Women in engineering -- with a Chinese perspective
Jurgens recognizes how unusual she is: A woman engineer running a large technology operation -- in China. She's interested in attracting more American women to engineering careers, and has been able to see how China could offer some insights. More than 40% of engineering students in China are female, roughly double the percentage in the U.S. In both countries, however, there's still the challenge of keeping women in engineering roles once they enter the workforce.
"I remember being the only woman in some of my engineering classes," Jurgens recalled. "Early in my career, I kept my head low. It was male-dominated and I didn't want to stand out. Now, I'm very secure and really do look to mentor engineers. I'm aware I can have a big impact. It's not always going to be a perfect fit for some women."
Jurgens said the Chinese education system traditionally has directed students into specific degree programs such as engineering based on aptitude tests. "Until recently, what you studied in school in China was heavily influenced by your test scores and your parents, not your personal preference. I believe these two influences are key factors in why there are more female engineering students in China than the U.S."
As for her own interest in engineering, "My family gave me confidence and support and I just loved math and science. I was always going to be a math teacher or an engineer and there was never a question of that when I was growing up. There's always natural talent that matters, but a big part is the family unit and encouraging women. We have to help people understand what a great career you can have with a science background. Engineering and science as a career is cool and we need to help boys and girls in the U.S. understand that to sustain interest."
As a female engineer and business leader in China, Jurgens said she's noticed little gender discrimination. "There's very little gender difference here in China, I think. I am treated with tremendous respect here. The response I get is partially due to the credibility I have earned with my technical experience and leadership skills. I also know that's because of my position in the organization. Chinese culture is very hierarchical, where knowledge and experience are highly valued."
Entering the engineering field has clearly created a variety of opportunities, Jurgens said. "I would tell young women to choose a career where you will wake up every day looking forward to going to work. I love to solve hard problems, to have the chance to be innovative and to make a difference every day.
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