Oooh this could be dangerous, so I will state my position from the off.
The trouble with women in engineering is that there doesn't appear to be enough of them and as an egalitarian I don't really know why.
Why, when I go to CLA Summits I am confronted with a sea of male faces and <5% female faces.
Is it because women can't get engineering into their fluffy little brains?
All the evidence is that this is nonsense of the highest order.
But perhaps we should first watch this public information film.
Looking at history... Women were the first programmers, they were the mental mathematicians with the dedication and accuracy required to design the software for the Apollo missions.
Looking at my school (up to age 16)... My physics class was 70% female, all of whom did way better than me!
Looking around the LabVIEW community... The <5% are generally damned fine engineers. Engineers that have shown a real dedication to their work. In fact in my career I have never met a female engineer who was anything other than professional and enthusiastic (I can't say the same for the males, sorry chaps)
So where have they all gone, why did the 70% of my class go into something other than engineering?.
I have 2 daughters of work age and if I was to sum up the societal pressure I have observed, it is that the push is towards caring and the humanities for girls and engineering is for boys. The shocker to me is that this societal pressure seems to come from females themselves. The UK the education system (< aged 16) is majority female led (70% of teachers were female in 2013). It's probably fair to say that in those formative years these teachers have great influence. More annoying for me was that engineering was for the "less-academic" kids, of which I was one.
In the UK we have a National Health Service (contrary to what you hear in the US, the majority of us quite like it), for girls the caring profession is the aspiration of choice. I spoke to a lady software tester friend of mine and she was bemoaning the fact that she hadn't chosen a career in the caring professions rather than what she did.
I pointed out that her taxes were paying for these caring professionals in the hope that she saw the worth of the work she had done. A 40 year career paying taxes will pay for an awful lot of caring. This is a stark demonstration of the pressure that is applied.
I have never once felt that I should be looking after anything except my career.
What can we do to improve the situation, and does the situation need improving?
In the UK (and USA perhaps) the female engineering population is 9% (from a graduation percentage of 15%), in Spain and India it's 30%.
Why these differences?
This article is more question than answer I'm afraid, but my current loose theory is that there is a societal push away from practical engineering on our kids. Because doing engineering is more fun than teaching it, it tends to be under-represented in academia. Another clue is in comparing Spain/India with USA/UK perhaps there are just better opportunities available to girls who generally do better academically than boys.
It would be naive of me to say that sexism doesn't exist, I've witnessed plenty in certain industries. I've not seen as much in software. That said I'm unlikely to see it first hand as I'm not really the main recipient.
Maybe the key is to make engineering more appealing to everyone. Here's a crazy idea, pay your good engineers more and treat them well, you know, as well as you pay your managers, sales people and accountants.
As I've said before, some of my articles come from a sense of disquiet and this is one of them. Just so as you are forewarned I think any "ism" is a sign of limited brain capacity and desperate, sad insecurity.