Females in Mathematics, Technology and Engineering disciplines – the role models

The lack of women in the engineering, technology and mathematics fields has been well documented: from the low percentage of female first year students who enter these courses to the subset who persist to graduation, to the few who pursue postgraduate study in the area, and finally, to the infinitesimal number who desire and succeed in becoming engineering, mathematic or science staff members. Barriers contributing to the scarcity of women have been identified as external or contextually based or internal (Betz, 1983; Fassinger, 2001). Examples of external barriers include lack of female role models and a ‘critical mass’ of women, the ‘shadow job’ expectation for female academics of mentoring students even though they receive little formal recognition or reward. Examples of internal or individually based barriers include low self-perceptions and or confidence.

Since the 1990’s the majority of university graduates in Europe have been women, but the proportion of women in top positions in European science is still very low, even in the traditionally more ‘feminized’ fields of science. The scarcity of women in senior positions, and as a result in bodies such as scientific boards, inevitably means that their individual and collective opinions are less likely to be voiced in policy and decision-making processes, which may lead to biased decision-making on topics of future research development.

What appears to remain as one barrier to the entry of many women into technical fields, are the women themselves. Evidence reveals a disinterest in entering engineering and technical disciplines indicating that young women make career choices for primarily different reasons than young men and that they are not making choices based on information presented by career advisors and professional educators (Eiff, 1989). Where career guidance teachers are hostile to young women’s choices, the girls look to role models to fill the young women’s needs. These role models may be either male or female, with equal affectivity, but the role models ought to represent the balance of career and feminine identity the young women seek (Seymour, 1997).

If female scientists, technologists, mathematicians, engineers are not visible and not seemingly succeeding in their careers, they cannot serve as role models to attract and retain young women in scientific/engineering fields nor encourage our younger females to enter the domain when commencing university courses.

 

Eiff, G.M. (1989) Impact of an Experimental Aviation Career Orientation Workshops on the Career interest and Aspirations of High School Girls, Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Illinois University – Carbinbale
Seymour, E., Hewitt, N. M. (1997) Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences, Oxford: Westview Press.
Betz, N., Hackett, G., (1983) “The relationship of mathematics self-efficacy expectations to the selection of science-based college majors”, Journal of Vocational, Behavior, 23, 329-45.
Fassinger, R., (2001) Hitting the Ceiling: Gendered Barriers to Occupational Entry, Advancement. The Psychology of Sex, Gender, Jobs: Issues and Solutions, L. Diamant & J. Lee (Eds.) Westport, CT: Greenwood Press

 

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