In NC State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, only a quarter of the students are female. This proportion is relatively high for large engineering departments. I will be studying at University College Cork in Ireland next semester. Out of curiosity, I looked up the percentage of women in their electrical engineering department and was dismayed to find that only 6% were women. Although this number can vary from between schools and countries, the impact that it has on the mindsets of young women is the same. It’s incredibly discouraging to know you’ll be one of only a handful of women in your classes and your jobs, which is why many women either leave technical fields or never enter them to begin with.
In my opinion, change is necessary at an earlier age. In college, I’ve been involved with several organizations and symposiums focused on empowering women in technical fields. There does not seem to be any lack of resources and encouragement for females at the collegiate level, at least in my program. However, I’ve noticed a striking difference in support between college and high school students.
High school is a critical time for decision-making. For many, this is the first time they will have freedom to choose classes that are of interest to them. The track that you are on in high school can have significant influence on the type of major and career that you will have. For example, if you choose to take more liberal arts classes, you will be more likely to be an English or sociology major than someone who chooses programming and engineering classes. Additionally, if you take Honors and AP classes in high school, you will be much more likely to continue to take challenging courses. It can be very difficult to change the track you’re on once you begin making these decisions.
To draw more women to STEM fields in high school, the advertisement of classes should be improved. At my high school, most STEM teachers were male. Most of the advisors for STEM clubs (Science Olympiad, Robotics Club, etc.) were male as well. To contrast this, all the art teachers and most English teachers were female. There might be equal representation of teachers overall in a high school, but I believe schools should be required to have equal representation of male and female faculty members within STEM and non-STEM classes.
Furthermore, it is important for young women to be exposed to professional women in engineering and technical fields. High schools should make more of an effort to collaborate with female professionals for career days and presentations. It would be impactful to organize career fairs featuring women from all fields so that high school girls can feel comfortable asking questions and learning more about careers that they might not otherwise.
With these changes at the high school level, women will feel more confident in choosing the fields that they wish to study, rather than the ones that society coerces them into.