Groups seek to advance female role in engineering
Many feel more must be done to correct gender imbalance
February 1, 2012, 9:16 pm·
Penn’s engineering community is looking to bring the role of female engineers to the fore.
Tonight at the Inn at Penn, the Society of Women Engineers will hold its 15th annual corporate dinner where it will discuss career opportunities for female Engineering students.
According to SWE President and Engineering senior Jenn Liu, the event sheds light on the progress women have made — as well as what has yet to be achieved — at the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“Many girls [in engineering classes] are the only one or two girls in their classes, and it is hard for some people to stay in the major when they find that out,” Liu said.
“[Female engineers] get a lot of attention because women are a minority,” she said. “A lot of workplaces have special programs set aside for women as a pipeline for leadership.”
According to Deputy Dean for Education at the Engineering School Vijay Kumar, 36 percent of the school’s Class of 2015 is female. This compares to an overall female enrollment at all four undergraduate levels of the Engineering School of 33 percent, he added.
“While we still have a lot of work to do, the trend is positive and encouraging,” Kumar wrote in an email.
Certain departments in the Engineering School display more gender balance than others.
For example, the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Bioengineering departments are 40 and 50 percent female, respectively, according to Director of Advancing Women in Engineering Michele Grab. AWE was founded in 2007 to focus on recruiting and retaining women engineers.
However, other departments in the school — such as Computer and Information Science and Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics — are 25 percent female.
Compared to national averages, though, the Engineering School is performing well in CIS and MEAM, Kumar wrote.
The increase in female representation has come from various efforts, including initiatives by groups like AWE and SWE.
Grab said that women engineers are important to provide perspectives from a diverse collection of people.
“Engineering is about problem-solving by bringing the knowledge about science and math to solve a problem,” Grab said. “And it is important to have all different opinions on the table.”
Liu agreed that there are many benefits to increasing the number of female engineers at Penn and across the country.
“Even though Penn has high rates for female engineers, the number significantly decreases in the working world,” she said. “It’s something that affects the demographics a lot.”