10 Fields Where the Glass Ceiling Isn't Even Cracked


Mechanical Engineer

female engineer, Germany
At a Mercedes-AMG engine production factory in Germany, a female engineer builds a M157 5.5L V8 biturbo engine. Tim Graham/Getty Images

Much talk about gender inequity in jobs centers around increasing the number of women in the STEM field: science, technology, engineering and math. And the engineering specialty that's most-lopsided for gender balance is mechanical engineering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2015 there were 323,000 mechanical engineers in the U.S., yet only 8.3 percent of those were women, a slight drop from 2014.

Mechanical engineers design, manufacture and test machines and other mechanical and thermal devices. While it's tempting to dismiss the disparity by saying women typically don't like this kind of work, or aren't good at it, that's not true. In China, a third of mechanical engineers are women [source: Sorrentino].

Experts say American culture is likely at fault — girls aren't encouraged to study STEM subjects as much as boys are. They're often told they're not as good at math as boys, or that they might find a career like engineering too difficult. In addition, some say, the profession as a whole doesn't do a good job of explaining the importance of engineering to everyday life — whether it's designing prosthetic hands or making fire-resistant pajamas. "[Engineers] do an especially poor job reaching out to girls and women to say: The field wants you. It needs you. It's filled with opportunity," wrote Gary Robbins in The San Diego Union-Tribune.