It Is More Than Just Stereotypes Contributing To The Lack Of Women In The Engineering Field

By Molly Connell

Kids constantly hear that if they study hard and work hard for it, they can become whoever they want to. Sounds good, but is that all? Working for it is one thing, but having the right motivation to keep you going as a key component to success is seldom mentioned.

In Engineering, gender equality is only an optimistic dream at the moment. In the United States, only 13% of practicing engineers are women, a surprisingly low number if we take in consideration, that 46.8% of the total workforce is female.

While Engineer was in the top five male dream jobs in Australia, India, and many other countries, only 2,1% of women dreamt of becoming an engineer worldwide. Instead, becoming a teacher is how professional females pictured their future as a child. This mindset obviously has an effect on the jobs women actually take on later in life. According to the US department of labor, the 3 most common female jobs in 2014 were “Secretary and administrative assistance”, “Elementary and middle school teacher” and “Registered nurses”.

Why do we assume engineering is for men? Within high school, girls and boys participate at a 50-50 rate in the key qualification subjects, and still, only 20% of engineering graduates are women. It is certainly not because women are capable of less. Men earn lower GPAs and credits in their first semester of college largely because they enter college with lower non-cognitive skills, captured by lower high school grades. After the first semester, males fall further behind their female counterparts in grades and credits.

The reasoning behind it is rather psychological. Experts explain the phenomenon of female under-representation in male-dominated fields like engineering with Stereotype threat, “a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group”.

To help understand, as a psychological coping strategy to maintain self-esteem in the face of failure, girls may stop seeing themselves as “a math person” and distance themselves from a group after experiencing a series of situations in which she experienced stereotype, such as being the only girl among boys. This can also lead to performing worse on math tests or to an increased cardiovascular activation.

And not only does society and it’s stereotypes keep women from entering certain fields, the negative work experiences provoke about 1/3 of those who did receive an engineering degree, to leave and change carriers. Susan Silbey, Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology at MIT said “For many women, their first encounter with collaboration is to be treated in gender stereotypical ways, mostly by their peers”. Women are often relegated to do managerial and secretarial tasks, instead of given equally challenging tasks as their male peers.

When digging deeper into the subject, one can find, that besides having their cognitive capabilities underestimated, women are often exposed to sexual harassment (for example explained by one of Uber’s female employee).

So there’s really no reason why we should be surprised women are hesitant to become an engineer. If we want women to have the same chance at entering all work-fields, these type of mistreatment have to stop. While there are many companies and organizations which made admirable initiatives to improve the current situation, a lot of effort and work is still required to reach gender equality.

This infographic created by Trade Machines tries to explore why only such few women end up in an engineering job, even though being well qualified.

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