Great Engineering Breakthroughs

What do you think was the most important engineering breakthrough in past 125?

5 December 2008

This Month’s Question
Great Engineering Breakthroughs

As 2009 approaches, IEEE, which traces its origins to the founding of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1884, prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary. The organization has seen many important engineering breakthroughs over the years, including the development of electric power, radio, television, telecommunications, computers, satellites and space probes, health care technology, and the Internet.

What was the most important engineering breakthrough of the past 125 years? Why?

Respond to this question by e-mail or regular mail. Space may not permit publication of all responses, but we’ll try to draw a representative sample. Responses will appear in the June issue of The Institute and may be edited for brevity. Suggestions for questions are welcome.


Responses to September’s question

A recent study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, a nonprofit that researches women and work, concluded that women leave science, engineering, and technology in disproportionate numbers because of gender bias. Although women enter the three fields in high numbers—41 percent of employees are women—and 75 percent of them score well on performance reviews at the beginning of their careers, 52 percent later leave.
According to the study, they’re driven out by a “pervasive macho culture” in which women face strong bias, dismissive attitudes, and sexual harassment. From your experience, do you agree with these findings?


It’s a Matter of Attitude

There is no doubt that there is a glass ceiling for women, but I feel a lot depends on a woman’s attitude. If we maintain a professional attitude and show that the quality of our work is excellent, the attitudes of our co-workers can be modified. In a workplace made up of mostly men, I feel my behavior dictates how people behave toward me.

Noida, India


Know the Possibilities

I find that female engineers do not know their worth when they negotiate their salaries when joining a company. It would help if companies reported salary survey findings focused specifically on women. Explaining what skills are expected for specific entry-level jobs would help women become more confident in their abilities and the rewards they can obtain.

Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Nice People

If I wore a dress when I started engineering in the 1970s, my co-workers would constantly find a reason to have me climb up or crawl under something. There were dirty jokes and flirting, and one man even refused to give me work. However, I was included in office parties and lunches, and most of my male co-workers were generally nice.

Lafayette, Ind.

Better Jobs

I haven’t found that women are driven out by strong biases. Most of the women I have worked with left engineering to pursue other opportunities. They found different careers that were more rewarding. I believe when we’re young we follow our imagination into a profession that stimulates our dreams; however, once we’re there, we sometimes find the work doesn’t fulfill those dreams, so we change careers.


Advantage: Women

In the early stages of my career, there was undoubtedly discrimination toward women. They were simply not taken seriously, and sometimes they were targets of sexual harassment. However, now I feel women have a distinct advantage because of government pressure to hire more women and promote them to higher levels. I find that scientists usually don’t think about the presence or absence of women in their field, but if you mention that it is becoming an issue, committees bend over backward to hire women whenever possible.

Hyattsville, Md.

A Lonely Job

The biggest problem with bias against women is isolation. When I graduated college, I became the first person my company hired right out of school in eight years. I was the only woman and the youngest engineer in my department, with the next youngest one 15 years older. I had no one I could really relate to. I then moved to another company where, until two months ago, I was the youngest individual in my job category. Today we still have only six women in management positions.

Westwood, Mass.

Baby Boom

I worked at a company for five years, and during that time no female engineer was promoted; however, during the same time span, 17 male engineers were promoted. The male-to-female employee ratio was 7:3 and stayed consistent during those five years. In addition, when one of my co-workers became pregnant, our manager went around to the rest of the female employees and asked us when we were getting pregnant, using the sentiment, “because women always get pregnant in packs.”

Farmington, Mich.

Weak Link

As women decide to have children, the corporate leaders across the science and engineering disciplines see it as a lack of commitment to the company and as a loss of experience. After women return from maternity leave, many need more flexible hours and time off to take care of their children. Companies might see that as a hassle. Since they pay little attention to helping their employees find a balance between family and corporate goals, many companies believe that women are a weak link in the system.

Webster, Texas

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