Globally women are often under-represented in the STEM-related fields such as the medical field and engineering. The under-representation gets even worse in the case of African women compared to the rest of the world. This has created gender gaps in the engineering field. These gender gaps are detrimental as they are associated with the loss of potential talent. A number of organizations within and out of Africa are working towards closing these gaps.
Factors contributing to lower female participation
Stereotype threat may contribute to the under-representation of women in engineering. Because engineering is a traditionally male-dominated field, women may be less confident about their abilities, even when performing equally. At a young age, girls do not express the same level of interest in engineering as boys, possibly due in part to gender stereotypes. There is also significant evidence of the remaining presence of implicit bias against female engineers, due to the belief that men are mathematically superior and better suited to engineering jobs. Women who persist are able to overcome these difficulties, enabling them to find fulfilling and rewarding experiences in the engineering profession.
Due to this gender bias, women’s choice in entering an engineering field for college is also highly correlated to the background and exposure they have had with mathematics and other science courses during high school. Most women that do choose to study engineering have significant experience with regarding themselves better at these types of courses and as a result, think they are capable of studying in a male-dominated field.
Women’s self-efficacy is also a contributor to the gender stereotype that plays a role in the underrepresentation of women in engineering. Women’s ability to think critically that they can be successful and perform accomplishments is correlated to the choices they have when choosing a college career. Women that show high self-efficacy personalities are more prone to choose to study in the engineering field. Self-efficacy is also correlated to gender roles because men often present higher self-efficacy than women, which can also be a cause to why when choosing a major, most women opt to not choose the engineering major.
Lower rates of female students in engineering degree programs
Women are under-represented in engineering education programs as in the workforce (see Statistics). Enrollment and graduation rates of women in post-secondary engineering programs are very important determinants of how many women go on to become engineers. Because undergraduate degrees are acknowledged as the "latest point of standard entry into scientific fields", the under-representation of women in undergraduate programs contributes directly to under-representation in scientific fields. Additionally, in the United States, women who hold degrees in science, technology, and engineering fields are less likely than their male counterparts to have jobs in those fields.
This degree disparity varies across engineering disciplines. Women tend to be more interested in the engineering disciplines that have societal and humane developments, such as agricultural and environmental engineering. They are therefore well-represented in environmental and biomedical engineering degree programs, receiving 40-50% of awarded degrees in the U.S. (2014–15), women are far less likely to receive degrees in fields like mechanical, electrical and computer engineering.
A study made by the Harvard Business Review discussed the reasons why the rates of women representation in the engineering field are still low. The study discovered that rates of female students in engineering programs are continuous because of the collaboration aspects in the field. The results of the study chiefly determined how women are treated differently in group works in which there are more male than female members and how male members “excluded women from the real engineering work”. Aside from this, women in this study also described how professors treated female students differently “just because they were women”.
Despite the fact that fewer women enroll in engineering programs across the nation, the representation of women in STEM-based careers can potentially increase when college and university administrators work on implementing mentoring programs and work-life policies for women. Research shows that these rates have a hard time increasing since women are judged as less competent than men to perform supposedly “masculine jobs”.
Autodidact computer chip designer and inventor, Jeri Ellsworth, at the Bay Area "Maker Faire" in 2009.|alt=Jeri Ellsworth]]Another possible reason for lower female participation in engineering fields is the prevalence of values "associated with the male gender role" in workplace culture. For example, some women in engineering have found it difficult to re-enter the workforce after a period of absence. Because men are less likely to take time off to raise a family, this disproportionately affects women.
Males are also associated with taking leadership roles in the workplace. By holding a position of power over the women, they may create an uncomfortable environment for them. For example, lower pay, more responsibilities, less appreciation as compared to men.
Communication is also a contributing factor to the divide between men and women in the workplace. A male to male communication is said to be more direct, but when a man explains a task to a woman, they tend to talk down, or “dumb down” terms. This comes from the stereotype that men are more qualified than women for engineering, causing men to treat women as inferiors instead of equals.
Part of the male dominance in the engineering field is explained by their perception towards engineering itself. A study in 1964 found that both women and men believed that engineering was in fact masculine.
The masculinity dominating engineering majors and fields proves the issues that men themselves believe that they “naturally” excel in fields related to mathematics and sciences while women “naturally” excel in linguistics and liberal arts. In the past few decades, women’s representation in the workforce in STEM fields, specifically engineering, has significantly improved. In 1960 women made up around 1% of all the engineers and by the year 2000 women have made up 11% of all engineers.
Several colleges and universities nationwide want to decrease the gender gap between men and women in the engineering field by recruiting more women into their programs. The strategies used for recruiting more female undergraduate students are: increasing women’s exposure to stem-courses during high school, planting the idea of positivism relating gender from the engineering culture, producing a more female-friendly environment inside and outside the classroom. These strategies have helped institutions encourage more women to enroll in engineering programs as well as other STEM-based majors. For universities to encourage women to enroll in their graduate programs, institutions have to emphasize the importance of recruiting women, emphasize the importance of STEM education in the undergraduate level, offer financial aid, and develop more efficient methods for recruiting women to their programs.
Professional organizations promoting women in engineering in Africa
|African Women in Science and Engineering (AWSE)||Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda|
|Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria (APWEN)||Nigeria|
|Association of South African Women in Science and Engineering||South Africa|
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- Committee on the Guide to Recruiting and Advancing Women Scientists and Engineers in Academia, Committee on Women in Science and Engineering, and National Research Council (2006). To Recruit and Advance : Women Students and Faculty in U.S. Science and Engineering. National Academic Press. p. 26.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)