March 2nd, 2018
By: Andres Farach
Throughout history, it is no secret that women have been a minority in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) fields. Whether it is because of lack of interest, lack of opportunity, different cultures that have secluded women from the working class or the belief that women are incapable of being productive in these fields, they have not been able to occupy the workforce when it comes to STEM. Therefore, males have been dominating and the percentages are there to show it. In 2009, a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed that, throughout all working fields, men held a 52% and women held a 48%. When it comes to STEM jobs, men held a 76% and women held a 24%. “Half as many women are working in STEM jobs as one might expect if gender representation in STEM professions mirrored the overall workforce.” This statistic is shocking, and the gender gap is predicted to get worse. The study done by the U.S. Department of Commerce also attributes the gender pay gap as a cause to the gender gap in STEM fields. People working in STEM earn considerably more money than the overall workforce. This is due to the exponential increase of the relevance of technology all over the world.
Though technology is becoming more prominent in our everyday lives, the future for women in technology does not look as bright as some people might’ve predicted. According to the Huff Post, “The gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) has widened since the 1980’s, when 37% of all computer science graduates in the U.S. were women. Today, that number is a mere 18%. By 2020, Girls Who Code estimates the shocking statistic that there will be 1.4 million computing related jobs in the US but women will likely only fill 3% of them.” One might think that, with time, the gap would mitigate, but sadly it is not the case. There seems to exist an “unconscious bias” toward women in the workplace that limit their opportunities to succeed once they’re in their job. IBM’s Commitment to Inclusion project has been fighting against unconscious bias and hostility in the workplace as an effort to draw in more women. MIT News has also recently reported that women leave engineering frequently. After conducting several studies in four different institutions, they claim that “what emerges is a picture in which female engineering students are negatively affected at particular moments of their educational terms — especially when they engage in team-based activities outside the classroom, where, in a less structured environment, older gender roles re-emerge.” Negative trends are becoming more ubiquitous when it comes to women’s involvement in STEM jobs. It seems that this old-school mentality that women are incapable of successfully performing in these jobs is still implanted in the mentality of the male workforce. This creates tension and leads to the exit of women from STEM related fields. The causes of this gender gap in the STEM workforce can also be traced back to the number of women involved in STEM careers in their university years. Perhaps, if the male and female workforce are used to working together in this field from their high school and college years, the root of unconscious bias and hostility can be eliminated.
There are numerous universities that have been setting an example in this aspect, but one stands out. Over the past few years, the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) has been a leading example in increasing the number of women enrolled in these fields. From 2008 to 2015, Georgia Tech’s enrollment of women in engineering has been soaring over the overall national enrollment in the United States. Most notably, in 2015 Georgia Tech enrolled 32% of women while the national enrollment was just 17%. Comparing it to other top engineering universities such as MIT, University of Michigan, Purdue and University of Illinois, Tech exceeded their marks by about 200 Female Graduates in 2015. According to Georgia Tech’s Women in Engineering website, it has become the number one producer of female engineers in the country. In Georgia Tech, women have increased their participation in engineering as a whole, but still remain a minority in the majority of the engineering majors. However, they populate the majority of the students in fields that involve environmental and medical science. Most notably, 54% of Biomedical Engineering are women and 65% of Environmental Engineering are women as well. All of this show a strong sign for the future of the involvement of women in technology. The GT Women in Engineering Club at Georgia Tech works every year to improve these numbers and raises thousands of scholars all over the state from grades K-12 to incentivize STEM learning. They offer numerous programs like the Engineering Career Conference for juniors and senior girls in high school, Jr. TEC Camp for rising 6th grade girls and CoE Champions Program in which undergraduate women visit high schools to teach kids of both genders about engineering. Also, summer programs are also offered by GT Women in Engineering like TEC Camp and H.O.T Days. For more information on opportunities to get involved, see the attached article by clicking here.
Georgia Tech has proven to be a place where women in engineering have felt the opportunity to really make a change, and have taken advantage of it. For example, according to Georgia Tech News, Georgia Tech alumna Melissa McCoy claims she has gained the confidence in her ability to perform as well as her male counterparts, despite being outnumbered. “In all honesty, I came to be more intimidated by other women than men,” McCoy said. She also reassured the success of Tech’s Women in Engineering program which she says benefited her. McCoy is one of only six from public institutions to have been named a Rhodes Scholar in 2013, recognized as the oldest and most celebrated international fellowship in the world. Even more impressive is her resume for just being 23 years old at the time. It includes “co-founder at Authentise, a company providing a patented software platform that lets users access proprietary 3D printing designs; business analyst and associate consultant at Partners in Performance, an operations and strategy consulting firm focused on emerging and developing markets; reservoir engineer at BP; and process engineer at Shell Oil.” McCoy is an example of a Georgia Tech product that has taken advantage of her opportunities in a male-dominated society, and has thrived.
Despite some predicted negative trends that are projected for women in STEM fields, Georgia Tech is an exemplary institution that is trying to do everything in its power to mitigate the gender gap. Hopefully, in the upcoming future, due to these initiatives, these trends will shift and we will see a change in the STEM workforce.
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