Which engineering industry do women use the most?

Women are conquering the engineering profession

More and more women are studying engineering and working as engineers. But not all male domains have been conquered yet.

The only female domain among engineering subjects so far is architecture. But that could change at some point ...

Photo: panthermedia.net/Kzenon

For years, business, politics and educational institutions have been trying to get women excited about technical and scientific professions. A national pact for women in Mint professions (Mint stands for mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology) was founded, technical companies open their doors for girls' taster days and corporations prefer to hire women if they are equally qualified. The measures are diverse, they are highly controversial and they work. 23% of all students who were enrolled in an engineering subject in the 2017/2018 winter semester are young women. The first step towards more women engineers and computer scientists - a professional and subject group that has only recently been classified as engineering is done.

More and more women are studying engineering

Admittedly, the seats in the German lecture halls are not yet equally occupied - although this is possible, as the mechanical engineering institute at MIT shows - and even the mandatory women's quota for supervisory boards for some companies could not yet be fulfilled by an engineering degree. But universities are not companies and not every university graduate feels a calling to higher management. The 28,564 female engineers who graduated from German universities in 2016 should therefore be enough to shake up the management ranks of large companies in a few years' time. Because every year there are more women who are leaving universities as engineers and starting their careers.

While in the winter semester 2010/2011 only a good fifth of the study places in engineering went to women, in the past winter semester it was a good 25%. Expressed in figures: seven years ago, 23,800 young women began studying engineering; in the 2017/18 winter semester it was 34,976, according to preliminary figures from the Federal Statistical Office. Since the number of new students increased overall over the same period, the percentage increases are small, but they are steady. Women are increasingly choosing engineering courses. Even if not in all subjects.

Prospective female engineers prefer application-oriented engineering sciences

For a long time, women focused primarily on engineering courses that were considered practical. Traditionally, many women study architecture and civil engineering. In the 2016/17 winter semester, around 23,800 women and only 17,484 men studied architecture. In the subject of spatial planning, the gender ratio was almost balanced, with a third of the places in civil engineering being taken by women.

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The subjects of biotechnology (proportion of women: 55%), health technology (45%) and chemical engineering / chemical engineering (34%) also attract an above-average number of women. In the middle are subjects that show a positive trend: surveying with a proportion of women of 30%, materials science and engineering with 25%, industrial engineering with an engineering focus with 22% and computer science with 21%. In general, one can say: The most popular engineering courses for women are combinations of engineering with other, more realistic disciplines such as design, biology, health or economics.

In the classic engineering subjects, on the other hand, women remain underrepresented at the beginning of the 21st century. One in ten of the classic mechanical engineering students was a woman in the 2016/17 winter semester. Classic because in individual disciplines of the mechanical engineering degree program, there was a good quota of women, for example in health technology or textile and environmental technology. It also looks like electrical engineering (which also includes IT) and mechatronics (13% and 9%). Women were also underrepresented in the field of traffic engineering (12.5%), which includes the subjects of vehicle, aerospace and ship engineering, traffic engineering and nautical science.

More and more female engineers in all areas of work

Having arrived in the labor market, women recently made up just 18% of all employed engineers in Germany. These are figures that the Cologne Institute for Economic Research collects at regular intervals on behalf of the VDI. Measured against the number of 1.756 million engineers in Germany and the fact that there is now largely parity among employed academics in other disciplines, these are clearly too few. On the other hand, there were even fewer employed female engineers in 2005, namely 205,000 instead of 312,900 today. The number of female engineers is increasing significantly, but their share is only increasing slowly.

Your areas of work are very diverse. Around every third female engineer finds her way into the secondary sector, for example into the construction industry, energy and water supply, the electrical industry, vehicle or mechanical engineering. Most female engineers, however, are drawn to the tertiary sector. A fifth of them were most recently active in knowledge-intensive services; they could be researchers, for example. Around 6% of the trained female engineers were active in the field of education and teaching. The limits of the meaningfulness become clear here: It remains unclear whether the trained engineers actually work in an engineering profession or as managers and professors with an engineering background. One thing is certain, however: In Germany, little by little more women are getting excited about the engineering profession. And as the number of women engineers increases, so does the number of convincing mentors for the generations to come.

Further topics:

How women with career ambitions draw attention to themselves


A contribution by:

  • Lisa Diez-Holz

    The author was content manager for the TechnikKarriere-News-Portal of the VDI Verlag from 2017 to the end of 2019. She previously wrote for VDI nachrichten as an editor.