From the Technical Director
Women in Fire Protection Engineering
By Morgan J. Hurley, P.E., FSPE | Fire Protection Engineering
Even with the current downturn in the
global economy, the demand for fire protection engineers continues to
out-pace the supply. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the only change
for recent graduates with degrees in fire protection engineering is that
where five years ago they had 5-7 job offers in their choice of
geographic area, they now may need to consider moving when they accept a
On January 16, 2003, the SFPE conducted a
"summit" to identify strategies for increasing the size of the
qualified fire protection engineering workforce. This "summit" was
attended by leaders in the public and private sectors, as well as
student and faculty representatives from universities in the United
One of the top five strategies identified for recruiting into the
fire protection engineering profession was to target efforts towards
women. According to a study conducted as part of the process for
establishing the content for the principles and practice of fire
protection engineering examination,1 less than 10% of
practicing fire protection engineers are women. Increasing the number of
women who choose fire protection engineering as a profession could have
a significant impact on the total number of people who enter the field.
The low number of women is not unique to
fire protection engineering: in the broader field of engineering, women
account for 20% of engineering graduates. What's more alarming than this
low number is that women only comprise 11% of the engineering
workforce.2 Therefore, almost half of all women engineers
leave the field after graduating with an engineering degree. So, the
engineering profession faces two challenges that must be overcome to
increase the number of women engineers: recruit more women into academic
programs, and keep those that choose engineering as a profession.
One reason that women do not choose
engineering as a career is that they feel that engineering does not
provide them an opportunity to help people through their work.3 Women
are more likely than men to seek careers where they can help people,
and many women perceive that engineering does not offer that
Only one in four women who left the field stated that they did so to focus on raising a family.2 The other reasons cited include:
Nearly half identified working
conditions, too frequent travel, lack of advancement potential, or low
One-in-three stated a dislike of the workplace climate, supervisor, or the office culture.
Of the women who have chosen to remain in
the engineering workforce, many identified key supportive people within
their organization, such as supervisors or co-workers. Conversely,
women engineers who felt that they were treated in a condescending or
patronizing manner, or were belittled or undermined by their supervisors
or coworkers were more likely to leave their employers, and the
engineering profession altogether.2
The work of fire protection engineers
directly contributes towards making the built environment safer for
people, which is consistent with the desire of many women for careers
where they can help people.3 And, a career in fire protection engineering pays well.
So, what can fire protection engineers do
to make fire protection engineering a more attractive career choice for
women? One relatively simple thing would be to highlight how fire
protection engineers make the world a safer place when speaking with
young women who might consider a career in math, science or engineering.
Indeed, "fire protection engineers use science to make our world safe
from fire" is one of the "messages" that SFPE has developed to help
raise awareness of the profession.4
Kalinowski, B. "Professional Activities
and Knowledge/Skills Study for the NCEES Principles and Practice
Engineering Fire Protection Examination," National Council of Examiners
for Engineering and Surveying, Clemson, SC, 2010.
Fouad, N. & Singh, R. "Stemming the
Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering," University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee,
Diekman, A., et al., "Seeking Congruity Between Goals and Roles - A
New Look at Why Women Opt Out of Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics Careers," Psychological Science, 21, 8 pp. 1051-1057.
Hurley, M. "Spreading the Word," Fire Protection Engineering, Winter, 2005, p. 60.
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