Still, the rate of movement into rather nontraditional fields, such as engineering, increased slightly in the 1980s and had managed an increase of only four percent by the 1990s, “with women's share of engineering degrees increased [ing] by only 2 percentage points during the same period. ”3 Regarding engineering studetns at the university level, the situation seems not to improve much and the disregard and/or seriousness of women striving to attain their goal of working as engineers are thwarted even at this level. The Society of Women Engineers in a comprehensive review of the subject presents some startling and discouraging information about support for female students at the college level.
Citing a“long running, institutional anti-women bias, ” evidence from the society reveals that university programs designed to coordinate high level mentors with female students on the lower levels are far from working, and that “mentors typically spend as little as fifteen minutes a week reading and writing emails with protégés. ” 4 It is true, however, that the number of women receiving advanced degrees has been rising incrementally. More disturbing is the fact that the same prejudices affecting attitudes among teachers at the lower and university level may very likely also affect attitudes about hiring women engineers.
There is, apparently, a common attitude that biologically women do not have an equal ability in spatial skills that affects their ability to absorb information necessary to make good engineers. As Tamar Lewen notes in a New York Times article on March 22, 2010 quoting university research director, Catherine Hill, “We found a lot of small things can make a difference, like a course in spatial skills for women going into engineering. " While Hill in her research appears to be promoting women in the field, when carefully analyzed her comment actually feeds into a notion expressed in the same article by then President of Harvard, Larry Summers, who, when commenting on the disparity between men and women in the field, said “.. .there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude” reinforced by “lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. ” Hill in the same articles goes on, ““Even if there are biological factors in boys outnumbering girls, they are clearly not the whole story.
There’s a real danger in assuming that innate differences are important in determining who will succeed. ..” One can only imagine how comments such as these may affect a human resource director in terms of hiring practices.
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