Women finding more opportunities in engineering fields

By Sophie Kelner

Dec. 11, 2017

Strides have been made in the last 40 years to increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM). Female engineering graduates and opportunities continue to increase, but there is still room to grow.


In a report from the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, a little more than 5 percent of engineers in the workplace during the 1980s were female, which today has grown to 14 percent.


The dean of the Washkewicz College of Engineering, Marie Anette Karlsson, Ph.D., attributes the growth to increased opportunity from Title IX.


“The increase mostly comes from that women are now given the opportunity to pursue different career paths,” Karlsson said. “Some engineering schools would not admit (female) students. That changed … with Title IX.”


Education Amendment Title IX, developed in the 1970s, ensures educational programs and activities that require federal funding do not discriminate based on gender, according to the US Department of Education.


The equity law allows more opportunities for women to pursue higher education — even obtaining degrees in STEM fields.


More women have been enrolling in colleges to become engineers. The national average of females in undergraduate engineering programs is 21.4 percent, according to Brian L. Yoder’s research for the American Society of Engineering Education.


Karlsson explained that Cleveland State’s numbers of enrollment align with the national average, with about 20 percent of engineering students being female.


Although the numbers of women in engineering is rising, men continue to outpace women in the field.
About 8 percent of female college freshmen plan to major in a STEM field compared to 27 percent of male freshmen, according to a Washkewicz College poster.


Karlsson said she believes the lack of women in engineering comes from societies social norms.


“In movies, the women are rarely being featured as engineers,” Karlsson said. “The engineers that are featured in TV shows and movies tend to be men that are frequently socially challenged.”


Kaylee Neumeister, a sophomore chemical engineering major, has also noted the lack of representation of women in engineering.


“I think discouragement happens due to the minor presence of females in engineering and other STEM fields,” Neumeister said. “Males feel as if they are dominant over us because we are ‘outnumbered.’”


Karlsson added that prospective female engineering students do not receive enough encouragement from high school support systems.


“Parents, teachers and guidance counselors don’t think about engineering as a path for a female high school student,” Karlsson said.


Female engineering students echoed Karlsson’s sentiments, noting the stigma of women breaking into the boys club of engineering persists in higher education and the workplace.


Brooke Ciccone, a chemical engineering major in her sophomore year, explained that her father and some professors do not support her decision to become an engineer.


“Some people like my dad and a few of my professors still believe that engineering is a ‘man’s’ field,” Ciccone said. “So they actively try to discourage [females] by making [them] feel like [they] don’t belong.”
Discouraging females engineers also occurs in the workplace.


Princess Gbadamosi graduated from Cleveland State in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. Gbadamosi works in Columbus for Siemens as an engineer.


She explains that in her workplace, 90 out of 100 engineers are male. She experiences situations where her male counterparts tend to overlook her abilities.


“In meetings, sometimes I will feel like I’m invisible in the room because the males like to dominate the conversation,” Gbadamosi said.


Even Karlsson, the dean of the Washkewicz College of Engineering received discouragement from others while in the early stages of her career. She explained friends and family were not supportive, but she does not feel like those experiences only occur for women in STEM fields.


“I don’t think I have seen more discrimination than [what] women in general are exposed to in the workforce,” Karlsson said.


Although adversity strikes females in the engineering field — whether in higher education or the workforce — Karlsson said she believes in the grit of female engineers.


She explained females choosing to enroll in science and engineering focus on success and are determined to graduate.

Even though numbers of female engineers has risen, the numbers are far from equal when it comes to men and women in engineering.


Typically, switching into a STEM major presents a challenge with on-time graduation. After the first year, it is too late to recruit females into the field. A greater impact can be made in the younger years of a girl’s life to become an engineer, Karlsson said.


She explained the benefits of reaching out to middle schools and high schools to encourage young women to choose a STEM degree.


One way Washkewicz College attracts students is through the Fenn Academy.

“The Fenn Academy focuses on making middle school and high school students, teachers and guidance counselors aware of the opportunities the engineering profession provides,” Karlsson said.

The college hosts special events for young females, such as informational campus visits and regular follow-up conversations with participants.

“An engineering degree opens up so many other job opportunities,” Karlsson said. “Engineers are working in all aspects of a modern society.”

 


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