Is Chemical Engineering a good career choice for women? This is a very valid question!
Short answer, it absolutely is a good option for women! Chemical Engineering as a discipline is quite exemplary in terms of female enrolment and representation.
To set the tone for the article, I did some research to understand the reasons why women choose and persist with a degree in Chemical Engineering.
I also quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to adequately answer this question as a male chemical engineer. To better my understanding, I sat down and had a conversation with a female friend and previous coworker, Onyinye who currently works as a Chemical Engineer in the Chemicals Industry.
I’ll be sharing a lot of the nuggets of wisdom she shared with me in our interview throughout this article but first things first, let’s try and break this question down a bit more
I’d like to believe that before considering Chemical Engineering as a profitable and rewarding career, you somewhat have an idea of what it entails.
If not, don’t fret! We’ve written an article that will hopefully contextualize the rest of this post for you and help you know if Chemical Engineering is right for you!. If you are interested in learning how to become a chemical engineer, we walk you through this process here.
Chemical Engineering is all about problem solving and critical thinking which requires a good understanding of the application of chemical and physical principles.
If all those things pique your interest, you can definitely warm up to the idea that Chemical Engineering is for you regardless of your gender!
Let’s be real, the fact that Chemical Engineering has been questioned as a good career choice for women means that there are experiences/stories that would most likely suggest that it has not been favourable to some women in industry.
It’s an unfortunate reality and a sad consequence of the world we live in but there is a silver lining!
Chemical Engineering amongst other engineering disciplines has been referred to as a pocket of success (POS) in terms of female enrolment at the undergraduate level.
Catherine Brawner defined POS as follows in her article “Factors Affecting Women’s Persistence in Chemical Engineering”:
Let’s take a look at the data from a survey conducted by the National Council of Deans of Engineering and Applied Science and Engineering (NCDEAS)
It is easy to see why ChE is considered a pocket of success, having the third highest level of female enrollment. Data from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) also shows that Chemical Engineering boasts a relatively high percentage of female enrollment (35%).
I was also able to roughly extrapolate the data from the NCDEAS survey by averaging the year on year percent woman representation and discovered that female enrollment in Chemical Engineering stands to grow at a rate of 1% in the next 7 years.
This is relatively low compared to disciplines such as Mechanical and Computer Engineering (rate of growth of 4%) although both degrees currently have some of the lowest numbers of women within them (average female representation of 10.7% – there is definitely room for growth!)
To make even more of a case for ChE definitely being a woman’s career, the study by ASEE found that 18% of engineering degrees awarded to women are from ChE compared with 8% of engineering degrees awarded to men.
18% vs 8%. More women enrolled in engineering graduate with a Chemical Engineering degree!
The numbers definitely speak in the favor of Chemical Engineering being a woman’s career but I couldn’t help but try to understand why.
Although the numbers tell a positive story, there are still women who have found themselves questioning their career choices within Chemical Engineering.
I imagine that as a reader, you may be asking yourself the question posed in the title “Is Chemical Engineering a Woman’s Career” or “Is Chemical Engineering Good for a Woman” at different stages of your journey,
You may be a first year student deciding on ChE as your major or a highschool student exploring your career options. You may even be considering the impact of being a woman in your job hunt in a competitive, male dominated market.
Regardless of this reality, it is important to emphasize that exemplary women exist who have braved adversity and gone on to have excellent academic and professional careers in Chemical Engineering.
As I reflected a bit more on the stories of some of my female ChE friends, I wanted to understand the nature of the environments (academic and career) that encouraged these women to continue to strive, to keep going.
How did they do it? How will you do it?
In 2015, a research paper was published by Catherine Brawner et al in the International Journal of Engineering Education discussing the factors responsible for women persisting with a Chemical Engineering degree.
Whilst the factors discussed in the paper are mostly tailored towards university experiences, I believe they also provide justifiable reasons for why many women have also persisted in their Chemical Engineering careers.
In the same way, I would also present this as “5 Tips for Thriving in Chemical Engineering as a Woman”
Here’s the list:
There’s nothing better than sharing life experiences with people who understand what you are going through and I believe every female engineer is aware of the gender disparity that exists in the profession.
