June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
Women in Engineering
12.776.1 - 12.776.14
Gender Differences Across Engineering Majors
Certain engineering majors attract more women than others, and this seems to be fairly universal. Bio-engineering, biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, civil/environmental engineering lead in the proportion of women enrolling and persisting, while mechanical and electrical and computer engineering have the lowest proportions. Engineering programs that have increased their proportion of women usually incorporate more of the former specializations, or have added in a new program of this kind. Little research has been done comparing differences between the women in these different kinds of majors. This paper contributes to filling this gap by addressing how the women in majors that are more commonly attracting women differ from women in majors with proportionately fewer women. The paper draws on data aggregated from surveys collected during the last six years from engineering students at Rowan University. It compares women in mechanical and electrical/computer engineering, to women in chemical and civil/environmental engineering, where the proportions of women are larger. Students are compared in terms of their academic and family backgrounds, whether they come in with different orientations to engineering (including engineering self-confidence and expectations from the engineering degree), and whether they exhibit different levels or types of satisfaction with the engineering major. Five hypotheses are offered; most of them are not supported by the data. Background differences, differences in general academic and math/science self-confidence, attributions of success, and expectations about the engineering degree do not result in the expected differences. Women do differ with respect to engineering self-confidence. Results are also compared to men in the respective majors.
Women are not distributed equally across the various engineering disciplines. According to data collected by the American Society for Engineering Education,
They are well represented in disciplines such as agricultural, biomedical, chemical, environmental, industrial/manufacturing, and metallurgical and materials engineering. Women account for between 32 and 43 percent of bachelor’s degrees in each of these fields…Women are less interested in the largest disciplines, including aerospace, computer, computer science, electrical, electrical/computer, and mechanical engineering. Female students range from 11 to 17 percent representation in these fields. These six disciplines make up 63 percent of all [engineering] bachelor’s degrees. The solution to attracting more women to engineering will certainly require a review of this equation. (Gibbons4:1)
The growth of computer engineering, in which men received over 87% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2005, is a major contributing factor to the decline in women’s overall representation in engineering degrees, even though their absolute numbers in engineering are growing2.
Students’ choice of majors has been linked to early socialization experiences from parents, teachers, academic preparation and success, work experience, and play (summarized recently by
Hartman, M., & Hartman, H., & Kadlowec, J. (2007, June), Gender Across Engineering Majors Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2266
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