I would like to respond to the article “Closing the STEM gender gap” by Chantelle Dubois, published in the Nov. 4 issue of the Manitoban. Dubois provides her opinion on the broadly studied STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) gender gap, and closes her article with the incredible sentence “The gender gap will fix itself with time.”
I wish this were true, but decades of research evidence strongly disagrees with this statement. For women in engineering in particular, gender parity is not going to happen any time soon. In 2001 (almost 15 years ago), women represented 21 per cent of the students in Canadian engineering schools. That was the peak of women’s enrolment in engineering. Since then the numbers have levelled off at an average female enrolment of only 18 per cent.
Gender greatly (and often invisibly) influences the things that we do, the things that we think, and the things that we imagine as possible. I would like to point out a few of the many ways that gender can influence career choice.
As Dubois points out, a typical little girl might like to dress in pretty clothes, pretend she is a Disney princess, or be interested in developing a website to sell makeup. A little later in life, young women tend to pursue professional careers as doctors and social workers, but rarely as mathematicians or engineers. Men become hedge-fund managers and work in construction, but rarely become nurses or day care workers. Why?
Possibly because people make choices based not only on what they can do, but also on what they think they should do. Possibly because women should be attractive, caring, and engage in issues of social justice, while by the same standard men should be strong, rational, and competitive.
Dubois indicates that her gender is not important to her self-identity, and she dislikes being singled out as anything other than “just an engineering student.” However, I invite her to think more about the fact that she is indeed a member of a rare breed – a female engineer.
Lisette Dansereau is a graduate student in Sociology. Her partner is a civil engineer, and her undergraduate research thesis was entitled “Why are there so few female engineers?”