Virtual On line
June 22, 2020
June 22, 2020
June 26, 2021
Women in Engineering
There is persistent gender disparity in engineering, with women making up only about 26% of engineering undergraduate students in the United States. However, there are dramatic differences by discipline in the participation of women, with some traditional engineering disciplines (mechanical, electrical) having relatively low numbers (single digits at some institutions), while other, often newer, programs like biomedical (BME) and environmental (ENV) reach near parity in some schools. BME and ENV are often seen as “helping” disciplines, which suggests why they may be more appealing to women students. Anecdotal evidence from one institution suggests adding a helping discipline may be associated with a decline the proportion of women in a related traditional discipline (that is, the new disciplines may attract women already in the engineering pipeline, rather than attracting women to engineering who would not otherwise be enrolled). Our research question is: what is the impact of adding women-associated disciplines on the percentage of women students at an engineering school as a whole and within traditional disciplines at that school?
We collected data on enrollment by discipline and gender for US engineering schools from the ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) College Profiles from 2005-2017. We determined the addition of a program at a school by enrollment data appearing for that program. We excluded schools that did not add BME or ENV (the highest female enrollment disciplines nationally) between 2006 and 2014 (to allow for pre/post comparison). We also excluded schools with fewer than 500 students, and those without at least one of four traditional disciplines we examined (mechanical, electrical, civil, and chemical). To determine the impact of adding disciplines, we examined the percentage of women in the school as a whole and in each traditional discipline in the year before and three years after the new discipline was added.
32 schools introduced BME and 16 introduced ENV during the time period examined. Results show that the introduction of both BME (p < 0.001) and ENV (p < 0.001) are associated with statistically significant increases in the percentage of women students in the engineering school overall. Also, adding BME (p = 0.037) and ENV (p = 0.009) were associated with an increase in the absolute percentage of women in mechanical engineering at those schools, but no statistically significant change in the other traditional disciplines examined. When considered relative to background increases in women, adding BME resulted in a decrease in percent women in electrical engineering (p = 0.024).
The results support the theory that "helping disciplines" may poach women from traditional disciplines, but both may draw women into engineering schools.
d'Entremont, A. G., & Greer, K., & Lyon, K. A. (2020, June), Does Adding “Helping Disciplines” to Engineering Schools Contribute to Gender Parity? Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34474
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