Apparently, the term “visitor” often refers to any woman walking around Georgia Tech’s campus. It is meant to make fun of the university’s highly skewed gender ratio.
As a female student at Georgia Tech, I had hoped this term was also a joke about stereotypes in the tech industry overall. Sadly, statistics say that it may be true that women on Georgia Tech’s campus are more likely to be visitors rather than students. The data indicates that out of 29,367 students, only 9,076 are women.That is a mere 30% of the total. And though there is good news in that the number of incoming female students is increasing, it still shows that Georgia Institute of Technology lacks a sufficient number of women in its student body. We still have a long way to go, and for many women on campus, the skewed gender distribution is an issue at the front of their mind.
In an interview with Sally Park, a junior at Georgia Tech majoring in Computer Science, she shared her personal experience with gender disparity on campus: “Sometimes I count how many girls are in my lecture hall just because I am curious. There are certainly some girls, but it is always a lot more guys than girls. The number drops even lower when I count girls of color.” Park says there have been many times when she was the only woman working on group projects and attending lectures.
“Working in teams dominated by boys sometimes made me feel really lonely,” Park continued; “I often felt disconnected from other students and the school. In my three years as a student at Georgia Tech, I have only had three female professors. If I had different questions regarding my career options, it is really hard to find female role models or graduates that I could go to for help.” Park emphasized that the imbalance of genders in the student body and faculty is one of the biggest issues that should be addressed at Georgia Tech.
Annie Antón, former chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing, also sees a lack of representation for women in the faculty and insists that steps towards gender equality are needed. “I have observed gender inequities that continually appear to disenfranchise the outstanding women on our faculty. I’ve worked hard to try to help them feel valued by, for example, seeking out opportunities for them, nominating them, and doing what I can to ensure their salaries are fair. Men are frequently nominated for awards and chaired positions by male-dominated committee … Among the nine in the College of Computing’s Dean’s cabinet, I am the only woman.”
Both Antón’s and Park’s candid remarks on their lives mean a lot to me as a young female student. We should cultivate and encourage a Georgia Tech environment in which female scientists and students feel valued. It is important that we address this issue clearly and blatantly. In the technology field so dominated by men, it can be easy for women to become numb to gender issues and equity. I, too, have become comfortable being completely surrounded by men at Georgia Tech because it happens so frequently. However, I realized that perhaps I have become desensitized to gender disparity. I think I have begun to accept it and ignore the circumstance as if it is completely normal that men dominate the field.
This happens subtly and gradually. It makes me fear that younger women with an interest in STEM fields may hold themselves back and doubt that women are suitable for such an undertaking. Technology is not “too geeky for girls,” and the idea that women are less capable of technological accomplishments than men is absolutely false.
The skewed gender ratio and differences in women’s experiences may seem daunting and discouraging for young women interested in STEM fields. However, when I really look around campus, I see many women who are academically driven. Those women dispel those doubts and develop a strong belief in themselves. Female students are not alienated from the rest of the male-dominated campus, and many of us are confident. The percentage of female computer science students has gradually increased from 14% to 23% over the last nine years. Additionally, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, Georgia Institute of Technology has the highest number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to women among 352 colleges between 2014 and 2015. Those results could not have been achieved if Georgia Tech had no support for women.
Georgia Tech has made a concerted effort to attract more women to STEM fields. Students can find a list of offices and programs that provide academic information and professional training to female students, such as Women in Engineering, the Women’s Resource Center, the M&M mentoring program, Women@Tech, and so on. There are numerous resources available, and women are urged to thrive in the technology industry by Georgia Tech. Yes, Georgia Tech wants to see women succeed! We may be the minority in each STEM field, but we are also encouraged to flourish!
I strongly encourage young women who are interested in STEM fields to remain confident in their abilities. These fields will not stay male-dominated if we challenge the existing system. If we have more women contributing to the sciences, more assistance to women scientists will develop, and STEM fields will become fairer and more inclusive for women. According to Frederick Pearsall, a senior lecturer in Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture, East architecture building didn’t even have female restrooms when it was built. But, today we have more female architecture major students than male. We can bring a change like this. I feel driven to encourage female students to leave behind their hesitation and move forward.
Women, aim high and do not let anything deter you for entering this world.