Where are all the women

Being a total noob, Im risking any future reputation i might have here by starting a topic as my first post. So I'm ready for yall.

That being said, I just wanted to hear your thoughts as to what it is about engineering that turns women off to the profession. Its not the math, plenty of girls in my higher level math classes doing crazy things with numbers for their chemistry and bio coursework. But out of maybe 100 people in the engineering classes I'm enrolled in, I think 5 were female.

Another "demographic" trend I noticed is that a large part of us are international. Out of the hundred or so students, id say a quarter were actually white Americans. The rest is dominated by eastern European and African students.
Might also depend on location (I'm in Philly which is pretty diverse)
 

Math Is Hard

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,491
27
Welcome Mike. This thread should probably go under General Discussion.

I actually run into a lot of female engineering students at UCLA. We have a chapter of the Society of Women Engineers organization here.
http://www.seas.ucla.edu/swe/

Ooh! I have to have one of their shirts.
http://www.seas.ucla.edu/swe/images/swe-shirt.jpg [Broken]
Cute!
 
Last edited by a moderator:

chroot

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
10,166
34
Stereotypes of engineers pervade our culture. Engineers are usually imagined to be pretty dorky, socially inept white males. Engineers are also usually imagined to have almost no human interaction in their daily work, and are imagined to spend virtually every hour of the day hunched over some machine. Women, who tend to value social interaction more heavily than men, generally don't want a job like that, so they shy away from engineering.

In truth, engineering is as varied an occupation as business, and all kinds of different experiences are available under the umbrella of engineering. If you like sitting hunched over a machine for 18 hours a day, you can find such a job. If you prefer to spend most of your time talking to customers, travelling, and writing, you can find such a job, too.

The bottom line is that the public just doesn't have a good handle on what exactly an engineer is, and that leads to bias. The public has a pretty good handle on what it means to be a doctor or a lawyer or even an astronomer. Most people appreciate the challenges of those jobs, and know the kind of personalities that excel at them. However, when I tell people I'm an engineer, most just smile and nod and ask no more questions. In reality, the phrase I'm an engineer is almost as hopelessly vague as Oh, I have a job, you know? -- yet few people seem to understand that.

- Warren
 

DaveC426913

Gold Member
18,296
1,904
Just heard this one:

Q How do you know when an Engineer is an extrovert?
A When he's talking to you, he stares at YOUR feet.
 

Math Is Hard

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,491
27
Just heard this one:

Q How do you know when an Engineer is an extrovert?
A When he's talking to you, he stares at YOUR feet.
:rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

good one, Dave!
 

berkeman

Mentor
55,901
5,958
Just heard this one:

Q How do you know when an Engineer is an extrovert?
A When he's talking to you, he stares at YOUR feet.
:rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

But there you go again, Dave. Perpetuating the "Engineer" stereotype with your stories and jokes. You should have said,

"A When she's talking to you, she stares at YOUR feet." :biggrin:
 

chroot

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
10,166
34
Q: What do engineers use for birth control?
A: Their personalities.

(At least that one is unisex!)

- Warren
 

Math Is Hard

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,491
27
wow, chroot! Harshing on your own kind! :rofl:
 
118
1
When I went for an interview for an engineering position at Raytheon hardly any of the engineers I met in the dept as well as the simulation and modelling dept fit the stereotype. There seemed to be quite a few female engineers, all were quite social and mosts extracurricular activities didn't include consistently going home and sitting in front of the computer for another 12 hours of online gaming.

To paraphrase an car ad slogan: THese ain't your daddy's engineers :biggrin:
 
26
0
I'm almost done mech eng in Ottawa.. there where never any girls in our year, but there is one below my year.. and she said she's doing it because where she works she's an electrical engineer, and they've started to need people on more of the mechanical side, so they're paying her to take the program
 
Ive actually gotten the "for all the guys" response.. It took me a good while to admit the male version of that reason in my Intro to Dance class last semester. :)
 

Gokul43201

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
6,987
14
Ooh! I have to have one of their shirts.
http://www.seas.ucla.edu/swe/images/swe-shirt.jpg [Broken]
Cute!
Now that might explain the problem!

"SWEet"? Is that the best word they could find to describe themselves? C'mon y'all - you're engineers, not confectioners! :rolleyes: The day that T-shirt reads "SWEat" is the day I start believing it's possible (that some day, women will learn to get lids off jars).

<ducks to escape projectile launched by chocolate-cake-wielding-woman>
 
Last edited by a moderator:

Math Is Hard

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,491
27
Now that might explain the problem!

"SWEet"? Is that the best word they could find to describe themselves? C'mon y'all - you're engineers, not confectioners! :rolleyes: The day that T-shirt reads "SWEat" is the day I start believing it's possible (that some day, women will learn to get lids off jars).

