By: Laura Serje Martínez
For several decades, the small female presence in engineering classrooms has only been a reflection of the gender inequality that exists behind this academic field. Throughout several years, this career was a privilege that could only be given to men. This is why women decided to change the situation and start a titanic struggle to claim their place in the field of engineering.
Although the results of this fight have been pleasantly satisfactory, there is still a long way to go. According to UNESCO, currently, only one in four students enrolled in an engineering degree is female. This figure translates into a presence of 31.4% of women in these careers. These statistics reflect the disturbing situation that masks systematized problems in society, which have their origin long before women begin their university studies. According to the study “Understanding persistent gender gaps in STEM” published in the journal Science, from the age of six girls create the conception that boys are more capable than they are. This idea is evident when choosing their professional career.
This disturbing situation has led the main world organizations to take action on the matter. This is why, in 2019, UNESCO published the article “Cracking the code: girls’ education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).” This document highlights the great social barriers that women must cross not only when studying engineering but also when practicing it. The main problems are based on gender discrimination, biases, social norms, and expectations that impact the quality of the education they receive. Likewise, it has been possible to demonstrate the impact of the type of upbringing and how they interact with their parents, family, friends, teachers, and with the community, which allows them to develop their identity, their beliefs, and their behavior. Girls are often raised under the stereotype that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines are a male field and that female skills in these subjects are innately inferior to those of men. This idea has serious impacts on the confidence, interest, and desire of girls to embark on studying engineering.
To this alarming reality that is experienced worldwide, we must add the socioeconomic conditions that women face in their territories. According to UNESCO, in middle- to high-income countries, female disadvantage gaps are progressively disappearing. However, in developing countries, the situation remains critical. This is due to the quality of early education girls receive, as educational systems and schools have been shown to play a central role in determining girls’ interest in STEM subjects and providing equal opportunities to access them. Similarly, to empower girls, it is essential that, from an early age, they are exposed to educational environments with the presence of teachers specialized in STEM disciplines. This contact allows the girls to develop an interest in these subjects and make them want to continue their studies in this area since they can see themselves reflected in their teachers when they look into the future.
In order to motivate and empower girls and teenagers to study engineering, it is essential to make visible the female referents in this field. Such is the case of Carmen de Andrés, who, in 1973, became the first civil engineer to graduate from the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Her excellent performance led her to work in the General Directorate of Roads, specializing in innovation, quality, and environment. Thanks to her perseverance, in 1991 she became General Director of Technology Policy, where she participated in the drafting of the 1992 Industry Law, the Toxic and Hazardous Waste Law, and the Royal Legislative Decree on the Environmental Impact Assessment of 1986. In addition to Carmen de Andrés’ story, there are thousands of testimonies of women who have fought against the current and have achieved great accomplishments, allowing the presence of women in the classroom to grow day by day.
At a time when the planet must face a decisive situation for its sustainability, humankind cannot afford to exclude half of the population, wasting the talent of thousands of women who are key to the creation of solutions that will set the world on the path to a better future. The planet needs the talent of all its inhabitants regardless of gender, it is time that engineering also reaches the hands of all women.
 Image 1. Source: Freepik, 2021
 Image 2. Source: Freepik, 2021