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Evaluating Computer-Aided Design Software as a Barrier to Women’s Engagement in Engineering: A Focused Literature Review

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

WIED: Analysis, Challenges, Success, and Impacts

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Paper Authors


Elizabeth DaMaren University of Toronto

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Elizabeth DaMaren is a Master's of Applied Science student at the University of Toronto in Industrial Engineering with the Ready Lab. Her research focuses on team dynamics and gender considerations in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software education. She previously worked as Project Coordinator for the Engineering Collaboration for Online and Remote Education (E-CORE/CIEL Project), a national Canadian initiative to support instructors in shifting to remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Alison Olechowski University of Toronto

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Alison Olechowski is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering and the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (Troost ILead). She completed her PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studying product development decision-making during complex industry projects. Dr. Olechowski completed her BSc (Engineering) at Queen’s University and her MS at MIT, both in Mechanical Engineering. Dr. Olechowski studies the processes and tools that teams of engineers use in industry as they design innovative new products.

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To tackle today’s toughest problems, like climate change and the threat of global pandemics, design teams will need to deliver not only software solutions, but also innovative hardware products, sometimes called “tough-tech” or “hard-tech.” Computer-Aided Design (CAD) is a key tool for these design teams to leverage in order to reach creative, innovative, hard-tech solutions for society’s most pressing issues. Given CAD’s importance in design, it is positioned to be a key enabler, or barrier, to increasing diversity in design teams. Statistics on the representation of women in CAD-reliant engineering fields, such as mechanical engineering, show that the numbers remain much below the overall female representation in engineering, and far below gender parity. Differences in confidence and ability level with CAD software are factors that may explain why this disparity exists, and so a focus on increasing accessibility of this tool provides an opportunity to increase female and non-binary representation in design teams.

In this paper, we conduct a focused literature review to provide a comprehensive understanding of what factors position CAD as a barrier to women’s engagement in engineering. The primary finding of this literature review is, in fact, the lack of literature; a deep body of knowledge exists to understand Women in Engineering and gender barriers in the profession more broadly, and in parallel, a rich literature on considerations for designing effective and efficient CAD tools and training exists. Yet we see a distinct lack of literature with a primary focus on the intersection of gender considerations in CAD. Based on the limited literature we did discover, we identify several potential barriers to gender diversity in CAD-reliant engineering fields: gender bias in CAD training, lack of representation of women in CAD communities, gender disparity in spatial reasoning skills, and differences in self-efficacy levels. With knowledge of these barriers, we then propose two strategic approaches for leveraging CAD as an avenue to increase gender diversity in mechanical design, which incorporate course design, outreach activities, and general considerations for engineering. These preliminary recommendations can be utilized by educators to support women and non-binary students towards the goal of creating more diverse design teams in undergraduate studies and beyond, ultimately leading to the innovative and creative hard-tech solutions needed to solve society’s biggest problems. Importantly, we aim for this paper to act as a motivator to conduct further research in the area of gender considerations in CAD tools and trainings to better understand the actual barriers that women and non-binary individuals face in this field.

DaMaren, E., & Olechowski, A. (2022, August), Evaluating Computer-Aided Design Software as a Barrier to Women’s Engagement in Engineering: A Focused Literature Review Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41595

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