<ducks to escape projectile launched by chocolate-cake-wielding-woman>
quiet, you. It's not our fault your big clumsy paws are so well-suited for lid-removing tasks. They sure aren't much use when it comes to sewing buttons back onto shirts.
 

Chris Hillman

Science Advisor
2,337
8
Politically incorrect musings?

Being a total noob, Im risking any future reputation i might have here by starting a topic as my first post. So I'm ready for yall.
I stress that I do not neccessarily believe this as stated, but some cognitive scientists who worry about average sex differences would argue that human females, on average, allegedly have poorer spatial visualization skills than human males, on average. If you believe this, and if you also believe that spatial visualization skills are important in many subjects in engineering, this might explain your observation. Have you visited your local architecture school? That would be another subject where I would expect that, if our cognitive scientist friends are correct, you might see females under-represented.

Again, I stress that I don't neccessarily believe this as stated, but some cognitive scientists have suggested that, across species, males as a group tend to be more diverse that females as a group in various metrics, for fundamental reasons related to some subtleties in how natural selection operates. Indeed, they say, as group, men vary more in height, "general intelligence", whatever, than do women. In the sense of standard deviation. So that if they are right, even if the mean GRE score by males agrees very nearly with the mean score by females, if you look at students who scored very low on the GRE, and those who scored very high, in both cases you might see females under-represented.

Just to be clear, I think it is rather obvious to anyone who has taught mathy subjects that cultural factors play an enormous role. I can recall sometimes suggesting to female students who aced calculus with no apparent difficulty that they consider double majoring in math. These students often were unwilling to consider this option seriously. I don't know whether that was because of parental or peer pressure not to go into an "unfeminine" subject, but I certainly thought I observed some peer pressure from their struggling male colleages to excell less.

Speaking of means, can you explain how it can happen that on my quiz scores (when I was a calculus TA), more than half of the students could score above the section average? Or, sometimes, more than half could score below the section average?

Another "demographic" trend I noticed is that a large part of us are international. ... Might also depend on location (I'm in Philly which is pretty diverse)
Hooray for Philly! Penn must have told DHS to where to put their distrust of foreign students.

There are some rather obvious good reasons why so many students from overseas want to study in the U.S. (or in the UK or Canada or Australia):

1. English is the international language of science and technology, and there's no better way to attain fluency than to live in an English-speaking country,

2. The leading American universities are justly renowned as among the best in the world, as are the best universities in the UK, etc., and naturally any ambitious young scholar wants to be close to the action (where most of the Nobel Prizes seem to be won, if you like),

3. After WII, at least until 9/11, the U.S. has traditionally been far more welcoming of foreign students than many other countries are. To some extent this involved strategic political descisions at a high level; to some extent, artful lobbying by canny university presidents just after Sputnik. Some of us fear that in an ill-considered over-reaction to 9/11, the U.S. might be throwing away the priceless advantage of making so many international friends by educating them here so well, often with the result that many influential persons in other countries have studied in the U.S. Such as, well, er, come to think of it this might not be the best example, just happend to the first I thought of: Isoroku Yamamoto http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isoroku_Yamamoto. Well, you say--- but consider this: Yamamoto argued very strongly against going to war with the U.S. on the grounds that Japan would certainly lose. Having been overruled (by leaders who had never traveled outside Japan), he did his duty, as he saw it. (I'm sure that if we put our minds to it, we could come up with a long list of persons who did great things for to further U.S. ties with their own countries, based in part on a positive experience studying in the U.S.)
 
Last edited:

Math Is Hard

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,491
27
I stress that I do not neccessarily believe this as stated, but some cognitive scientists who worry about average sex differences would argue that human females, on average, allegedly have poorer spatial visualization skills than human males, on average. ..
Again, I stress that I don't neccessarily believe this as stated, but some cognitive scientists have suggested that, across species, males as a group tend to be more diverse that females as a group in various metrics, for fundamental reasons related to some subtleties in how natural selection operates. Indeed, they say, as group, men vary more in height, "general intelligence", whatever, than do women. In the sense of standard deviation. So that if they are right, even if the mean GRE score by males agrees very nearly with the mean score by females, if you look at students who scored very low on the GRE, and those who scored very high, in both cases you might see females under-represented..)
Just curious...
Which cognitive scientists are you referring to? Are there particular studies that you have in mind?
 

Math Is Hard

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
4,491
27
While I don't doubt that there are physiological brain differences between the sexes, we should consider that cognitive scientists also examine the effects of stereotype on visiospatial task performance:

http://www.utexas.edu/opa/news/2006/09/communication20.html [Broken]
McGlone and his colleagues asked male and female students at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., to take the VMRT (Vandenberg Mental Rotation Test). Prior to the test, the participants completed one of three short questionnaires composed of six questions designed to cue a particular social identity: their residence in the northeastern U.S., their gender, or their status as students in a selective private college.

