Gender disparities cannot be solved in college


By Luke Vest

An increase in the number of women in the University’s engineering school is always a cause for celebration. That goes for any woman in science, technology, engineering or mathematics fields.

For years, the number of women in the department of computer science has lingered around 10 percent, but this year, the number of females in the computer science freshman class jumped to nearly 25 percent. This rise led to acknowledgment and celebration by the  campus.

The causes of the increase of women in STEM fields may be attributed to the efforts of various advocacy groups to encourage more women to join since they typically make up the minority of these majors.

But are organizations and encouragement truly effective methods for recruiting more females?  

I think that trying to recruit women into engineering and other STEM fields at the time they are about to enter college may be too late. At this point, much of a person’s interests have been established and persuading a person to pursue a certain career is more difficult. 

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I believe that the current childhood habits of males and females cause more men to enter engineering than women because men have a greater exposure to the field through childhood toys and games. For example, when we see LEGO commercials, they typically show boys building such things as airplanes, buildings, cars, etc. We typically don’t see this with young girls.

Recent efforts by companies such as GoldieBlox, which creates toys aimed to attract girls to engineering and encourage problem solving skills, target the root of the problem. However, I believe the next step toward increasing the number of women in STEM fields is to eliminate the idea of the gender gap. 

Instead of GoldieBlox promoting a toy just for girls, they should target their products towards both boys and girls instead of being singled out.

When women are constantly bombarded with people telling them they should pursue careers in the STEM fields, some may feel as if they are being forced to do something that they are not interested in. 

If someone frequently bugged me about becoming an architect because there wasn’t enough people of my demographic in the field, I would become annoyed and even think lowly of the subject, especially if I wasn’t particularly interested in architecture.

When toy companies use extravagant advertising campaigns for new science products that are obviously geared toward girls, for example, they are creating a gap between the two genders. They are acknowledging the historical gender roles while trying to break them at the same time.

A more subtle approach should be taken.

Toy companies should add toys to their catalog that appeal to both genders rather than using gaudy commercials that reinforce a gender gap in the minds of viewers. 

As a male in computer engineering, I have observed that the number of females in my introduction to electronics class is few and far between. 

I do not think it is because women can’t handle this class or workload, but maybe it’s because they are simply not interested in pursuing this major. Their interests might be geared towards other fields, which I think is a result of larger societal forces.

I don’t think the problem of fewer women in STEM fields would be solved by simply creating more gender-neutral toys for younger children, but this method would hopefully promote similar interests in both genders. 

The ultimate goal is to have a more equal number of males and females in STEM fields, but this cannot be brought about by persuading women to be interested in engineering, for example, when they are entering college.  

We must attack the root of the problem by addressing gender differences during childhood and eliminate the idea of gender disparity altogether.

When we finally stop trying to forcefully end this problem through gendered methods, like toys and advocacy groups, only then can this issue be resolved.

Luke is a freshman in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected].