Women in STEM Education - A Chat with Erica Agbaku

Being a woman in fields such as Science, Technology, Engineering or Math, otherwise known as STEM, is very difficult.

According to some statistics, only one quarter of jobs in these fields are held by women.

Erica Agbaku, who has always had a passion for taking things apart and putting them back together, is a recent Mechanical Engineering graduate who has witnessed discrimination and blatant sexism throughout her studies in STEM.

“In my final year with my project, my team was to design an aircraft and I was with three men and one other woman. The men would always make comments about black people, how African students ‘shouldn’t go to University with us’ and ‘because they weren’t smart enough, they didn’t know how to govern themselves,'" said Agbaku. "Comments about women in the field and women complaining too much, like not being good enough and already having it good enough."

“Because we’re the minority, we have to put up with so much more nonsense coming from the majority, and the people that we should complain to, like professors and stuff, are also a member of that majority and they don’t often understand where we’re coming from or really empathize with what’s going on."

Agbaku talks about how during her final project with the predominantly male group, her issues ended up becoming so bad that she had to speak with different professors and speak with Human Resources. What came out of her complaints, was that her peers were instructed to write her letters of apology.

"It was the most insincere letter because they had all plagiarized off of each other…”

She says what she learned from this experience is that there wasn’t much that she could do about people like that.

“In the end, essentially we got to them too late. We can’t go back in time and raise them, teach them empathy, teach them that not everyone is like them and that’s okay, teach them right from wrong. So, in that situation, it’s just about how can we punish them? and if we are to punish them, will it make a difference?”

She also talked about how most women she has met in her field haven’t actually stayed in the field for very long.

Agbaku mentions a presenter who came to her class once and talked about how engineering is a field in which a person’s sex doesn’t matter.  However, at the end of his presentation, he said “welcome to the fraternity of engineering!”

“Do you know where you’re not going to find women?” Agbaku questions aloud. “In a fraternity.”