Today, women engineers talk about their work. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
Eleanor Baum, Dean of
Engineering at Cooper Union, organized a survey of
women engineers in 1989. She wondered how they
liked their work. Let's see what they had to say.
In the first place, the women were eager to answer.
The response was far better than you'd expect from
a mail-out survey. About 2/3 of the women were
under 35. Large numbers of women had been going
into engineering since the late 1970s.
Eighty-two percent were happy with their salaries.
Most of the women under 35 reported salaries over
$40,000 per year. Among the older women, two thirds
earned over $50,000. One third earned over $70,000.
Although the respondents were young, over half were
married. About a tenth were divorced. A third had
children under eighteen. Most felt they'd married
their intellectual peers. Two thirds said their
husbands did their share of housework, but only one
third thought their husbands carried their share of
The women had a good self-image. Two thirds called
themselves attractive. Ninety-two percent said that
being engineers didn't hurt their femininity.
Ninety percent said they'd been good students.
Eighty percent said they were leaders and
Of course, not all was peaches and cream. Over half
said they'd run into some sort of harassment on the
job. Half the women believe they'll be penalized if
they take maternity leave. A third feel some
exclusion from decision-making. Only one company in
seven provided any child-care facilities.
But the largest and most forceful complaint wasn't
with their work. It was with the hurdles they had
to jump to get to their work. Too many of their
high-school counselors discouraged them from going
into engineering. They even discouraged them from
going into math and science. So did some of their
high school math and science teachers.
At the college level things were better. Only a
tenth of the women said their professors weren't
The survey paints a picture of women who face many
of the same problems all working women face. But it
shows us women who have remarkably high
self-esteem, surprising overall job satisfaction,
and very good skills for coping with problems. It
shows us a group of women who've made a very good
career choice. Maybe it's a choice some of you
should think about making, as well.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds