LWL | Bias Against Women in Engineering

To what extent does gender bias persist in the field of engineering, impacting women’s perception of their competence and professional advancement, and how can strategies and interventions be developed to address these biases?

By Serra Ozal

Gender bias, specifically bias against women in engineering is a pressing issue that needs to be
addressed. In this research report, reasons and possible solutions for bias against women in
STEM fields such as engineering will be discussed.


Gender bias perpetuates every aspect of the female experience in the workplace, especially in
STEM fields such as engineering. Despite the decades of effort put forward by women to
eliminate gender disparity, bias still prevails. In this study, the effect and consequences of gender
bias against women in engineering, as well as possible solutions for this issue will be navigated.
The foundation of this analysis is established according to the research question ‘To what extent
does gender bias persist in the field of engineering, impacting women’s perception of their
competence and professional advancement, and how can strategies and interventions be
developed to address these biases?’ The purpose of this inquiry is to bring light to the unjust
nature of the dearth of female engineering faculty. This inquiry transcends statical values, as
subconscious and malevolent bias are intertwined with the very core of society. Thus, this issue
may require several more decades of effort to be wholly eradicated. Ultimately, this research is
aimed to apprise of the challenges women in STEM fields—specifically engineering—face when
attempting to further their professional careers upshot of the ubiquitous bias in society, and
endeavors to contribute a roadmap of strategies to foster an inclusive environment for women in

Women have experienced many challenges in entering the workforce. However, substantial
changes have taken place on the views of women working. In the early 1900s, only 5% of
women were employed. Currently, women make up 47.7% of the global workforce [1]. 50% of
the female workforce belongs to the STEM [2] fields—science, technology, engineering and
mathematics—and an upward trend in the number of women gravitating towards STEM fields is

While 50% of STEM employees are female, their representation varies considerably, contingent
on the occupation in question. For instance, according to 2019 data, 74% of health related jobs
are occupied by women. In contrast, only 14% of engineering-related positions are employed by
women [2]. As seen in Figure 1, there is a minute rise in the number of female engineers since
1990, although the current number is nowhere near the percentage of female healthcare workers.
The overall preference for health-related occupations may be a consequence of several factors:
namely, lack of early experience with engineering, physics, or computer science; masculine
cultures that push women into more ‘submissive’ and nurturing roles; and self-efficacy caused by
the preference for male engineers and society’s bias towards women in male dominated jobs.
This bias is visible in the statistics regarding the recruitment, retention and promotion of female
engineers in contrast to their male counterparts. Studies show that hiring bias is prevalent in the
interview process, with the competence, hireability and salary confederal of the male candidate
being higher in contrast to the female candidate, despite both employees having the same
credentials. The results show that the female candidates were viewed as less qualified, with
lower competency, hire ability and mentoring values [3, Figure 2].

Women have long been regarded as ‘less-than’ in comparison to their male counterparts, despite
the countless engineering innovations brought forth by women. Researchers have attempted to
and primarily discovered the root cause of gender bias, but have been generally unsuccessful in
eradicating the issue wholly. In the late 20th century, there was assumed to be a biological
difference between the abilities of women and men, which contributed to the unproportional
nature of female to male engineers. It was believed that men exceeded women in mathematics
and logic-based practices, concepts which are the foundation of engineering. While the ratio of
13.5:1 of the gender gap in high-performers in mathematics from the 1990s did support this
hypothesis, the gap between the two sexes has decreased rapidly over time. In the 2010s, the
gender gap in high-performers was found to be 2:1–a substantial reduction from the values from
just two decades previous. Moreover, gender differences have disappeared in average
mathematics ability, therefore discrediting the validity of the hypothesis that women are
biologically less competent than men. Still, the harmful effects of this perspective are evident,
with studies showing that when certain tasks are framed as ‘artistic’ rather than ‘logic-based,’
women have a performance advantage. This supports the notion of women’s tendency to
self-sabotage, as a result of the subconscious bias originating from the belief that men are better
suited to engineering and similar logic-based fields [4].

Furthermore, female parenthood is also used as an argument for gender bias. Previous
misconceptions that women are ‘natural caretakers,’ when paired with the belief that men have a
biological inclination for logic-based jobs in contrast to artistic and nurturing women produces
the premise for a third argument: women that are or plan to be mothers are incompatible with

high-stress jobs such as engineering [5]. In stark contrast, fathers often receive a ‘fatherhood
premium,’ where fathers receive pay premiums and are seen as ‘better’ employees. Women,
opposed to men, receive a ‘motherhood penalty.’ On average, women do nearly 5 times more
housework than men [3]. Therefore, when a couple has children, the mother is often the primary
carer. This results in less time for the mothers to spend on their professional life, while the
fathers experience little to no loss of energy or time to work on their occupations.

Some solutions may be taken to eradicate gender bias against women in engineering. In
particular, taking education initiatives, creating networking/job opportunities for women in
engineering fields, employing ‘blind’ hiring practices, and creating flexible work policies [4]
may be of benefit. Women are less likely to engage with scholarship or educational
opportunities, therefore proposing initiatives specifically for women will allow them to
comfortably apply. While this is not as common-practice for hiring, some universities such as
MIT offer research programs [6] specifically for women. This may be implemented in
professional areas. Blind hiring practices create bias-free environments, preventing women from
being discriminated against unfairly.

Bias against women in engineering has, undoubtedly, caused With the cessation of this research
report, it is apparent that gender bias in engineering has an extensive journey to its elimination.
Gender inequality has taken leaps in recent decades, but these developments do not create a
proper environment for female engineers to thrive. Studies show that bias is weaved into the very
core of society, resulting in an extensive removal process to eliminate prejudiced views of
women; these predispositions presume a biological difference between the mental
capacity/strengths of women, the self-efficacy women in engineering experience because of
social bias, and societal pressures that push women into ostensibly ‘feminine’ roles. Diversity is
indispensable for the evolution of society, and gender variety is the first step in this direction.
Unless disciplinary action is taken, human advancements will decelerate. Thus, to limit the
harmful effects of bias, certain interferences may be established: educational initiatives may be
taken, recruitment and hiring practices may be restructured to eliminate bias, networking
opportunities may be created, and more accepting, flexible work policies may be employed.
Nonetheless, even with the assumed success of these solutions, the greater problem of bias must
still be addressed. Although gender discrimination is cardinal, it is crucial to challenge racial,
physical, confirmation or similar biases that also subsist. Only then can society reach a point of
absolute diversity and inclusion.

Figure 1

Figure 2

[1] Tina. (2023b, March 14). Women in the workforce statistics 2023: Roles and pay gap.
TeamStage. https://teamstage.io/women-in-the-workforce-statistics/
[2] Fry, R. (2021, April 1). Stem jobs see uneven progress in increasing gender, racial and ethnic
diversity. Pew Research Center Science & Society.
[3] Moss-Racusin, C. A. (2012). Science faculty s subtle gender biases favor male students -
PNAS. Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students.
[4] Charlesworth, T. E. S., & Banaji, M. R. (2019). Gender in Science, Technology, Engineering,
and Mathematics: Issues, Causes, Solutions. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of
the Society for Neuroscience, 39(37), 7228–7243.
[5] Charlesworth, T. E. S., & Banaji, M. R. (2019, September 11). Gender in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics: Issues, causes, solutions. Journal of Neuroscience.
[6] MIT Women’s Technology Program. (n.d.). https://web.mit.edu/wtp/