Published December 10, 2015
While acceptance of females in STEM professions in Pakistan has come a long way, the percentage of women working in engineering remains considerably lower than men. Women make up roughly half of Pakistan’s population. Yet, according to the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology, there is only one female for every nine males working in engineering and technology in Pakistan.
“There is a phenomenal amount of gender gap in STEM,” said Ramla Qureshi, a Pakistani native and MS student in civil engineering at the University at Buffalo (UB). “I thought this is not right. We are not utilizing the talents of half the population.”
As an undergraduate student in Pakistan, Qureshi and her fellow female engineering classmates made up just 5 percent of her graduating class. She decided to start a Facebook page as a way to promote conversation among current and future female engineers in her country. The page drew so much attention that she soon established a non-profit organization with the goal of encouraging female participation in engineering.
Today, Women Engineers in Pakistan aims to close the gender gap in STEM through the coordination of seminars, workshops, software training, resume screenings, mock interviews and other outreach efforts designed to help prepare the country's next generation of women engineers.
"There are equal opportunities for male and females in Pakistan today, but a lot of girls don’t understand that this profession is open to them or what it even means to be an engineer," said Qureshi, a Fulbright Scholar who came to UB to pursue graduate studies in structural and earthquake engineering.
Women Engineers in Pakistan strives to engage females at the high school level, university level and professional level. Female engineers and scientists deliver seminars and mentor female college students. Campus ambassador teams, composed of female and male university students, visit high schools to introduce girls to engineering and other STEM careers.
This October, Qureshi had the opportunity to give a presentation about Women Engineers in Pakistan at WE15, the National Society of Women Engineers' global conference held this year in Nashville, Tennessee. In her talk, she spoke about the challenges faced by female engineers working in a male-dominated profession, and introduced some ideas her non-profit is pursuing to promote the inclusion of women in STEM professions.
"I wasn’t expecting the response to be so huge," Qureshi said. Following her talk, she attended a career fair at the conference and was overwhelmed by the number of employers and other conference attendees who had seen her speak and told her they wanted to help.
Currently working on her thesis under the advisement of Professor Michel Bruneau, Qureshi's research is examining the effect of strong motion shaking on steel plate shear walls. Following her graduate studies, she plans to pursue a combination of research and industry work back in Pakistan. When asked if she will continue to work with Women Engineers in Pakistan, Qureshi said "absolutely."
“At this point, people are actually looking for women in science and technology and engineering. There are lots of doors opening and it’s very encouraging.”