Myths vs. Facts: The Truth About Women in STEM

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Happy Women’s History Month!

MYTH #1: Women aren’t interested in engineering.

Fact: Women are interested in engineering but there are stereotypes hindering them from developing this interest. Significant gender differences begin to emerge around middle school when girls report that they don’t feel as confident in their STEM abilities compared to their male counterparts. Prevalent beliefs driving this lack of confidence include the gender-based division of labor, which deters girls from developing interests in occupations deemed inappropriate for their gender. Researchers at Stanford University recently published their findings which showed how “women engineering students perform as well as men, but…don’t believe that their skills are good enough and they don’t feel like they fit in engineering.” The best way to put an end to this leading myth is to break the underlying stereotype driving it and to encourage girls to pursue their interests from a young age. The upcoming Women in Engineering Summit at NYU SOE aims to address this issue while inspiring and empowering women in STEM.

MYTH #2: Women who begin a major in engineering are less likely to stick with it and graduate with a degree in engineering.

Fact: Engineering is often thought of as a difficult program, one that “weeds-out” the good engineer students from the bad, resulting in a high dropout rate. Contrary to this belief, engineering retention is not significantly lower than other fields and more importantly, women are just as likely as men to remain in engineering. Studies show that there is no difference between the innate skills of male and female engineering students so women perform as well as men in engineering school.

MYTH #3: There are no female role models in engineering.

Fact: The engineering field has plenty of female role models. One only has to do a quick Google search to find them. For instance, Hedy Lamarr, renowned actress during the 1930s and 1940s, is now more commonly known for her technological invention, “frequency hopping.” As World War II loomed, Hedy Lamarr wanted to help defeat Nazism and came up with an electronics radio system to help American and Allied submarines launch torpedoes without having their signals jammed. “Frequency hopping” was later used to help make cell phones, Wi-Fi and other wireless inventions. Another female role model is Ellen Richards who contributed to the field through her pioneering work in sanitary engineering. In 1892, Richards introduced the word “ecology” in the United States and through her studies of air, water and food quality she became the first female student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

MYTH #4: Women do not occupy top positions in Engineering.

Fact: There is a significant gender disparity when it comes to top positions at companies across various industries and the field of engineering is no stranger to this disparity. In fact, when it comes to engineering, it’s much worse as men tend to dominate the c-suite positions. Part of the reason for this is there are fewer women at engineering schools to begin with. But, be that as it may, several women today occupy top positions in engineering including managers, directors, presidents and CEOs of companies. To strive toward these positions, women engineering students, like their male counterparts, should adopt a multi-layered approach to their job search, taking advantage of their school resources, leveraging their network to make important connections, and effectively utilizing social media for their job search.

Learn more about the Engineering/Technology/Computer Science/Info Systems/Construction Management/Entrepreneurship industries by attending these events:

Corporate Presentation: KMK Consulting, Inc., March 2nd, 4:30pm – 5:30pm

Women in STEM Career Panel, March 4th, 4:30 pm – 6:30pm