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Engineering Women in Engineering and Computer Science

  1. Mar 16, 2012 #1
    As a girl I worry about going into an engineering field. I'm concerned about job prospects for women or discrimination in the work place. I also worry that it might be strange to be a minority in a class of mostly men. I’d like to hear what some girls think if there’s any on here that know about this.
    I’d like to hear what guys think about this too though.
    I think I’d be interested in going into something like computer engineering, computer science or robotics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 16, 2012 #2
    I think their needs to be more girls in engineering, computer science, and mathematics. My classes in the university are mostly male. So it wouldn't surprise me if their is some discrimination going on.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2012
  4. Mar 16, 2012 #3
    Just because your classes are mostly male doesn't mean there is discrimination "going on". From what I've heard it's easier to get into technical programs (undergrad) as a minority, in order to balance out the scales as much as possible. In terms of the work place, I have no idea but I think there was a thread about it in either the career guidance or academic guidance section not too long ago.
  5. Mar 16, 2012 #4


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    Here in Australia, there is a huge push to get women in engineering, computer science, mathematics/statistics as well as some of the sciences not including biology and maybe chemistry.

    They have scholarships which are quite lucrative as well for this at least where I live.

    I don't know about the discrimination issue, but I imagine if you go to a decent company and show that you can do what you're hired to do, then you'll end up getting treated with the respect you deserve.

    There are a lot of idiot males out there that laugh when they hear a women doing a 'man's' job, but that's not representative of the whole.

    But yeah for classes, I imagine it would be tough considering the ratio and handling this might be a tough thing, but again at least in my country they do have support systems for women in doing these kinds of fields so you could always talk to these people and if you decide to do it and need to just talk to someone, you could do that.

    My personal opinion is we need more women in these fields, and I am finding that slowly things are starting to even out more compared to say 50 (maybe even less!) years ago with the gender mix.
  6. Mar 16, 2012 #5
    I think men just get defensive when there's a woman smarter than them in their presence. I for one love women smarter than me and I actively try to attract them because I know they'll be more successful than me :D

    I'm a male gold digger! =)
  7. Mar 17, 2012 #6
    As a female in physics, I am definitely a minority, but I don't really feel strange about it, nor have I ever felt like I was being discriminated against. As previous posters said, there are many useful resources for us, from scholarships and REUs to student organizations and clubs to retain women in STEM fields. I say go for what interests you, and don't let anyone stop you (especially yourself).
  8. Mar 17, 2012 #7


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    Women get a lot of advantages in terms of hiring, to fill quotas, etc. Whether they feel strange or not is largely up to them. If they can deal with being the only female among a large group of men all day long every day, then they will do just fine. If they find that they have to socialize with the secretaries, this will usually hurt them. I have personally taught a number of women engineers who went on to very successful industrial careers in a wide variety of industries across the country. They were all highly capable, completely competent, relaxed, and able to hold their own in a discussion with any other engineer. I think this was the key to their success.
  9. Mar 17, 2012 #8
    As a phd in physics, I can say that being a woman in science/engineering can be very difficult. The STEM support groups are there for a reason. Ultimately, your best bet is to find a mentor in your desired field and ask them questions (SWE can help you out here if you have a local chapter, you should contact them). Many of the people who give advice on a message board might have no first hand experience with a topic but decide to weigh in anyway :)

    Discrimination can, and certainly does happen both overt and covert, at least in academic physics. A PI for a postdoc told me flat out that if I was planning to have kids in the next few years (I'm in my early 30s) I was wasting his time and shouldn't bother with the position. I doubt men get told this.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2012
  10. Mar 17, 2012 #9


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    In the larger companies I have worked at as a programmer, there is very little, if any, preferential treatment for women. All that the company cares about is that you can do the job, male or female.
  11. Mar 17, 2012 #10
    Honestly, I haven't seen anything that looked like overt or even subversive discrimination of women in engineering. I think too many women start this field, and then drop out for a variety of reasons that have little to do with the practice of engineering, and everything to do with finding something they enjoy more.

    Heavy industry technical challenges (not just engineering, but also the technical and trade work) appeal to many men for much of the same reason that it appeals to boys. It's big, dirty, noisy, and potentially dangerous. This is exactly the sort of thing that turns off most women. I know a few women who work on water and waste-water plants. It is routine, dirty, noisy, and dangerous work with approximately 10% women or less on the plant floor. The closer you get to the office, the more likely it is you'll find more women.

