Friday, 3 July 2009

Quick hit: Laydeez are enginuious

From today's Herald:
More female engineers are needed to design better futures, the University of Auckland told 240 Year 13 pupils at a girls-only Enginuity Day yesterday.

To encourage more women to choose engineering as a career, the engineering faculty hosted a day-long programme for female physics and calculus students from 38 secondary schools...

The faculty's equity adviser for women in engineering, Robyn MacLeod, said it hoped to achieve a 50/50 split in student gender. Females now account for 22 per cent of the 500 people who begin engineering degrees each year.

Ms MacLeod said it was important to have women engineers so females' needs were considered when designing systems.

...For example, early voice synthesisers could not detect women's voices because of their naturally high pitch, she said.

Ms MacLeod hoped parents would encourage their daughters to consider a career in engineering. "Parents don't realise it is such a fantastic career for girls. [They] don't necessarily encourage girls to be engineers."

...The Institution of Professional Engineers says there is only one woman to every 10 males in its membership.
Click through for the whole thing.

I was recently at a symposium about a different occupation in a different sector and there was a man there from Career Services who spoke about how people, particularly young people, make choices about what they want to do, and thus what they will study or train in. He said that the biggest influence on these decisions were the views of parents, and then the views of peers. School careers advice was one of the lowest influences. So it's good to see the faculty adviser acknowledging the role of parents, and focusing some attention on them.


katy said...

I think I have written about this topic on this site before because I was recently involved in a project that brought me into the world of female engineers. I am not sure what it is about the profession that makes it so hostile (even still!) for women. Any thoughts?? My sister participated in the event mentioned in this article last year and has started an engineering degree, she is well-supported by her family generally but I think teachers play a really important part as well in terms of making students aware of possibilities that maybe parents aren't aware of.

Moz said...

I don't know why you think it's only hostile to women. Saying "well, nearly 3% of male student enrol compared to only 0.3% of female" doesn't tell us much - perhaps that engineering is overwhelmingly hostile to most students, but marginally less so to male ones?

My experience was that even stereotypical male engineers found it hard going and even the "relief" of drug use didn't help a lot. Canterbury made it somewhat worse by isolating the engineering school, but really the combination of high workloads and the engineering culture is pretty off putting to a lot of people. When I was there our workload peaked at 38 contact hours per week for undergrads, which is up there with medicine and other "hard" courses.

I saw a lot of work in electrical engineering to make the courses more attractive to women and other non-traditional students, I think in large part as recognition that the great majority of students found the small but vocal minority of traditional engineering types offensive. Mostly those people studied mechanical or civil engineering, but their influence was widespread. I knew far more geeky types who liked quiet solitude than rugby-playing boofheads, but the latter set the public tone of the place.

Keep pushing, at all levels, I think is the best strategy. Especially keep asking why certain workplaces don't employ many female engineers. But you also need to keep asking young girls how they're going to support themselves when they grow up and make it really, really clear that without a decent career they're screwed. Because that pressure is what makes people willing to take up an unappealing career that pays well.

katy said...

"I don't know why you think it's only hostile to women."

What we found was that there were particular challenges that female engineers faced in their careers. This may be a reason why there is such a shortage of female engineering academics, for example.

What did you see in electrical engineering that that made it different??

Anonymous said...

I have a BE. I was the first woman (okay, girl, i was 17) to study electronic engineering in CIT (1996)

There were no female toilets in the block - i had to walk to the IT department to find some.

Lecturers and Tutors would run from the other end of the corridor to open doors for me. I was a novelty. This really pissed me off but I was too polite to ask them to stop with any real force.

There are constant little things to remind you that you're not normal - tutors would say "Good morning gentlemen" or "follow me to the labs, boys".

Sexist jokes are still common, not targeted at me but derogatory and about women so of course I felt they were about it. These days I tear down people who spout such crap, so I'm sure i have a reputation as a bitch who can't take a joke. I used to just let them insult my gender every day, which is really fucked up way of living.

It hasn't changed hugely. It's common to find calendars of naked women in equipment rooms - my first job I had to once again trek to the admin part of the building to find a ladies toilet (power stations built in 1930 didn't have women's toilets anywhere else).

The weirdest part is often the lunch breaks. At a job not so long ago the women (administration, accountants, receptionists) sit at one table for lunch, and the men (engineers, technicians, and the bosses) sit at another. I would initially sit with the guys, preferring to talk about computer games, combustion engines, and programming algorithms.. but the table fell silent when i sat there. If i sat with the women's table they welcomed me, but really I don't care about shortland street, babies, and clothing sales. Lunch times were either uncomfortable or a bore.. I picked uncomfortable, but they never did relax when I was there.

It's like time warp to the 50s in some engineering firms I've worked in.

This is sounding overly negative.
It's a great field. There is no physical boundary to women doing great in it - i've done well. and it's also well paid. I reached $100k within 5 years of graduating. I also have great friends, men and women, who are also engineers.

But, Moz, I don't know where you studied, or where you worked, but there is definitely something up with gender roles and social norms in the engineering culture in NZ.

Brenda said...

So many female students are siphoned away into the peripheral support roles in science, technology and engineering.

This often come disguised as helping women into the field, when really they're part of the problem, teaching young people that women don't belong there, or that the roles with all the glory should belong to men.

I blogged about a meeting I had with such a group:

"behind the lipstick" indeed!

Psycho Milt said...

Pedant's corner:

Ms MacLeod said it was important to have women engineers so females' needs were considered when designing systems.

At some point in the last 20 years, "woman" became an adjective and "female" became a noun, so that an incorrect sentence like the one above became unremarkable. How and why did that happen?

Anonymous said...

The engineering department at Auckland is legendary in their appalling treatment of women academics, I take my hat off to the women who are still there.

White, male students are actually a minority in the Egineering faculty around 30%. Moreover employers complain that there just aren't enough white males coming out with engineering degrees. (And who said NZ was no longer sexist or racist?) Perhaps we need some affirmative action to help this downtrodden minority group ;)

bryce said...

Anon @ Friday, July 03, 2009 4:05:00 PM. Youre talking crap, so much so I believe your comment is a work of fiction.

I started my career in engineering as an apprentice fitter & turner about 30 years ago, I have Trade Certificate, Advanced Trade Certificate, NZEC & a BE. Ive gone from the bottom as an apprentice running errands to the top running the boardroom. Ive worked with a wide range of people from a wide range backgrounds. when I was at CIT late 70's early 80's I had both male and female classmates, there were male and female toilets in all detparments. Lecturers and Tutors would never run to open doors for students even female students and that was in 1979! and youre saying youre the first woman to do engineering at CIT and it was 1996!

As for sexist jokes - "These days I tear down people who spout such crap, so I'm sure i have a reputation as a bitch who can't take a joke. I used to just let them insult my gender every day, which is really fucked up way of living" - You do sound like someone I fired a year or two back for offensive behaviour. Most workplaces ive been involved with have an expectation that all staff have of a decent level of behaviour towards each other. You sound like such a disagreable its no wonder people dont want to sit next to you at lunch... its got nothing to do with you being a woman.