Female students not flocking to engineering

BY CINDY GARCIA | APRIL 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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While female representation in STEM fields is on the rise, officials are still worried about adverse conditions faced by women in engineering and computing.

A recent report from the American Association of University Women outlines these two careers are still lagging behind numerically.

“It documents the underrepresentation of women in engineering and computing which are the STEM fields with the most jobs and the fewest women,” said Christianne Corbett, senior researcher at AAUW.

According to the report, women make up 12 percent of the engineering workforce and 26 percent of the computing workforce.

“And the numbers are even worse for African American and Hispanic women,” Corbett said.

Chris Brus, director for the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Iowa, said reports showing the small number of women in these fields have been recurring.

“We see reports like this quite often. Actually we’ve seen them for the past 30 years. They keep saying the same thing,” Brus said.

Findings indicated a myriad of issues come into play when looking at the rates of women in these fields.

“The report documents recent evidence for a few factors,” Corbett said. “Pervasive gender bias favoring men in these fields, environments in college and the workplace that are not as supportive of women as they could be, and the frequent lack of connection between these fields and opportunities for working with and helping others — both impressions and in substance.”

Brus said administrators are often unable to address many issues contributing to the low number of women in these fields. The reason is because the issues are not purely academic, she said, especially bias in overrepresented groups.

“They don’t understand an equal playing field will not look pretty to them,” she said. “They think if it’s not a problem for them, then it shouldn’t be a problem for anyone.”

A UI WISE Undergraduate Programs Assessment found from 1996 to 2009, four-year graduation rates for women who participated were higher than the UI’s overall rate by around 12 percent.

Brus contributes its success to WISE being a safe space.

“We’re able to provide an opportunity where they’re not underrepresented,” she said. “You have to feel like you matter. We make them feel like they matter.”

The Society of Women Engineers is another place where women are simultaneously preparing for the workforce and forging friendships, said Danielle Culver, the president of the UI SWE chapter. The campus organization has 150 members.

“The society is just an outreach organization where women engineers can come together and join forces to help each other,” she said.

Culver said, from her experience, feeling isolated depends on what discipline of engineering a woman has chosen.

“I think it’s important because it really just provides moral support,” Culver said. “You always have a group of women there for you. It provides so many different connections.”

Marlis Owen, a UI chemical engineering major, said not all women feel particularly isolated in the field.

“I’m just intrinsically motivated by wanting a good job,” she said. “I never felt like I needed to join a women’s organization.”

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