We love that Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day encourage us to celebrate the achievements of women throughout history, while also marking a call to action to accelerate gender equality. As a women-led engineering firm, Nitsch Engineering is particularly focused on improving equity for women in engineering, as demonstrated by the ways in which we understand and are trying to address the issues related to five key facts.
1. Women represent 50.6% of the US population, but only 13% of all engineers.
Although representation of women in engineering has grown over time, it has stagnated for two decades: the percentage of women in engineering doubled from 1970 to 1980, and again from 1980 to 1990… but has only grown 4% (to the current 13%) since 1990. Within civil engineering specifically, only 12% are women – which makes us proud of the fact that 27% of the engineers at Nitsch Engineering are women.
We believe that the gender gap* in engineering is the result of two critical issues: not engaging girls with the idea of engineering during grades K-12, and not retaining the people who do enter the industry. Nitsch Engineering is committed to taking action to combat each of these issues – read on for more details!
2. In grades K-12, girls consistently perform as well as boys in science and math, but are less likely to show interest in engineering as a career.
Numerous studies show that unconscious biases of parents and teachers, as well as a perceived lack of female role models in engineering, result in female students being encouraged to pursue non-STEM careers.
Nitsch Engineering believe that representation matters, and that showing girls that there are successful, relatable engineers who look like they do can inspire them to pursue an engineering career. We perform outreach to help educate female 6th-12th grade students about what a career in engineering is like, including hosting an annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, working with students and teachers as part of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay’s BoSTEM program, and speaking to Girl Scout Troops and classrooms of students on a regular basis.
3. Fewer women graduate from college engineering programs than men.
As a direct result of the lack of interest in engineering from girls as they enter 12th grade, young men are much more likely than young women to begin college with the intention of majoring in engineering (27.9% vs. 9.5%). In addition, one study found that a higher percentage of female bachelor’s degree students switch from an engineering major to a non-engineering major than male students (32% vs. 26%). Of the students who then earn an engineering degree, only 21.9% are women.
While the only real way to increase the number of female graduates with engineering degrees is by increasing interest in middle and high school, providing supportive and inclusive internships and cooperative education experiences can help keep young women interested in working as an engineer. Nitsch Engineering is proud to provide opportunities for engineering students to gain work experience – and even prouder of the number of students who chose to stay at Nitsch Engineering after graduation!
4. Female engineers change careers at a significantly higher rate than male engineers.
According to a 2019 ZweigWhite survey of firm principals, 100% of female principals have considered leaving the A/E/C industry – compared with 49% of male principals. Other research studies show that almost 40% of female engineers (all industries) leave the engineering workforce by midcareer. Most of these women cite poor work culture, discrimination, and an accumulation of microaggressions as the reasons for changing careers.
We believe that one of the key ways to retain women engineers is by having representative leadership: visible women leaders within engineering firms. Our Chairman & CEO Lisa Brothers, PE, noted, “I have seen first-hand the unconscious bias that can happen when a group made up entirely of men are making all the decisions. That same unconscious bias can occur when people all of one race, or one religion, or any other category, make all the decisions. To address unconscious biases, women and minorities need a seat at the table, and need to be involved in making decisions about promotions and leadership.” Nitsch Engineering’s Board of Directors is 71% women, and our Board of Advisors is 33% women.
5. Pay equity remains an issue for women, even within engineering.
The gender pay gap is smaller within engineering than across all sectors, but female engineers still only receive about 90% of the pay earned by their male counterparts. Interestingly, some evidence shows that male and female engineers start out with similar salaries, but that differences in annual raises (as the result of different expectations and negotiations) result in a pay gap that increases with each year of experience.
Achieving pay equity is critical to keeping women working within the industry. Nitsch Engineering has a well-established approach to pay equity to make sure that every employee is compensated fairly and comparably, and that there isn’t a gender or racial wage gap. As part of this commitment, Nitsch Engineering has signed the Boston Women’s Workforce Council‘s 100% Talent: The Boston Women’s Compact, which collects payroll information from participating firms to assess the current conditions of wage equality in Boston. Chairman & CEO Lisa Brothers is an appointed member of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, and is actively recruiting other engineering firms to sign the compact. If you have any questions about this, please reach out to her directly!
* While we have focused this article on the gender gap in engineering, we would be remiss to not also mention the significant disparities in racial diversity in engineering as well: only 14% are Asian, 7% are Hispanic or Latino, and 4% are Black. We believe that the issues raised in this article – lack of engagement with students grades K-12, and lack of retention for engineers who do enter the industry – are also key factors for increasing racial diversity within the field.