There are notable differences in the representation of men and women in engineering across various job sectors.

By Rebeca Petean, SWE Research Analyst

The participation of women in the U.S. workforce has seen significant changes over the past few decades. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the labor force participation rate for women aged 16 and over was 56.2% in 2020. This figure represents a significant increase from the 1950s, when the participation rate hovered around 34%.¹ Research also indicates that in the 2019–2020 time period, women earned more than half of all bachelor’s degrees (57.7%), master’s degrees (61.4%), and doctorate degrees (55.2%).² However, despite these achievements, women make up only 28% of the science and engineering workforce.³ This underrepresentation in STEM is a well-documented challenge in the United States.⁴

Sector divide

To gain a better understanding of the employment sectors in which women are most (or least) represented, the Society of Women Engineers analyzed data from a report by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities 2023. SWE found that the representation of women and men in industry, federal government, nonprofits, self-employment, state or local government, universities, and other educational institutions varies substantially. SWE’s data analysis shows that in the U.S. workforce, which has more than 30 million people, employment is almost evenly split between men (52%) and women (48%). However, when looking more closely at different job sectors, important differences in how men and women are represented highlight significant gender disparities.

Also, when comparing the percentage of women in the overall U.S. workforce with their representation within the engineering sector, a significant gap emerges. The highest percentage of women in engineering is found in universities and four-year colleges (around 22%), while the lowest is in business or industry (around 15%).

A closer look

In addition to the gender gaps that exist across all engineering sectors, the data suggest that the female engineering workforce is concentrated in specific sectors. Women engineers are most often found in the private sector, with 73.1% employed in business or industry. Just 8% of women engineers are employed by universities and four-year colleges and 8% by the federal government, and only 6.1% are employed by state or local governments. Only 2.6% are self-employed; even fewer (1.9%) work in the nonprofit sector; and very few (0.3%) work at other educational institutions.

However, when compared against male engineers, women are more heavily represented in education and government versus the private sector, with 79.5% of male engineers working in business or industry. Interestingly, women engineers are more likely than men to be self-employed (2.6% versus 2.0%).


The findings of this analysis underscore the multifaceted nature of gender distribution across the U.S. workforce. Women’s higher representations in education and government compared to men’s may indicate that these sectors offer more benefits and supports that women seek from their employers, such as flexible work hours and greater pay transparency. The underrepresentation of women engineers across employment sectors not only reflects existing societal and educational barriers but also points to missed opportunities for innovation and diverse perspectives across these fields.

Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (2023). Table 1.6. Diversity and STEM: Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities. National Science Foundation.

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Women in the labor force: A databook. U.S. Department of Labor. bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/2021/home.htm
2 National Center for Education Statistics (2021). IPEDS Degree/Certificate Completion Survey. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/
3 National Science Foundation (2023). S&E Workforce Statistics. https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf23315/
4 American Association of University Women (2023). The STEM Gap. www.aauw.org/issues/education/stem/