Women in EcoCAR
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
Where We Are
UW EcoCAR recently welcomed UW Provost Mark Richards to the lab and gave him a tour as part of a larger day spent in the engineering department. Overall the visit went well but there was a clear dark spot on the day. Toward the end of the tour Richards asked “How many women are on the team?”. We gave a soft answer, “We’re working on improving but some of our best team members are women” and frantically searched the lab for female members before the question was deflected to our Project Manager Kat Mikhaylyuta, the only female member of the management team. The Provost and his team clearly weren’t impressed by our numbers and frankly neither are we.
Currently the UW EcoCAR roster has 70 students on it, of those 70 only 17 are women. When it comes to leadership positions we’re doing about the same with women making up 25% of the management team and 23% of leadership positions. Right now the in the entire College of Engineering, 28% of degree earners are female. That’s far from gender parity but it’s still better than our 22-23% (which admittedly can vary based on how correct our current roster is). We as a team need to do a better job at recruiting women on campus, empowering them for leadership positions, and reaching out before they come to college.
However, according to one student “EcoCAR is one of the more inclusive engineering groups I’ve seen.” In contrast, though, she added “I was at a meeting and the entire time I only heard male voices”. There are also positive signs that EcoCAR as a whole is succeeding in closing the gender gap in STEM. Between the EcoCAR 2 and EcoCAR 3 competitions, The percentage of female participants rose by 10%. For context in the previous ten competitions the overall percentage of female participants only rose by 4%. At a higher level, the Executive committee for the AVTC Series is over 50% women as well and outreach to underrepresented populations has become a major part of the competition.
What’s Happening in the Larger Industry?
This isn’t just a problem here at UW EcoCAR, the gender gap in the entire engineering field is severe. According to The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), only 13% of engineers in the workforce are women. Down the line this only creates a less inviting space for prospective female engineers to join. The SWE also says that only 30% of women who earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering are still in the field 20 years later, and of the women who have left engineering “30% site organizational climate as the reason”.
There have been changes in a positive direction recently though. We were recently given a tour of the Blue Origin (Jeff Bezos’ space travel company) factory and were informed that last year they reached gender parity in their internship program. There are also more and more women in leadership positions in the auto industry. In 2014 Mary Barra became the CEO of Competition Sponsor General Motors. Also becoming the first female CEO of any automaker worldwide. As CEO, Barra has instituted a number of changes and diversity initiatives within the company.
At the collegiate level we’ve also seen a 54% increase in bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering and computer science to women.
What We’re Doing To Change
The gender gap is a systemic problem in the industry and educational system, but we can still play our part in fixing it. This month we’ve challenged each sub team to set reasonable goals that they think they can reach in the recruiting process on the way to gender parity. We have pledged to work more closely with the UW chapter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Women in Science & Engineering (WiSE) program from the College of Engineering.
Reach over 30% women on each team in the next hiring cycle. At a minimum we can reach the demographics of the engineering school we are a part of.
Fill at least 50% of the leadership roles with women. The next year will see a number of our team leads finishing their bachelor’s degrees and leaving the team, opening up a number of leadership positions.
Increase on campus outreach with women’s groups. When recruiting each team now has to actively seek out talented female applicants.
Increase outreach to local girls schools and programs aimed at getting girls grades 6-12 engaged with STEM. Current competition rules only require one event to be targeted at underrepresented populations, we as a team are now requiring at least three.