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Resources on Women in STEM (March 2020): Engineering

by Janet Ochs, Jennifer Parker, and Jeremy Pekarek


Lillian Gilbreth and her husband Frank are widely recognized as being among the early “inventors” of industrial engineering. Gilbreth herself was awarded the Hoover Medal in 1966, one of the highest awards in engineering. Lillian Gilbreth: Redefining Domesticity, by Julie Des Jardins, looks not only at the barriers Gilbreth encountered as a young woman trying to work in a man’s world, but also at the unique ways she was able to work around those obstacles. The Bold and the Brave: A History of Women in Science and Engineering describes how, over the last several hundred years, religious doctrine, medical beliefs, and societal expectations have hindered women from gaining the same access to education and knowledge as men, particularly with respect to advanced science and engineering. Author Monique Frize (herself an honorary life member of the International Federation of Medical and Biological Engineering) details the barriers for women by era, alongside brief summaries of the women who were notable scientists during each period. Her discussion of the twentieth-century situation documents current efforts to recruit and engage women in the sciences.

In Women Spacefarers: Sixty Different Paths to Space, author Umberto Cavallaro (president of the Italian Astrophilately Society) profiles all sixty of the women world-wide who have had the opportunity to fly in space. The preface provides context to the obstacles that the women faced, particularly noting the famous Mercury-13 women who were first recruited and then prevented from joining the space program. A Passion for Space: Adventures of a Pioneering Female NASA Flight Controller provides a detailed autobiographical account of the life of the author, Marianne Dyson, one of the first woman flight controllers at NASA. Dyson reviews, from an insider’s perspective, several projects she worked on for NASA in her quest to join the space program.

Coeditors Renate Tobies and Annette Vogt explore the role of women scientists who worked in non-academic positions and performed industrial research in various countries between 1900 and 1970. Published in Germany, Women in Industrial Research provides a European view of the topic. The editors note that women were often given more clerical “women’s work” and therefore developed unique career paths. Women and Ideas in Engineering: Twelve Stories from Illinois was originally undertaken by authors Laura Hahn and Angela Wolters to highlight twelve Illinois women graduates in engineering. They instead developed twelve themes encompassing the historical alumnae, by area of engineering, but also added a look to the future.  The future-facing chapters include profiles of recent alumnae, and discuss mentoring and advice for women considering engineering as a career path. Successful Women Ceramic and Glass Scientists and Engineers: 100 Inspirational Profiles is a biographical compilation of women engineers from all over the world by Lynnette Madsen, a program director for materials research at the National Science Foundation. In her preface Madsen groups the scientists by various categories based on a taxonomy of fields in academia and industry and by world region. The intended purpose is to facilitate networking (such as at conferences and meetings of professional societies) and to provide a form of career guidance, allowing the reader to envision a rich variety of career options involving degrees in ceramics and glass science.

Challenging Knowledge, Sex and Power: Gender, Work and Engineering is the result of several studies undertaken by Julie Mills and her coauthors, over the course of a decade, to investigate why the percentage of women engineers continues to lag behind the percentage in other STEM professions. Many of the studies found that the prevailing workplace culture is a prime reason for women to leave the field, and that the culture itself is tied to the limited number of women in the field. Author Claudine Schmuck presents data from a global gender-studies survey into why women are underrepresented in STEM fields. In Women in STEM Disciplines: The Yfactor 2016 Global Report on Gender in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Schmuck reports that long-standing stereotypes prevent women from choosing STEM fields in the first place. Women who choose to enter STEM-based fields of study often can’t find jobs (typically in countries where women’s rights are otherwise limited as well), or they don’t stay in the field. Finally, in Breaking into the Lab: Engineering Progress for Women in Science, author Sue Rosser discusses an overall decline in STEM professions as even men are found to be moving to presumably more lucrative fields, such as law or business. Rosser draws on her own experiences and background research, as well as interviews with other women holding academic research positions, and concludes that women and people of color need to fill the widening gap.

Works Cited