I don't know if anyone has figured this out yet, Liz. In the 1960s, college accounting classes were loaded with men. By the 1980s, the numbers had evened out. But for whatever reason, it hasn't worked that way in engineering.
That's an interesting perspective, too, Chuck, and you could be right. This also I guess has to do with socialization...maybe the gals don't want to continue because their friends don't and then even if they show promise, they go into another field. So I guess what this all means is there still need to be programs and encouragement for women to enter these fields, and not just from family members.
I could be wrong here, but I have a feeling the lack of girls in engineering is self-perpetuating. A lot of girls don't go into engineering because they don't have friends who are going into engineering. And maybe they don't have female engineers to serve as role models. There seem to be plenty of girls who do well in high-level high school physics and math classes, but there seems to be a disconnect at the college level -- or at least that's what I saw when I was an undergrad. There weren't a lot of women in my college engineering classes. I have a feeling that many of the young women who have succeeded in engineering saw it at home (that's a huge help), or had a family member to help lead them in the right direction.
Thanks for telling us about this, Cabe. The lesser presence of women in STEM classes and careers can be ascribed to many reasons, but one of the most important is definitely social, on both sides of the equation. And that's old news. Girls are not encouraged to be smart, and especially not to be mathematically smart, which tends to be a requirement for most sciences and most technology. Girls who are smart in math aren't as popular in high school, because of socialization, as Liz mentions. I speak from both my own experience in the 60s, as well as the experience of my niece (who graduated from Caltech). The problem is well known there, and at some other institutions of higher learning. BTW, the stereotype that boys are better at math than girls is simply that: a stereotype, which has been overturned by recent studies: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-01/apa-wsf010510.php
It isn't that baffling. Go to any university college of engineering (my field is EE) and look at the classes. Freshman courses here about 50% female, but by the time you reach teh senior and post grad classes you are lucky to have A girl in your class.
I can not ascribe the reasons, but I can say that we all go through the same instruction and experience. Many of the girls I saw drop out of engineering just didn't seem to 'get it'.
Most of the freshman drops (male and female) appeared to be shell shocked by how hard the material was going to be and didn't want to step up to the task. They just wanted a degree and a career, and didn't care what it was in. Why work hard to get an engineering degree when an intelligent person can skate through something else (e.g. business, humanities, education, etc...)
Those are disheartening numbers, Chuck. I can't understand it either and wonder is women are still socialized from a young age into more artistic or social careers rather than scientific ones. I can't imagine this would be the case these days, but you just don't know. It would be a shame if that were true. And I suppose there is scientific evidence that the brains of men and women work differently, but there are plenty of incredibly successful scientists and engineers so I don't think this could possibly be any deterrent to women in this field. Perhaps traditional gender roles are still to blame, especially in the U.S. It would be an interesting topic for more study!
I am still baffled as to why more women don't choose engineering as a career. When I started on Design News in 1987, one of our editors (Gail Robinson) wrote a great 10-page magazine article about overcoming the barriers that cause women to make up only 10% of the engineering profession. Now, here we are 26 years later, and the percentage is up to what -- 12%? Why?
My daughter, very intelligent and scientifically knowledgeable, stayed away from STEM in college to make sure that she remained an all A student, so she could keep her scholarships, fellowship and graduate "magna cum laude". She also was convinced that engineers pollute the earth. Instead of becoming a scientist or engineer that she had the talent for, she got a doctorate in Sociology at U of M in Ann Arbor and is teaching Sociology as an assistant professor. Until we start saying the truth about STEM jobs, most girls will stay away from them. They are likely to be idealist and trusting souls when graduating high school, where teachers often lead them astray. I have personally designed machinery that save energy, reduce pollution, help to prevent accidents and sickness. I designed the system to clean up a superfund site, and designed a lube oil and grease manufacturing and packaging plant that was the best and most efficient at the time it was built for 10% of the cost the American engineering firm bid for the job. My daughter ignored the contributions that I, my brother and my father have made to the advancement of our culture and civilization as engineers and followed the dictates of a misled high school teacher. I am sure that she is not alone in this there are literally millions of girls that suffer the same fate.