How Do We Get More Women Into the German Engineering Profession?

Alenka Aust

In 2020, the Association of German Engineers published its Engineer Monitor showing some interesting trends. If you haven’t reviewed it yet, we’ve got you covered. One question that arose was this: how can we get more women into the engineering sector? Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has provided some valuable insight into this issue, which we will discuss in this post.

The situation in Germany

In its report, the VDI notes two trends: on the one hand, record employment in the Branch for 2019, and on the other hand, Corona-related declines. Unfortunately, this was to be expected. According to a survey by the association, many companies will align their personnel policies with the experiences of the 2008/2009 economic crisis. This means that, for the most part, there will be no new hires, but in return, no layoffs. At least there is a small ray of hope. In fact, there are two, because despite the current COVID dip, the demand for engineers and especially female engineers remains high.

But there’s one small problem. There are still not enough women choosing to major in engineering. In view of demographic change, it would be important to increase the proportion of women in engineering and STEM professions. But how? There have definitely been significant improvements in recent years. There are many related reasons including increased early childhood support in the MINT subjects (mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology) and to the increased choice of technical advanced courses at second level education institutions.

Currently, the national average proportion of women in traditional engineering occupations (excluding IT) is just over 18 percent (as of October 31, 2019). Nine German states are above the average, including all of the eastern German states as well as Berlin and with Hesse as the only western German state. So much for the numbers. Although there are more and more women in the engineering profession and apparently there is also a great interest among young girls and women in pursuing this career path, apparently there is a kink when it actually comes to studying to become an engineer.

Why women don’t want to become engineers

MIT has shown how to get women into mechanical engineering, for example. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced that just under half of their mechanical engineering students were women. In fact, at last count, 49.5% of all mechanical engineering students were women. The interest in mechanical engineering is there. How did MIT do it?

Three researchers at MIT wanted to know more and launched an extensive survey in the admissions office. What was needed for successful recruiting of women in mechanical engineering? The results showed that a profound structural change was needed, because what the study also revealed was that there are at least as many young women interested in studying mechanical engineering as there are young men. But they are dissuaded from their career aspirations in different ways.

It’s a guy’s job!

The sad finding of the study was that gender inequality begins before enrolment. Reason enough for the admissions office to polish up its image. Women were now approached directly to counter the popular belief that mechanical engineering is a male domain at MIT. This opinion is probably applicable to almost all universities, globally, proving that it ignores the fact that there are definitely enrolled women in the subject.

The staff at MIT now started a special action, they used blogs. They wanted to draw attention to the fact that public opinion was wrong and put female mechanical engineering students in the spotlight. Female students began reporting on campus life and learning. Staff also stepped up inviting young female high school graduates to Campus Weekend, a sort of college open house.

The Mechanical engineering world is so close and so beautiful!

Blogs are a beautiful thing, you’re reading one right now and you must think it’s great. Just kidding. Blogs are great, but it wasn’t enough for MIT. A recruiting program was started. Students from 11th grade and above were invited to live on campus for a month’s learning. Aside from being exciting to learn, the fact that you get to spend four weeks on a university campus is the quintessential adventure for any high school teen. During the summer academy, young women were allowed to attend lectures, get to know the institute’s laboratories and worked in groups on their own projects. Mechanical engineering is not the only discipline suffering from a lack of young women, the program was offered jointly with the Institute of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Female role model sought

Meanwhile, MIT is reaping the rewards from years of work. Employees are using the gender balance as a recruiting tool. Indeed, many women on campus promote the university’s positive image. Conversely, if you have hardly any female students and professors, you will have a very hard time attracting young female students. Incidentally, this can also be applied to the world of work. But it’s not just about role models. Female students are also interested in what their chances are on the job market. In Germany, the prospects in STEM professions are very good. Even the pandemic can’t change that.

Catching up

Now it sounds like MIT’s outstanding success in recruiting female students has been a matter of a year or two. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Twenty years have passed since MIT’s first major advertising campaign. That’s how long it took to equalize the percentage of women and men at the university, in the field of mechanical engineering. It doesn’t happen overnight, unfortunately, but where does it work!

Without continuous awareness campaigns and high-profile projects, the level of the number of female students will not come close to changing. So it’s time to start thinking about what pitfalls lurk in our system. In any case, the women who would choose this profession are there.