For several decades, women have contributed to the growth of the oil and gas industry worldwide, which is progressing to an almost-level playing field. These pioneers have fought for women's rights, struggled to be treated and viewed the same as their male counterparts, and refused to be locked into a role set forth by men, family and society.
But to continue cultivating and encouraging the next generation to shatter the glass ceiling, the inspiration has to start at a young age.
The decline in young women's self-confidence – even the confidence of very talented students who are succeeding in what they do – is a societal problem, according to the study "A Comprehensive Evaluation of Women in Engineering Programs", conducted by Goodman Research Group, Inc.
The study stated that while women currently represent a fraction of the oil industry's workforce, women are even scarcer in engineering and other technical fields that are the lifeblood of the business.
Engineering jobs in the oil and gas industry include:
Currently, the demand for engineers in the industry is at its highest with many petroleum companies feeling there is a shortage of technical skills across the industry. There is a general consensus that a mismatch between the skills required by the industry and what is being produced from universities needs to be addressed.
Statistically, women make up 56.8 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but only 8.5 percent of the country's engineers are women. On average, women compose only 20 percent of enrollment in engineering schools and are both: less likely to choose engineering as a major and more likely to switch from an engineering major than men, stated the Goodman Research Group study.
"It's a broad societal challenge to get more women interested in science and engineering," said Susan Larson, assistant dean and director of the women in engineering program at University of Illinois in Urbana.
In 2009, the percentage of undergraduate degrees from engineering schools that went to women hit 17.8 percent, a 15-year low, according to the American Society of Engineering Education. In response to such statistics, a number of formal Women in Engineering (WIE) programs have been created at universities across the nation over the past 15 years to assist in recruiting and retaining women in engineering majors. Typically, the programs are designed to offer academic and social support for female engineering undergraduates.
"Women continue to steer clear of engineering due to a lack of familiarity with the profession, particularly in terms of its potentially positive social impact, and a lack of confidence in their ability to succeed in the field," said Valle. "Girls want to know that their chosen career will benefit others."
"It will take consistent and targeted exposure to the field, to the success stories, and to the promise that, as engineers, they will be positioned to change the world for the better," Stephanie Hill, president of Lockheed Martin's Information Systems & Global Solutions-Civil division agreed.
"At the same time, we are producing fewer engineers, and the need for this profession has never been greater. Think of the many challenges facing our nation that engineers, yes engineers, grapple with every day: from protecting our national security from cyber security threats to our energy utilities and financial markets, to finding new energy solutions to decrease our independence on fuel. With the pending retirement of many of our hardest-working baby boomer engineers, it's up to the next generation workforce to step up and take on these exciting careers in engineering and it's up to the seasoned generation of engineers to drive excitement in this next generation workforce."
Forbes determined the best colleges for women and minorities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (referred to as STEM). The top 20 schools that help these underrepresented groups succeed are not your typical Ivy League schools. Pennsylvania's Westminster College topped the list, while Colby College, in Waterville, ME, came in second, followed by SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Harvey Mudd College and Williams College.
Furthermore, producing more graduates with STEM degrees is an important goal, not just for colleges, but for the future workforce. The majors with the highest starting and mid-career salaries are nearly all STEM degrees, according to Rigzone's compensation tracker.
"While the pay of a mechanical engineer was appealing, I will have endless possibilities for a career after graduation," stated Laura Carpenter, a senior at Georgia Tech University. "Ideally, the skills I have obtained should come in handy when conducting my full-time job search after graduation."
Whereas programs and universities are designing programs to meet the many needs of female engineering students, to obtain an engineering degree presents a vast variety of lucrative, well-paying career choices that will help women in any business.
"If you, as a woman, are in a job that is dominated by men, know that the general atmosphere will be that of a man's way," stated Martha Scott, a woman pioneer of the industry. "So why not be equipped with the right tools to help you succeed?"
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