The Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy of the National Academies has just published a new book entitled Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering (2006). This book is freely available to read in PDF format. The book discusses the underrepresentation of women in scientific and engineering fields of academia.
A choice quote from the book’s summary says it all:
“The United States can no longer afford the underperformance of our academic institutions in attracting the best and brightest minds to the science and engineering enterprise. Nor can it afford to devalue the contributions of some members of that workforce through gender inequalities and discrimination.” (p.S-5)
I am strongly in favor of attracting more women (and minorities) to the fields of science and engineering.
I have a personal story to relate that can illustrate some of the difficulties that women no doubt have to face in the field of engineering. A few years ago, I was teaching an information literacy class for an introductory engineering course at a small community college in Pennsylvania. Part of the students’ assignment required them to do an online search for a professional engineering association. As an example, I showed the students the Society of Women Engineers page. Mind you, out of fifteen students in the class (and the male professor), only one student was female. Imagine my surprise when the entire class burst out laughing as the SWE page (with a photo of eight women engineers) came up on the overhead projector. I even heard one student snicker contemptuously “Yeah, the women engineers… all five of them.” Even the professor was chuckling! I was so flabbergasted and taken aback that I did not know how to react. I ended up just ignoring the reaction and moving on to the discussion of the web searching. However, I’ve always regretted not taking a moment to chide them for their reaction, particularly because there was no doubt in my mind that the women in the photo on the SWE page are probably professional engineers, making them vastly more knowledgeable about engineering than those 19-20 year old men. Plus, I can only imagine what the one female student must have thought as she listened to her fellow students laughing.
Anyway, let’s make the field of engineering and science more representative, shall we? I want to know that my three and a half year old daughter will never be laughed at, should she decide to study engineering!