Where Are The Women In Engineering and Technology Fields?
Women have made great progress in the workplace over the years. Especially in the predominately male fields of Business, Law, and Medicine. The fields of Science, Technology, Math and Engineering still have very low numbers of female participation. According to the Society of Women Engineers, in the United States, 20% of graduate students in the field of Engineering are women. Only 11% of the engineering workforce as of 2003 were women. Why are women not pursuing careers in the areas of Engineering and Technology? Research points to social and environmental factors as well as college environment and stereo types / bias.
From very early on girls are encouraged to play with baby dolls and boys are given construction play sets, cars, and puzzles. Boys learn things like spatial skills very early on. Males consistently do better than women when it comes to tasks that require spatial skills. However, with a small amount of training women are able to perform on the same level as their male counterpart. High school is a great place for this additional training to take place. Though it is rarely promoted or done. Encouraging females to take a shop class or something like drafting and design can help prepare females tremendously for degrees in Engineering and Technology.
Changing The Learning Environment
Females that take higher levels of math such as Calculus while in high school are better prepared for degrees in these fields. Most don't take these type of classes because they are either not interested or because they know they will be one of few females in that class. If high schools promoted it, encouraged it, and made females feel more welcome it would help in the recruitment of females for Engineering and Technology areas of study. Studies show that if females are encouraged in areas of math and told they perform the same as their male counterparts they end up doing just that. Otherwise they have the idea in their heads that they are not as smart as the guy next to them and end up performing as they think. When high schools and colleges encourage females in these subjects like math they excel. By changing the learning environment we are able to get that female participation and performance. This requires parents as well as teachers encouraging their daughters and female students in these subjects.
Groups and Societies
Many females who do enroll in engineering programs end up dropping out of them and not finishing. Reasons include not feeling like they are part of the group or not having the support they need to get through the programs. Many colleges are catching on to changing their learning environments so they can capture and maintain that female enrollment. For example, Ohio State University has a Women in Engineering program that promotes a supportive and inclusive environment for women who are enrolled in their engineering programs. There are many other colleges that are doing the same as Ohio State so they can keep these young female engineers in their programs to provide the needed diversity in the field. Another large society for female engineers after graduation is the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). They provide a community for women in the field of Engineering as well as support programs to mentor young women that are interested in the field of Engineering. They have a program in place of Introducing a Girl To Engineering Today. Things like this is what is needed to increase female participation in these fields.
Bias has also been shown to limit women's progress in the fields of Engineering and Technology. Women are thought to be less competent in math and science. If teachers believe this, it comes out in the way they teach their students. If women realize that the bias exists they can take steps to overcome it. They have to know that it is not personal. They are not alone and it is not just them. Bias affects attitudes towards others. Most of the time bias is subconscious. Becoming aware can help determine if bias is a part of your decision making.
To help gain an understanding of your own biases you can go to https://implicit.harvard.edu and take the Implicit Association Test.
My College Experience
My college experience as a female in engineering was a positive one. I spent quite a few years between Southside Virginia Community College and Old Dominion University being the only female in my engineering classes. I often wondered why there were no more females interested in taking Electrical Engineering and Electronics. In the beginning I felt really out of place in Electronics class while all my other female peers were taking courses in Nursing and Business. As I progressed in the program I found my place and realized that I was just as smart as the guy next to me. I was just different. I asked more questions than my male counterpart but was told by many professors that asking questions was a good thing. I was also told that most males were too ashamed to ask questions for fear of looking stupid. It didn't matter to me since I figured it was better to ask before blowing something up. I was very different from my male counterpart. I approached things differently, asked questions, and brought them together in conversation on topics when the typical was to just answer the question and not discuss it. I felt like things were harder for me to understand or some concepts were harder for me to grasp than it was for them. I think this is very true of many females when it comes to subjects such as mathematics. I could see my weaknesses when it came to spatial skills while in school. I needed that little extra in some topics to understand and perform on what I felt was the same level. For example, I took an extra class in Autocad to understand 3D concepts. That helped me tremendously when it came to other areas of study within my curriculum.
I Had A Great Experience
My professors were great and gave me every opportunity to feel comfortable as well as provided me with a wonderful learning environment. They did not have to do that. I think they knew that I as a woman in engineering needed a different style of learning at times or just needed to feel included. I was after all the only female. I have in the past worked with my schools to help recruit students for the Electronics and Engineering programs. I always tried to make sure the females knew that it was a great field to go into and to not be intimidated by any of it. It is a great opportunity to be unique and shine. If I could do it, anyone could.
Engineer's View of Women
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