McGlone found that females who were primed to contemplate their identity as students at a selective private college performed at a significantly higher level on the VMRT than those primed to contemplate their gender or a test-irrelevant identity. In contrast, priming selective private college status among the male participants did not improve their performance. However, priming their gender status (men are better at math) did improve their performance.

“Based on these results, we argue that priming a positive achieved identity (selective private college student) can alleviate women’s anxiety about confirming the negative stereotype that ‘women can't do math,’” said McGlone. “When we primed this positive identity in men—for whom there is no negative stereotype regarding their math acumen—their performance was no better than when their gender was primed.”

These results suggest that scientific claims about large, innate gender differences in math and spatial reasoning ability may be premature.

“We were able to significantly reduce an allegedly large gender difference with a pretty simple manipulation,” said McGlone. “Regardless of whether the documented gender gap is due to biology or socialization, we can close it by psychological means.”

Applications of these findings might include eliminating subtle cues from math testing environments that might make gender identity issues salient to women and thereby impair their performance.
A neuroimaging study lends converging evidence:
http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/nsl041v2 [Broken]
Prior to scanning, the positive stereotype group was exposed to a false but plausible stereotype of women's superior perspective-taking abilities; the negative stereotype group was exposed to the pervasive stereotype that men outperform women on spatial tasks; and the control group received neutral information. The significantly poorer performance we found in the negative stereotype group corresponded to increased activation in brain regions associated with increased emotional load. In contrast, the significantly improved performance we found in the positive stereotype group was associated with increased activation in visual processing areas and, to a lesser degree, complex working memory processes. These findings suggest that stereotype messages affect the brain selectively, with positive messages producing relatively more efficient neural strategies than negative messages.
Another study looked at the effectiveness of feedback training for boys and girls in mental rotation tasks. An interesting study, because both groups showed improvement, and if girls/women are deficient in certain visio-spatial skills then maybe we are on to a technique to help them improve. What was a bit more interesting is that differences in mental rotation ability were not observed in pre or post-tests.
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2294/is_5-6_49/ai_107203504
However, the gender factor is probably the most controversial issue in the interpretation of the results of this study. No significant differences between boys and girls in mental rotation subability were found, either before or after the intervention, despite the greater proficiency persistently associated with boys and men (Linn & Petersen, 1985; Maccoby & Jacklin, 1974; Voyer et al., 1995).
This intervention supports the psychosocial theory of the decisive role of experiential, educational, and environmental variables on gender differences in spatial cognition (Bandura, 1999; Bussey & Bandura, 1999). Therefore, the students' participation in the same activities and the fact that they were receiving similar messages at home, at school, and from society may have significantly influenced the reduction of the gender differences in spatial abilities (Feingold, 1988; Hyde et al., 1990; Olson et al., 1988). In addition, the traditional stereotypes of men and women are now considered less realistic and aspects of them have even disappeared (Epstein, 1997). Coeducation, the normal educational style in Spain for many years, may also have had some influence.
Is the gap between males and females closing? Or is it due to the young age of the subjects who were tested? The "math/science" difference for interest and aptitude usually appears around puberty. What I liked about the last study is that it suggests that if you are a person (male or female) with a deficit in this particular ability, then maybe there is something you can do about it.
 
Last edited by a moderator:
11
0
I suppose it is difficult to analyse the fundamental differences in skills between the genders without having them skewed by external factors such as stereotyping and cultural norm. I really cannot see how researchers can satisfactorily account for these influences unless they raise a control group of children from infancy in total isolation from the society.

However, I am surprised that many of you (North Americans, I assume) are reporting such an under-representation of female students in engineering. I am (a girl) studying undergraduate engineering in Australia, and the ratio in my uni in my year overall is approximately 1 female to 7 males. I would say 5-10% of mechanical, electrical and mechatronic engineering students are female, and close to one third for chemical and environmental engineering.

One thing annoying though, is the tendency for female engineers to drift into management and logistics rather than undertaking technical roles. I suppose that one can argue that the pay is (sometimes) better and hours more family-friendly, so perhaps it is a characteristic of the industry that discourages women from the more "hardcore" engineering jobs?
 
2
0
I'm a student in ChemE in the middle of nowhere and I find that the ratio of females to males really isn't that bad. I'd say around 30-40% female.
 

Related Threads for: Where are all the women

  • Last Post
Replies
15
Views
4K
Replies
2
Views
4K
Replies
2
Views
2K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
25
Views
2K
Replies
2
Views
2K
Replies
1
Views
3K
Replies
3
Views
4K
Replies
2
Views
3K

Hot Threads

Top