    I know women with engineering backgrounds, and most tend toward the management side of things as soon as they can get enough experience to legitimately take charge. I know only a very few who stick to the raw engineering side of things for year after year because they like it. Yet I know many men who seem to really enjoy the innovative and creative side of building bigger, smaller, or really efficient things.

    Those who suggest that this is cultural miss an important point: I think there may be more to this than meets the eye.
  12. Mar 17, 2012 #11
    There are tons of programs for women in the sciences in engineering. At my undergrad university, they even got preferential treatment---guaranteed on campus housing for all four years.
  13. Mar 18, 2012 #12


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    If you want to start somewhere where you won't be a minority, so at least you don't have to worry about discrimination from professors or other students, Smith College is the only women's college (or at least it was a few years ago) with an engineering program, and they also have good computer science and physics departments.

    As a female physicist, I've experienced some discrimination, but it's nothing obvious that other people would easily pick up on. Not something a guy might notice he was even doing until it was pointed out to him - things like being assigned to teach only classes for non-majors despite having more experience than the people teaching higher-level classes and being ignored in faculty meetings. While professional organizations often have sessions at major conferences about sexism in the workplace and how to avoid discriminating against women and minorities while serving on hiring and tenure committees, the vast majority of the audience is always women and minorities. The people who need to hear it are the ones who never attend.
  14. Mar 18, 2012 #13


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    I wouldn't be so sure. Discrimination is rarely overt these days because of the threat of lawsuits. It is illegal.
    If I was a woman of child bearing age interested in having children sometime, I wouldn't work in an environment like that either . However, I wouldn't assume that is the case for most women
    In a lot of the "older" engineering fields like civil, mechanical etc..there is a good old boy mentality that is unwelcoming to women. I would expect that would discourage women from continuing in that career path. A hostile work environment can be a form of discrimination.
    I think there are many women who enjoy the "innovative and creative side" of building things as well.
    You really should explain your reasoning when you make vague statements like that.
  15. Mar 18, 2012 #14
    In my experience, women get preference to men as far as getting jobs in Engineering. All the girls in my classes I know, even the ones who have sub-par GPA's got snatched up immediately when it came time to look for internships.
  16. Mar 18, 2012 #15


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    I once worked an accident investigation with a young woman assisting me (I am a man). When it was time to do the really dirty part of the job, climbing around among the coal dust covered piping that was left after the explosion, there was no question who was going to do that part of the investigation. I had to take two consecutive showers to get even half way clean after that. I think that there was definite discrimination involved in that assignment, but I knew better than to fight it.
  17. Mar 18, 2012 #16
    I knew someone would question me on this. I'm about to write about some ugly realities that still infest our world: Read them if you dare.

    Many graduates, men and women, emerge from the university with some really strange ideas of what engineering might be like. The problem is that their teachers are mostly professors and teaching assistants with very little on the job, hands-on, real-world experience.

    So here they come, marching in to the work-force, thinking that they're going to do all sorts of really high tech supah-geeky gee-whiz math and physics stuff. Right now, there is another thread by a guy who wants to know if we engineers sit in our cubicles all day long and tinker with modeling software.

    It's not like that. First, we adhere to the Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS) principle. We want our projects to work the first time, not have to explain why some really ornate gee whiz gadgetry doesn't work. This appalls many recent graduates who seriously thought they would find themselves looking up solutions to differential equations to apply to a specific application. I can count the number of times that has happened over 25 years on my fingertips. Most of us learn rules of thumb to keep things simple and comprehensible.

    Note that I'm not saying we never use this math or that it is bad. Those rules of thumb have limits, and it is imperative that the engineer know what those limits are. But all that said, we try to stay within the territory where these rules apply mostly because of the KISS principle.

    Second, many recent graduates are either shocked or pleasantly surprised to find themselves working right in the middle of the action. Here's the deal: Rarely do we ever get a clean sheet design. It is always useful to visit the customer's site, interview the technical staff, look at the equipment currently in use, and do a bit of reverse engineering to figure out how things are actually working.

    Third, when things start going weird, people will call with questions. You won't be able to help much unless you've at least been there on site enough to know exactly how things are configured.

