Should we Push Women to Pursue Engineering?

I am a female. I am an engineering student. I am proud of it, and I encourage all elementary, middle and high school girls who want to become engineers to follow their dreams. As much as I would like to see females pursue engineering as a profession, I feel that the concern on part of governments and university administrations to increase female enrollment in engineering is superfluous.

We live in a society where men and women have equal opportunities to get an education and build their careers, unlike medieval times where women were specifically prohibited from going to school and working due to societal taboos. In an environment where both genders are being equally encouraged to pursue any given field of study, if there are less females in any field of study or workplace, why are we identifying this as a serious problem to which a solution should be sought?

Every year there are reports and articles written over how the female population is one-tenth of a percentage less or more than what it was the previous year. There are many organizations and groups, both governmental and non-governmental controlled, trying to come up with recommendations and projects geared towards increasing female enrollment in engineering programs. What surprises me is that I have never seen any initiative to learn WHY there are fewer females in engineering from the perspective of females. I fail to understand how anyone expects to find a way to increase female enrollment without attempting to understand the root cause(s). When I look at this situation, the only thing that comes to my mind is that most females don’t want to be engineers. Period. Just because someone can choose engineering doesn’t mean he/she wants to or has to.

Sometimes I feel that the society has branded ‘male’ as the ideal human being and the females are being challenged to become the ideal human being, and this accounts for a push to increase female proportions in male dominated fields. Professions such as nursing are predominantly practiced by females. I have never seen a concern to raise the male proportion of nurses. It has become easier for males to freely practice nursing now as it was say 20 years ago, again due to fewer stereotypes, but they aren’t on the hook to prove that they can do what females are doing.

Having said that, I still support groups like Women in Engineering (WIE) and appreciate their efforts. In universities, where currently females are in the minority, it is essential to have a body that represents their interests, ensures a healthy learning environment and tries to prevent stereotypes from developing. Similarly, female high school students should be encouraged to pursue engineering if they are genuinely interested but are intimidated by the fact that they will be outnumbered by male students in class, or that the smaller proportion of females in engineering implies that it is abnormal to have interest in engineering as profession.

In a nutshell, the focus should be to encourage females who are interested in engineering not to be held back by societal norms and pursue an engineering discipline of their choice, rather than forcibly persuading females to pursue engineering to boost up the numbers or using the male ideal to create artificial interest for the engineering profession.

Originally published in the Iron Warrior on June 2, 2010.

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