Studying for my second-year psych exam and I’m forced to read yet another article on gender differences. This one was slightly more balanced, as the authors considered social influences alongside neuropsychological evidence and the effects of hormones, but as I sit here, a licensed female engineer retraining for a new career, I think they missed the mark.
Short version: The authors conclude that we need to coax women into traditionally male fields of science and engineering, as though that is a new idea.
Engineering schools have been wrestling with the women deficit since before I enrolled in the early 1990s. Women sat in about 20% of the seats then, and women sit in about 17% of the seats now. All sorts of inspiring projects have failed to coax women into engineering, yet the study conclusions are the same.
Why are we asking how to fit a square peg into a round hole? Contrary to the notion that women are the missing link, I would argue that the fields themselves are a misfit for our changing society.
Masculinity is being redefined as radically and rapidly as femininity. Engineering is not only alienating women, but evidence suggests the field is losing traction with our changing male population as well.
Although male enrolment continues to rise, Canada’s licensing bodies are worried about retaining trainees. Engineers Canada has found that “the majority of engineering graduates are not working in engineering jobs.”
Women aren’t the only square pegs, men don’t fit either.
Hammering away at the idea that more coaxing, more sugar-coating, more inclusive language will bring women in, has not worked and is not going to work. Engineering is one of the world’s oldest professions, but what would make you want to join?
Its time to reform engineering, not the applicants, and Tyseer Aboulnasr, dean of the faculty of applied science and a professor of electrical engineering at the University of British Columbia knows it:
“Collectively, we have focused too much on the technology side, on building things. Women tend to want to help people and choose careers that allow them to make a meaningful contribution to society… [s]omehow we lost the message that engineering can improve people’s lives.” ~ The Globe and Mail, 2010, Nov 9
Ironically, BC is the province with the lowest female enrolment in engineering.
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