Different or More of the Same? Malaysian Women in Engineering and Technology Fields

SWE’s Research team explores the progress and challenges in improving gender parity in Malaysia.
Different or More of the Same? Malaysian Women in Engineering and Technology Fields -

In recent years, SWE garnered media interest by holding its first Asian regional event in Malaysia. The Society has also seen a growing demand for its programs and services as Malaysia is now the fourth largest SWE membership country.

According to a report by UNESCO, Malaysia stands out for being one of the few countries where women have reached parity in terms of representation among research scientists and engineers (UNESCO, 2017). Indeed, in the most recent Statistics on Women Empowerment in Selected Domains (2017) published by the Department of Statistics in Malaysia, women represent approximately 37% of students enrolled in engineering, manufacturing, and construction fields in higher education in 2016. Their representation is even higher among students attending public universities, where they represent almost 46% of students enrolled in engineering, manufacturing, and construction (see Figure 1). Further, 29% of registered graduate engineers, or those who graduated with engineering degrees, are women, which is higher than the 22% of Bachelor’s degree holders in engineering who are women in the United States (NSF, 2021). This is surprising given that a lower proportion (6.3%) of Malaysian adolescent girls surveyed in the 2018 PISA survey expressed intentions of having a science or engineering career compared to 7.1% of girls from OECD countries who indicated they did.

Different or More of the Same? Malaysian Women in Engineering and Technology Fields -
Figure 1. Students enrolled in engineering, manufacturing, and construction by Gender and Institution Type, 2014-2016

Yet, this representation does not automatically carry over among engineering professionals. As shown in the recent annual reports from the Board of Engineers Malaysia, women are severely underrepresented among professional engineers and professional engineers with practicing certificates (see Figure 2). For example, in 2019, women represented about 7% of professional engineers with practicing certificates, which is the highest professional level engineers tend to achieve in Malaysia. It’s possible that these lower rates of representation are due to similar stereotypes portraying engineering as masculine that steer women away from engineering in Western countries. 

 In the tech sector, a Stanford article indicates that gender roles in technology differ in Malaysia compared to other countries, such as the United States. For instance, because professional computing occupations tend to occur indoors, these are perceived to be more feminine jobs compared to work that occurs outdoors, and so women can participate in computing occupations without being stigmatized. However, recent data on Malaysian women’s participation in computing and technological fields is not readily available to confirm whether women’s representation fares better in these fields than in engineering. 

Different or More of the Same? Malaysian Women in Engineering and Technology Fields -
Figure 2. Registered Engineers by Level and Gender, 2016-2019.

 Interested readers can learn more about women’s participation in engineering and technology fields in Malaysia . Looking to connect with other SWE members in Malaysia? Contact SWE Global Ambassador Seok Yian Chai at seok.yian.chai@hp.com.

Author bio:

Ursula Nguyen is a doctoral candidate in STEM Education at The University of Texas at Austin. She has a BS in Biomedical Engineering from UT-Austin. Prior to returning to UT, she was a first-grade Bilingual math and science teacher in Houston, TX. There, she was also the first-grade Math lead at her school. Her research interest on issues of equity in STEM education at the intersection of race/ethnicity and gender stems from her experiences as both an educator of STEM subjects and as a past engineering student. Currently, she is a graduate research assistant for Dr. Riegle-Crumb and a graduate research intern at SWE.

 

 

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  • Different or More of the Same? Malaysian Women in Engineering and Technology Fields

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