why women avoid engineering and STEM careers

It’s been one of those weeks when several articles about women in engineering found their way to me. I am very positive about my experiences being an industrial engineer. However, I was once an insecure undergraduate who didn’t quite feel like I fit in. These articles struck a chord with me for several reasons.

  • Lara Schubert wrote two nice articles in Structure. The first discusses the invisible gendered culture of engineering, one that I can sadly relate to. I remember being an undergraduate and wondering how I could authentically be both a woman and an engineer. I feel no such conflict now, but I’m older and wiser. Plus, IE and OR/MS have a higher proportion of women than many other fields of engineering so I don’t feel like I stick out quite so much. The second article discusses the consequences of said gendered culture of engineering. Both are a must read, especially for men who mentor or manage women engineers.
  • David Smith from OR in Devon blogged about optimizing the men’s bathroom queues. It is a nice article, but of course, it would be great if there were more women involved in computing. This picture made me sad.

    Bathroom queues at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WDC) in San Francisco

  • Mother Jones reports the gender and race demographics of California startups that received crucial seed funding: 89% of the funded startups were founded by all men.
  • Why Women Avoid STEM Careers from the Huffington post. The article links to the Youtube Video (below) produced by McMaster University.

On a related note, I put together a talk for students about women in engineering for my seminar at Texas A&M last year, which was in part sponsored by the NSF ADVANCE award at A&M. I commend Halit Uster in particular for organizing an entire seminar series in industrial engineering around women. I gave a regular seminar and a talk to graduate students (both men and women). It was a nice experience to put together a few slides about women in engineering and STEM fields. There are a lot of positives (a lot!) but as part of my preparation, I found out that only ~10% of people who identify themselves as engineers are women. Women have been receiving > 20% of engineering BS degrees for a long time now, which means that women are not staying in engineering. In fact, research shows that women leave engineering at a higher rate than other STEM fields (see the recommended reading below). This trend is troubling, and it’s a big reason why I often blog about women in engineering.

Recommended reading:

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