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Women In Science And Engineering: Politics Of Gender

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

MIND - Poster Session

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1613.1 - 12.1613.17

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Paper Authors

author page

Ibironke Lawal Virginia Commonwealth University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Women in Science and Engineering: Politics of Gender Abstract

Because they are fewer than men in science and engineering, women are generally said to prefer arts and humanities. But to some analysts, the reason for the low percentage of women in science and engineering may be due to innate mental and psychological differences between them and men. Others contend that women have the capacity to excel in any profession and that their fewness in science and engineering can be attributed to other factors. They urge educational institutions and employers to develop programs and specific policies that would allow women to strike a better balance between the demands of work and those of family.

One may then ask: was the absence of equitable programs and policies responsible for the predominance of men in certain professions in the past? Or is it a genetic difference that prevents many women from specializing in these professions? This paper examines the gender gap in science and engineering; the proposed theories that exist and the validity of the theories. The questions that will be addressed include: Are women underrepresented in science, mathematics and engineering? Why is this so? What are the competing theories and how valid are they? If women are truly underrepresented, what efforts are being made to correct the phenomenon? Do women in science and engineering reach the top in their fields? If not, why? For the purpose of this paper, women in academia and in the industry will be the focus.

I. Introduction

The statistics of education show that women outnumber men in college enrollment. Women represents sixty percent of the undergraduate population and in 2001-2002, women earned more doctorates in the United States than men. However, women are underrepresented in science and engineering (S&E) fields. Science and engineering education in the United States has a gendered history. In a study for the National Science Foundation, Jon Miller1found that while 9 percent of adult men are scientifically literate, only 6 percent adult women are2. (To be scientifically literate is to have a basic understanding of the terms, processes and impacts of science and technology). Among college educated men and women, 23.6 percent of adult men are scientifically literate, while only 17.1 percent of women are3. Other large scale surveys of national trends show that there were consistently smaller percentages of female science majors compared to men. Women continue to be underrepresented in science and engineering fields, both in terms of the number of bachelor’s degrees they earn and their presence in the science and engineering workforce4. The degrees awarded in S&E fields in 1996 show some disparities between men and women:

18 percent of engineering degrees (11,316 women and 51,798 men);

33 percent of earth, atmosphere, and ocean science degrees (1,485 women and 2,972 men);

34 percent of mathematical and computer science degrees (12,764 women and 24,857 men);

Lawal, I. (2007, June), Women In Science And Engineering: Politics Of Gender Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii.

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