19%, that is the percentage of women found in a engineering field in Higher Education as determined by a study done in 2016 by the National Girls Collaborative Project. The study also found 18% of people majoring in computer science were women. My major, Computer Engineering, is a weird mix of these two categories. The best way I have found to describe computer engineering is as follows:
Computer Engineering = Computer Science + Electrical Engineering + Computer Hardware
In my graduating class there are around 55 students (give or take), and of those 55 students there are 5 women. Sometimes I am the only girl in a class and this has given me glimpses and sometimes slaps me in the face of issues that women in engineering face.
So, why are there so few women in engineering? . A book called “Why So Few?”, by Catherine Hill, Ph.D, Christianne Corbett, and Andresse St. Rose, Ed.D. adddressed this issue. This book suggests the following reasons: the notion that men are mathematically superior to women, the idea that girls lack interest in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics), and the issues of women being in a STEM environment (such as work life balance). I could go on and on about each issue individually but I will instead give a brief glimpse of my experiences which show some of these topics.
I came from a small all girls high school where I was extremely confident in my abilities in engineering and math. While we all tried our best and would have friendly competition there was never the feeling you had to prove yourself. It was more so just pushing each other to do better. When I came into the field of computer engineer my confidence went down hill fast. I would rarely get nervous on exams in high school, yet here I was freaking out about every exam. I started to wonder if I should be in this field because maybe I wasn’t cut out for it, and maybe I didn’t have the natural “smarts” for engineering. I started to wonder maybe there were few girls for a reason; maybe I was wrong all these years and men were smarter than women. Don’t get me wrong my grades were still good, but mentally I was deteriorating. Mentally I was thinking maybe these guys are right. I mean no one in my family was an engineer. You only ever see men in engineering ads and I had mostly male teachers.
Luckily, I was able to stop my extremely overthinking head and realize some things. In middle school a teacher I knew introduced me to engineering and even back then she believed in me. So people did think I could be engineering, people thought women could be engineers. Then I realized the reason I see so few teachers is because there are so few women, and if I stopped pursuing computer engineering I would just make that topic worse. Then I remembered the person who had been by my side every step of the way. The person chose me to receive a scholarship to pursue computer engineer. The person who said he knew from when I first started speaking about computer engineering I was going to do great things, and this person was a lead of the computer engineering undergraduate program. Then I realized something else, I wasn’t anxious about not knowing the material. It actually wasn’t until I took a class on women in engineering that I realized I felt the need to prove myself. Everyone around me would go to the guys for questions and no one ever questioned how smart the guys were, but I was constantly being judged and questioned. I have even had a professor demean the two girls in a class. Once I realized that I was not nervous for the exam but about proving myself it helped me gain confidence in myself because then I realized I knew the material, that wasn’t what I was nervous about. From there I slowly started to build my level of respect among my peers. After almost four years I can now say I am not as nervous about proving myself because I know I have gained most people’s respect. For those who still think lower of girls I now have a large network of guys who will now stand up for girls among both teachers and peers.
I know this was a longer post, but trying to sum this up into a few paragraphs is hard. The personal experience shared above gave a description of the first two ideas made in “Why So Few?,” that men are mathematically superior and it also addresses the lack of interest in STEM. I started losing interest when I began realizing there were so few women and when I didn’t have a role model. I cannot speak much on the third point yet because I have not fully entered the workforce and thus cannot talk about work life balance the best. I do hope this article gives some insight though. I also help this article shows some ways for both guys and women to help. Women need to show other women and girls they can achieve success in this career field, and men need to stand up for those women and also treat them as an equal. One of the best things I can suggest is taking the time to earn the respect of your peers (I know it is a pain and we shouldn’t have to do this when men don’t have to much of the time), but take the time. By doing this you are spreading the word, and you gain a great network of people who you can then openly discuss issues with something they did or others did because I found some people just aren’t aware if they do something wrong. Also, realize that you didn’t get where you are by accident and that you are there for a reason. When you do start to question or get anxious take notice and question yourself of why you feel this way don’t just ignore the feeling. Most importantly be there for others and be a role model. Fight through, fight to earn respect, and add one more women engineer to the mix because even adding one more to the field every year will start to add up and inspire others. Then maybe one day others won’t have to fight for the respect men are naturally given right in engineering.