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Women In Engineering: Why A Co-Ed Dev Team Is Good For Business

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The problem isn’t that women are unable to complete the requirements associated with these jobs — the problem is that women simply aren’t making the decision to.

By Maria Renhui Zhang (Founder & CEO, Alike)

It’s undeniable — there are simply fewer women than men in the various fields of engineering. In the software/technology industry particularly, there exists between a 5:1 and 10:1 ratio of men to women. This disparity is made worse by the fact that female engineers have double the chance of men to leave their respective fields, when enrollment already has a very low percentage of female students. As a result of decades of this gender bias, nearly every possible STEM-related profession (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), contains gender ratios which reflect blatant male dominance.

The exact cause of this difference in female representation has been heatedly debated. Is it a result of social, psychological, and biological factors, the lack of effort to recruit and retain female engineers, or a combination of both?

From the social/psychological standpoint, women experience a greater emphasis on developing social skills during childhood. This, combined with the stereotype that engineers are introverted, nerdy, and socially awkward, cause many women to believe they’ll be more comfortable in respectively relevant jobs such as teaching, human resources and marketing.

There also exists the notion that the lack of female participation in engineering fields results from biological factors. Some consider men to be better linear and logical thinkers, finding women to actually be physically incapable of performing the tasks required in such professions, namely due to lacking the spatial memory required in understanding high-level mathematics.

The fact that women who enroll in an engineering program have a higher success rate than men in obtaining their engineering degrees however, almost completely disproves this theory. The problem isn’t that women are unable to complete the requirements associated with these jobs — the problem is that women simply aren’t making the decision to.

So what’s the point? Why should companies make an effort to increase the number of women they employ?

The exact cause of this difference in female representation has been heatedly debated. Is it a result of social, psychological, and biological factors, the lack of effort to recruit and retain female engineers, or a combination of both? Firstly, your customers are gender balanced. In the past decades, innovative in technology has impacted and influenced various countries, ethnic groups, and cultures — there is no discrimination in the target market.

It only makes sense then, if these products are sold to both men and women at an equal rate, to include at least a somewhat equal participation of both men and women in the companies which built these products. Female participation in the design and development process will bring deeper insights into half of the targeted customer base.

Secondly, having a more equal ratio between men and women increases the productivity, environment, and overall success of a company. A study by Sander Hoogendoorn, Hessel Oosterbeek, and Mirjam van Praag showed that companies with a 55% female worker-base were on average more profitable, satisfactory, and cooperative than those that were male dominated.

Women interact very differently from men in a work environment; it’s why gender neutrality can cause such drastic changes. In “Gender and Collaboration,” authors Sandra Ingram and Anne Parker state that “females find self-identity through collaboration and relationships.” Compared to men who interact with each other in an authoritative manner, most women are much more focused on developing relationships.

As a result of these different mindsets, women are found to greatly improve the sense of community within an office, resulting in greater efficiency and dedication among employees. Differences in thought process extend to being able to approach problems differently, often resulting in new, innovative solutions. Additionally, a greater social inclination and focus help to establish a better customer relationship, whether through personal interaction or marketing plans.

Finally, the low percentage of existing female engineers continue their profession due to their passion and dedication. The fact that they willingly represent the minority in such a tough and biased field reflects that they are very good at what they do. Why wouldn’t you want to hire them?

Although men continue to constitute the majority of developers, the situation for women has been progressively improving. The percentage of women in engineering has increased to 20% as of 2003 from 1% in 1960. We can do our part to make people more aware of the benefits in hiring gender-neutral teams. By pushing for and encouraging more active female participation, women may seize a golden opportunity to excel in this field that desperately needs them.

This post was originally posted at Alike’s blog.

Women 2.0 readers: How can we change the ratio of women in engineering? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

About the guest blogger: Maria Renhui Zhang is the founder and CEO at Alike. The Alike Engine captures similarity between products using existing data on the web to make purchase research simple. relevant and instant. Maria has 15 years experience in designing and building large-scale machine learning and data mining systems. At Microsoft, Maria was a principal development manager. At Zillow, she led the data integration and warehousing team.