[Marxism] How to Attract Female Engineers

Andrew Pollack acpollack2 at gmail.com
Mon Apr 27 11:34:23 MDT 2015

Makes sense to me.

It would be interesting to also look at how women are drawn to economics
when their programs prioritize equally social-value oriented research
projects (i.e. to analyze how capitalism fucks up work and family, and how
that could be overcome).
  The Opinion Pages <http://www.nytimes.com/pages/opinion/index.html> |
Op-Ed Contributor How to Attract Female Engineers

 THE figures are well known: At Apple 20 percent of tech jobs are held by
women and at Google, only 17 percent. A report by the Congressional Joint
Economic Committee estimates that nationwide about 14 percent of engineers
in the work force are women.

As a woman with a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, I look at those numbers
with despair.

Why are there so few female engineers? Many reasons have been offered:
workplace sexism, a lack of female role models, stereotypes regarding
women’s innate technical incompetency, the difficulties of combining tech
careers with motherhood. Proposed fixes include mentor programs, student
support groups and targeted recruitment efforts. Initiatives have begun at
universities and corporations, including Intel’s recent $300 million
diversity commitment.

But maybe one solution is much simpler, and already obvious. An experience
here at the University of California, Berkeley, where I teach, suggests
that if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful,
women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering
but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical
and chemical engineering.

I work at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, which recently began a
new program that, without any targeted outreach, achieved 50 percent female
enrollment in just one academic year. In the fall of 2014, U.C. Berkeley
began offering a new Ph.D. minor in development engineering for students
doing thesis work on solutions for low-income communities. Half of the
students enrolled in the inaugural class are women. They are designing
affordable solutions for clean drinking water, inventing medical diagnostic
equipment for neglected tropical diseases and enabling local manufacturing
in poor and remote regions.

Women seem to be drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve
societal good. Curious to learn whether that was true at other
universities, my colleagues and I contacted the dozens of universities that
have programs aimed at reducing global poverty and inequality. What we
found was consistent and remarkable.

The undergraduate-level international minor for engineers at the University
of Michigan reports that 51 percent of its students are women. Those women
are predominantly majoring in some of the oldest and most traditional
engineering fields — industrial operations and mechanical and chemical
engineering — where, arguably, gender stereotypes are most entrenched.

At the interdisciplinary D-Lab at M.I.T., which focuses on developing
“technologies that improve the lives of people living in poverty,” 74
percent of over 230 enrolled students this past year were women. This makes
the D-Lab one of the few engineering initiatives in the country that has a
severalfold higher enrollment of women than men.

Arizona State University said that its humanitarian engineering courses and
study options have twice as many women as its traditional engineering
classes. Comparable programs at the University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania
State University and Santa Clara University also report significant
increases in the numbers of women participating.
Continue reading the main story
reading the main story
Continue reading the main story

The trend is also true for stand-alone classes. Susan Amrose, who teaches a
U.C. Berkeley civil and environmental engineering course on design for
sustainable communities, counted 128 female and 103 male students since the
class began in 2006. “Last fall, we had 70 percent women,” Dr. Amrose
noted. “Many of them tell me they are seeking out opportunities to work on
technical projects with a strong purpose, such as improving fuel-efficient

Student-driven clubs and programs see the same patterns. At Princeton, the
student chapter of Engineers Without Borders has an executive board that is
nearly 70 percent female, reflecting the overall club composition. Seventy
percent of the university’s student-run Sustainable Engineering and
Development Scholars program is also female.

None of the programs, clubs and classes were designed with the main goal of
appealing to female engineers, and perhaps this is exactly why they are
drawing us in. At the core of each of the programs is a focus on
engineering that is cutting edge, with an explicit social context and

What does all this show? It shows that the key to increasing the number of
female engineers may not just be mentorship programs or child care centers,
although those are important. It may be about reframing the goals of
engineering research and curriculums to be more relevant to societal needs.
It is not just about gender equity — it is about doing better engineering
for us all.

Lina Nilsson
is the innovation director at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at
the University of California, Berkeley.

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A version of this op-ed appears in print on April 27, 2015, on page A19 of
the New York edition with the headline: How to Attract Female Engin

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