Throughout my undergraduate degree, you could always tell that the women in my year shared a special connection beyond the classroom. A lot of them volunteered as members of the Women in Engineering club and had a collective passion to help each other succeed.
It was truly something special! I recall one of my co-op experiences where one of the engineering managers (female of course) organized lunches with the female engineering staff. I found it encouraging because I knew that they felt heard and seen in the workplace as female engineers.
If you are wondering if Chemical Engineering is the right choice for you as a woman, I would encourage you to connect with colleagues and other professionals! Chances are they have asked the same questions and found strength from success stories around them.
Talk about a perfect segue. When I asked Onyinye what kept her going through her Chemical Engineering degree, she mentioned that she had female engineers as family members to look up to for inspiration.
There’s inspiration all around you! You may not have female family members who are Chemical Engineers but we are fortunate to live in such a connected world. You have university professors, industry professionals, and other students all at the tip of your fingers. Social media platforms like Reddit, LinkedIn and Facebook make it so easy to connect with like-minded people.
Use these platforms to find inspirational women who have attained some level of success in their careers as Chemical Engineers. Ask the questions you have always wanted to ask and you will be amazed with how willing most people are to share their knowledge and advice.
The best way to know if Chemical Engineering is truly a career for women would be to see it firsthand and make a judgement call.
There are a few benefits to this. Firstly, not only will you be gaining valuable career experience and industry skills, you will also potentially find yourself in a workplace filled with exemplary women who are at the head of innovation and design (depending on the industry you work in).
I cannot speak for every workplace or department of Chemical Engineering in every university.
I would again encourage you to connect with female professors or if you are currently working, female coworkers. As mentioned, they most likely understand any frustrations you may feel as they would have already pondered the many questions you have regarding your place as a woman in the profession.
For those who may be in the job market, I would encourage you to ask about the company culture during your interviews. This often gives a good sense of how you will be treated as an individual as well as a good opportunity to learn about the values of your prospective employer.
That being said, most companies and universities around the world are committed to inclusivity and freedom of expression. However, it is important that you do your due diligence to obtain a sense of what your prospective company/university is really about.
When all else fails, you can always look back at your accomplishments. I’m sure it hasn’t been easy to get where you are and it has definitely taken a lot of hardwork and sacrifice.
That itself is a justifiable reason why Chemical Engineering is for you! Being an engineer is hard work yet the challenges are accompanied by rewards.
At whatever stage you are in your academic or professional career, I am sure you can always look back in pride at what you have accomplished and how far you have come.
Don’t take your journey for granted. It may be difficult to have perspective in tough situations but it is important to stay mindful and not disregard your “small” beginnings.”
I think the most important place to start when answering this question is knowing if Chemical Engineering is right for you. As mentioned previously, we have another article that we believe will help you answer this question first and foremost.
If you’ve read that article and are thinking to yourself, “Yeah, Chemical Engineering and I are a match made in engineering heaven, Ola!” great!
Chemical Engineering is considered a pocket of success amongst its sister disciplines due to its comparatively higher level of female participation. To be exact, female enrollment in Chemical Engineering stands at 35% according to a survey from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).
The numbers definitely speak in your favor!
Regardless, it shouldn’t be ignored that the question of whether Chemical Engineering is good for women is being asked for good reason. A lot of women have detailed experiences of misogyny and unfair treatment in the workplace. I personally want to acknowledge my knowledge of this being limited as a man writing this article and more importantly, strive not to be ignorant.
From the women I have spoken to and seen attain great levels of success in their careers so far, I can confidently say without a shadow of a doubt that Chemical Engineering is a career for women!
If you are in doubt of this, it is important to reflect on some of the 5 tips we’ve provided on how to persist and thrive in your Chemical Engineering journey as a woman: Sisterhood, Real World Examples, Real World Experiences, Caring Faculty/Workplace and A Sense of Accomplishment!
If you are still looking for some more encouragement, I believe my interview with Onyinye definitely provides some good insight and perspective that will help as you navigate through your journey in Chemical Engineering. She is someone I personally look up to and was delighted to speak with me and offer some encouragement!