Women Engineers: Progress and Barriers
03-Dec-2017


Windshield wipers, Kevlar technology, Bluetooth, and the Brooklyn Bridge were all made possible by female engineers. For over a century, female engineers have been quietly forging a path, helping to invent everyday and extraordinary items while keeping behind the scenes. The importance of their work is now being given the attention it deserves, and there has been more of a drive to engage girls in engineering. Yet a biased work culture, along with the other usual barriers, means that the number of employed female engineers remains low, although women have more than proven their competence in this field.

For the 2017 Bahraini Women’s Day the Supreme Council for Women honored the country’s female engineers and their contributions in the field. In November, the Bahrain Society of Engineers organized a conference in cooperation with the SCW to celebrate Bahraini female engineers and to examine the realities and challenges they face. Women make up 30 percent of Bahrain’s engineers, which is no small feat considering the statistics: around the world, only 11 percent of engineers are women. 

The number of women studying engineering is growing, particularly in the Middle East where the dominant oil industry requires skilled engineers. According to UNESCO, 50 percent of engineering students in the region’s universities are women, compared with 30 percent in the United States and Europe. There are numerous attempts to engage young girls in engineering, from female engineer-designed toys to programs such as WomenEng, a South African initiative that has since gone global. Yet despite these initiatives and the growing number of students, the number of women actually working in engineering globally remains low. 

The reasons behind this low employment are the “usual suspects:” lack of role models and mentorship, familial duties, and sexism. A damaging work culture has been found to be highly problematic, with women facing a sometimes-hostile environment that does not afford them opportunities to advance and develop. According to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, women engineers enter the field only to find themselves sidelined during team projects and given more menial tasks while with the more challenging tasks are given to male colleagues. 

Engineering is no longer a men’s-only field, and women should not have to constantly fight to prove their intelligence, skill and worth. Women engineers continue to prove that they have what it takes to do the job. They have proved that they can engineer the way forward.


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