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A Literature Review On The Underrepresentation Of Women In Undergraduate Engineering: Ability, Self Efficacy, And The "Chilly Climate"

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.62.1 - 8.62.23



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David Malicky

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Session 2793

A Literature Review on the Under-representation of Women in Undergraduate Engineering: Ability, Self-Efficacy, and the "Chilly Climate"

David Malicky University of Kansas

Introduction The low retention of undergraduate women in engineering (WIE), combined with their low application rates, results in a continuing under-representation of women in the industrial and academic engineering culture. From 1987 to 1997, the undergraduate enrollment of women in engineering increased from 15% to 19%, in a relatively consistent but gradual manner1. In science and engineering combined, women now earn 47% of bachelor degrees, though they are over- represented in some fields such as psychology and underrepresented in others such as computer science and most fields of engineering. Among minorities, women earn more than half of science and engineering degrees. Farrell2 notes that the proportion of women engineers of the past 20 years has only grown 5%, despite a number of mentorship programs, scholarships, and curricular improvements throughout the country. One engineering dean describes it as "a national crisis" (p. A31).

The under-representation of women in science, mathematics, and engineering (SME) fields is important for many reasons. The future productivity of the US workforce depends on attracting greater numbers of scientists and engineers: the current workforce is aging at the same time that job skills are becoming increasingly technical3. The shortfall of women in SME fields has at least two implications for this productivity. First, they represent an untapped reservoir of potential employees, and second, they may bring new perspectives and ideas to meeting new challenges4-6.

Beyond the economic and productivity implications are social and ethical motivations. Scientific literacy is increasingly important to health and environmental issues. But the understanding of SME fundamentals by most Americans—particularly women due to their under-representation in SME—is inadequate to fully participate in these issues7. According to the National Research Council7, "Our nation is becoming divided into a technologically knowledgeable elite and a disadvantaged majority" (p. 1), with women representing a disproportionate part of that majority. In 1972, Federal Title IX legislation prohibited sex discrimination in education, yet there is evidence of subtle discriminatory practices in SME culture 8-12.

Representation in undergraduate studies is a function of two mechanisms: enrollment and persistence. Many interventions have advocated strong recruitment efforts to improve women's enrollment in SME, but these have often resulted in disappointing cost/benefit outcomes: enrollments have grown, but only by about 1% per year, and retention of underrepresented groups continues to lag behind the majority13. The reasons are not far to seek: "if programs addressing under-representation are primarily shaped by a search for undiscovered talent, while the structural

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Malicky, D. (2003, June), A Literature Review On The Underrepresentation Of Women In Undergraduate Engineering: Ability, Self Efficacy, And The "Chilly Climate" Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11918

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