learn more about STEM fields.
• Look for or create mentoring opportunities within your community.
• Expose girls to other resources like the Association for Women in Science and the Society of Women Engineers.
Next, think about what matters to the up-and-coming generations. For Generation Z, making the world a better place is a top priority. They want to know how their daily choices affect the lives of others. Illustrating how engineering relates to their core values is a great way to pique their interest and entice them to pursue an engineering career.
Once they start exploring the different career pathways, young girls will need great mentors to help guide them and keep them on track. Mentors can demystify what girls need to do in high school and help them navigate any obstacles that might cause them to give up.
We also need to work together to break down any negative stereotypes surrounding women in engineering. Companies can do this by opening their doors to the community and conducting facility tours. During these tours, they can highlight the packaging production and engineering roles that exist within the company. They can also have female employees participate in face-to-face conversations with community members.
Closing the skills and gender gaps within engineering will take some time. It involves proactiveness from educators, community members, and businesses to raise awareness about the opportunities available to women, exposing them at younger ages. Hence, they understand what engineering is and how it is a place for them. Young girls also need to be encouraged to explore opportunities and pursue career pathways even though it may not currently look like a place for them.