Women make up only 14%, of the total number, of the engineering workforce. This number has not sufficiently increased since the early 2000’s. Gender inequality in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is at an all-time high. Realistically, in any career field, women make only 80% compared to male pay rates.
“There are only a handful of female engineering majors, so naturally I try to gravitate towards them whenever we’re together,” comments Elaine Khor, a current female engineering major, at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), about the inequality within her college.
A common bias associates the science field with males and the arts and humanities field with females. These stereotypes derive from the perception of the characteristics it takes to be successful in each field. Many people associate engineering with jobs that require muscle and much brain. The arts and humanities are considered easier concepts and appeal more to the “overemotional” mindset of females.
The pressure of applying to the different colleges, within the universities, is another major reason for the low rates of female engineering students. According to the American Association of University Women, “A female student taking a math test experiences an extra cognitive and emotional burden of worry related to the stereotype that women are not good at math. A reference to this stereotype, even one as subtle as taking the test in a room of mostly men, can adversely affect her test performance. When the burden is removed, however, her performance will improve.”
When Khor entered college, she was undecided but soon strived to be accepted into the College of Engineering. She faced great challenges and much pressure. She needed to maintain at least a 2.5 out of 4.0 GPA and needed to complete specific courses in association to science and math. “Advisors at UIC basically looked at me and told me, in my face, I wouldn’t get in,” she said. She didn’t let this stop her though. She continued with the application process and was successfully accepted and will soon be finishing her degree.
For students not already accepted to UIC, you must be in the upper 80-90 percentile of your high school, compared to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences or the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs where students are only required to be in the 60 percentile range of the high school graduating class. These requirements depict how challenging it is to be accepted into engineering. Despite stereotypes, students shouldn’t feel intimidated because of their gender and should strive to have much motivation as Khor does. “Stereotypes are often generalized for engineering as a whole, where it isn’t as common for a girl to be a STEM major, but I’ve chosen to ignore them and be strong-headed. There have been times where males in my major have talked down on me because I am a female, but I didn’t let that get to me,” she said.