    What this all adds up to is that a lot of engineering work is not and should not be an office sport. The stuff they teach in a university is heavy on theory, and very light on practice.

    In a practical sense, you are going to get dirty. You are probably going to see some high energy and potentially hazardous stuff. It's your job to know what the limits of the equipment are, and what is supposed to happen when it breaks. There can be significant stress. The environment may have hidden dangers. Nobody tells you this while you're studying in the university.

    Is there discrimination against women? I haven't seen it. If anything, we give the ladies the latitude to opt out of the more physical work, such as climbing a tower or entering an underground vault. Of the women I have known in technical and engineering endeavors, most move on to other things after less than 5 years on the job. Meanwhile their male colleagues continue for a decade or more. Whether this is for biological, social, or perhaps emotional reasons, I don't know.

    Allow me to point out that even raising a family isn't an issue in our company. We have the same leave policies for both parents. I took advantage of it for each of my children when they were born, and I do my share of going on field trips with my kids, picking them up when they're sick, and so on. The issue of child rearing today is not all that different for mothers or fathers (at least where I work). Yet, even in an environment like this, we still see a tendency for women to shy away from engineering.

    I think there is something about physical, dirty, and potentially hazardous work sites that tends to discourage women and attract men. That's where a lot of engineering happens. I wish I could say exactly what it is that we could change that might attract more women, because I wouldn't mind seeing more balance in a workplace like this.

    But those are the facts as I've seen them for the last 25 years. I am the father of two daughters, and a son. My oldest daughter still thinks my work is pretty cool even though she just became a teenager. Of my three children, I think she is most likely to take after me and I would like to see her do it. Nevertheless, I also know that there are some things we simply can't socialize over. There still are differences between men and women. Although we must not discriminate, we'd be fools to pretend that we're exactly alike.
  18. Mar 20, 2012 #17


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    One should be careful when extrapolating from one's experience. It depends on the job. I can name specific cases where engineers were actually sitting at desks all day designing or tweaking designs. One friend basically spent his first job out of college picking parts out of a catalog. Another friend worked on a factory floor but most of his work was on a computer. A civil engineer friend did work outdoors about half his time but the other half was spent writing reports. Another friend, a control engineer, spends most of his time travelling to various plants around the world supervising the installation and maintenance of control equipment. In a lot of the cases, the hard, dangerous work is done by people who are called technicians.
    I would venture to guess that those "rules of thumb" were in some part derived from a more systematic study of the problem.
    The idea is to give you a broad enough base on which to build.
    No reason why this can only be done by men
    If I was a woman, I would find that extremely patronizing.
    Is it possible that you are confounding cause and effect here? Isn't it just possible that some women shy away from engineering because of not being treated equals by their male peers and supervisors?
    Your argument seems to be based on the assumption that engineering is physical, dirty or dangerous and that women avoid it for those reasons. This would be more convincing to me if women did not gravitate away from the non-physical, non-dirty and non-hazardous parts of engineering. I am not sure that is the case
    No one is saying that we are exactly alike but no one has proven that the differences, whatever they may be, are sufficient to account for the huge disparity in the number of men and women who make it in engineering. You seem to be making the case that the disparity is due to biology but you never come out and say it so I can not be sure.
    It is very hard to separate the effects of socialization and biology. It may not even be possible to complete separate them and say that this part is due to social upbringing and that part due to nature. This is an age-old question.
    By the way, the fact that you have daughters does not mean that you don't have preconceived notions. Fathers tend to be more protective of their daughters than their sons in my experience.
  19. Mar 20, 2012 #18


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    For every story like yours, I bet I can find a case where a woman working in a technical field was barred from doing something she is capable of because of discrimination.
  20. Mar 20, 2012 #19
    As a guy from a mechanical engineering program, I can say that the few women we had in our classes were treated the same as anyone else. I had been involved in a few group projects with women in the group and nobody ever questioned what parts of the project they should get based on sex. Same goes for the work environments I've been in. The only time a woman gets criticized for incompetence is when they deserve it, but it works the same way for the men too.

    People can't avoid unfairness in life, regardless of the context. The successful ones shrug it off and push forward.

    check this out too:
  21. Apr 1, 2012 #20
    there IS discrimination going on. check out the physics today article
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