Why We Need More Women in STEM

March is Women’s History Month, which serves as a chance for us to remember the inspiring women of the past and celebrate their vital role in history. As both an engineer and an educator who has dedicated my career to improving the quality of technical education, I think about all the brilliant women breaking boundaries in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Until recently, many of their stories had been submerged from history while the men with whom they worked were recognized for their achievements. Things are changing — in traditionally male-dominated professions, female representation is increasing, yet women remain significantly underrepresented in many areas of STEM.

This Women’s History Month, let’s not just celebrate the great leaders who paved the way; let’s use it as an opportunity to set goals and create bold initiatives to achieve gender parity in STEM. This is not a problem that women alone should have to solve. This is a shared responsibility for men and women alike to figure out sustainable solutions to diversifying our workforce.

Our partners at Engineers Canada created the 30 by 30 initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of women as newly licensed engineers to 30 percent by the year 2030. Engineers Canada collaborates with engineering regulators, universities and other key stakeholders to help achieve their particular goal, which they chose because 30 percent represents a widely accepted threshold for self-sustaining change. Currently in Canada, the percentage of women who are newly licensed engineers is around 18 percent. Some may argue that the 30 by 30 initiative is too ambitious, but it can be done!

Ignatios Vakalis, Ph.D., the recipient of the Claire L. Felbinger Award for Diversity and Inclusion at the 2018 ABET Awards, used a multidisciplinary approach to get the number of women studying computer science-software engineering courses at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo up from 9 percent in 2007 to nearly 30 percent by 2017. It is possible and it is critical, in order for us to build a world that is safer, more efficient, more comfortable and more sustainable.