Women In Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering is a strongly male dominated field. When I was studying Engineering we had no female students in our class. I don’t remember any female students in the batches before or after mine as well. The event I attended yesterday at Goa Engineering College was organized by MESA (Mechanical Engineering Students Association) and was attended by students of all the four years of Mechanical Engineering studying at the college. So I was pleasantly surprised to see four female students in the audience.

Before I started my speech I asked the female students to stand up. Obviously they hesitated. A lot. It took quite a bit of convincing from me and coaxing from their male colleagues to make them get up from their seats. When they did I asked everyone in the audience to given them a loud applause, which they whole heartedly did.

After my speech, there was a Q&A session where the students posed their queries to me and another batch mate of mine, Anil D’Souza, who was the Guest of Honor. We did our best to answer their questions and be as frank and straight forward as possible. When the last question was answered and the organizers were winding up proceedings, I noticed one of the girls look at me and very hesitantly lift her hand to ask a question. I interrupted the organizer and asked that the girl be given a microphone. This was her question: “Being a female in a male dominated industry, do you think I will have trouble finding a job or face problems in the workplace?

I replied, “Yes, you will.” There was subdued laughter in the audience. Then I continued, “But here is a question to everyone. How many of you think that a few months or years after graduating from this college, you will still be doing hard core Mechanical work? By that I mean how many of you will be getting your hands dirty operating machines and wipe your faces with cotton wool? Here is the thing. In these four years you will be taught a great of theory and will get a chance to apply some of it in your labs. After you graduate and find a job you will get actual hands on experience on the various aspects of your company. But after that you will do something else for the rest of your professional lives. And that is manage people. People under your command will come to you with their problems. Very rarely you will actually need to solve those problems yourself. Your job will mainly be to show them how they can solve their problems themselves. The point that I am trying to make is that your company will mainly be paying you to think like an engineer, not be an engineer. And to do that you need to have a very strong base in your theory which would need to be adequately reinforced with hands on experience. If you are able to do that you will be a successful engineer. It really does not matter whether you are a man or a woman. This applies to both equally.

In reply to another question Anil was trying to point out the difference between knowledge and wisdom. He said, “Knowledge is what you accumulate in these four years of college. When you graduate you will need to use that knowledge to solve real world problems yourself or help other solve them. When you do that your knowledge will start getting converted into wisdom. Engineers are not paid for their knowledge. They are paid for their wisdom. And wisdom is not something that can be taught or handed down to you. You need to build it yourself through experience.

I guess the point that Anil and I were trying to make is that as engineers, and not just Mechanical engineers, we are most useful when we think and not when we do. Engineering is actually an intellectual profession. The most important organ of an engineer’s body is the brain. All other organs are mere tools and nothing else.

I completely understand the gender bias that exists in the real world, especially in the field of Mechanical Engineering. But I believe that the people who can fix that problem are women themselves. There is very little coming in the way of women arming themselves with strong theoretical knowledge and backing it up with practical hands on experience as best as they possibly can.

  • I think Mech engineering girls need not be worried about job, I passed out in 2005 our class we were having 5 girls, 3 are working as CAD engineer in US, one working as Asst Manager sales engineer in Maruti Suzuki, and fifth working as programmer.
    Only problems for girls comes in production, maintenance, service dept. Sometime difficult to manage people. Old permanent guys just don't listen!
    There are lots of industries/sectors like CAD,CAM, CAE, CFD and PLM were girls are getting edge over boys to get good jobs.
    And now in 2010, I feel there is no reason for girls to worry about job.

  • Really like the the knowledge vs wisdom comment, I've always said I keep my job because I know how to read (the manual whatever) when others “can't or won't”….

  • dorasmith

    Perhaps you might be interested in this interview on our blog with one woman in the field: Deborah Absalon from Schroeder America – http://blog.industrysoftware.automation.siemens….

    Or a Q&A with Joan Hirsch from Siemens PLM – http://mcadonline.com/en/q–a-with-joan-hirsch….. I remember Joan once being asked in an interview if it was difficult being a female engineer. She said it has not, that success in every field is about results.

    You still need to get a job first to show the results. But hopefully with internships or work study opportunities, the female student above could graduate with some results already in hand.


  • Smartin

    I think the old guys not listening is far from limited to new female engineers. It applies to any fresh-from-school grad. A lot of times they (the old guys) are right, too – I know I learned a hell of a lot from some of the old shop guys after I graduated.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the article, there are lots of women who are in a dilemma as to pursue mechanical engineering or not or often stereotype it. Your article clearly shows women in mechanical engineering why not? 🙂 Thanks

  • Sabah Shams

    thank you for the article, I’m planning to pursue Mechanical Engineering as well, and truly, it depends on strong theory and hands on experience. Love the wisdom vs knowledge comment.

  • Sabah Shams

    thank you for the article, I’m planning to pursue Mechanical Engineering as well, and truly, it depends on strong theory and hands on experience. Love the wisdom vs knowledge comment.

  • Umesh saini

    I want to my daughter be a Mechanical enagineer and was searching what % of women in the Mech filed.

    Thanks for your comment. I am stick with my plan.

    Umesh-Mech engr

    • Akhtar Uz

      But let’s not forget that it will be your daughter’s choice as to what she will profess in, not you. I have seen my daughter grow and she wants to be an engineer rather than the doctor my wife and I wanted her to be. However, she is now one of the most successful in her field. Let the child choose their profession, not you.

  • Teni Motsomotso

    Teni Motsomotso
    Im a student at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein South Africa. One of the few ladies doing well in the male dominated field. Engineering is exiting and a great platform to be part of the growth in South Africa. Im honoured…

  • GarethW

    Here’s a good discussion on female mechanical engineers http://www.mechanicaldesignforum.com/showthread.php?69-female-mechanical-designers

  • pinyi chen

    I’m a girl and a mechanical engineering student. Even thought I perform pretty well academically, I still doubted myself. After reading this article I have more confidence. Thank you~

    • sakshi deo

      I m in B-tech 1st year .. I’m glad 2 read this article which encourages girls 2 be a mech. Engineer… I do feel if u decide anything then its hardly possible 4 any1 to stop u 4m doing that… I think friends v need 2 keep trust in ourselves & proceed further & let every1 know that “NO OTHER BRANCH IS MORE ADVENTUREOUS THAN MECHANICAL”.. V can fly & do everything that a male does.. Mechanical engineers rock,no matter she’s a girl or a boy….
      Good luck friends…
      Have a bright future ahead..
      Sakshi Deo

      • umesh saini

        Thanks for writing and confidence. My daughter also doing Mechanical engg. she is great in mechanical. I also teach him same things that mechanical in the mother of engg. love the mother.

  • It should be anyway.

  • Umama Shaikh
  • Is it problem or entrenched sexism; male dominated industries which considered physical males. Not saying everyone psychological rather hire males prevailing decisions how or why during college. Teams never integrated career day universities looking for another guy ratio different”EU and Australia” enforced equality. Smaller firms partnership and shareholders influence best candidate whom, majority management and senior engineers males women experience. Disparity hired single female wondering going be married maternity leave this not hard to believe bigotry is apparent! Paradox ratio women “CEO’s and CTO there impartial it’s struggle moment you inquire they unite with males to oppose sexism intimidation best minds retaliate. Eventually sector going change feel the isolation animosity having women in authority: oppose women getting hired. Asian females and Indians seldom comment upon sexism (chosen management this excuse say there no sexism)plenty going on. Liabilities and laws to enact fairness!