Women in Engineering

The headline would seem to indicate that there are quite a few women who are practicing engineers in the electronics industry. But you know that isn't so. More correctly, the headline should read, “The Lack of Women in Engineering.” Very few women display the title of engineering on their business cards. The responses to our 2008 Salary Survey featured in the April issue lend credibility to this premise. Only 5% of the more than 1,600 professionals who responded to our annual survey were women.

Perception over the years has been that girls just don't do as well as boys when it comes to math and science. Because of this, some parents tend to steer their daughters away from taking science and technology courses in high school, fully expecting they won't be able to learn the material and, consequently, get low grades. This notion only perpetuates the myth of gender inequality.

Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley collected the necessary data to hopefully set the record straight. The findings: Girls are just as adept in math as boys. In work funded by the National Science Foundation, the study leader, Janet Hyde, psychology professor at UW-Madison, along with other researchers sifted through math scores from more than 7 million students who were tested in accordance with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and the SAT.

According to a news release from UW-Madison, the team gathered data on students in 10 states including math scores from state exams, gender, grade level, ethnicity, and other pertinent information. From the data, the researchers calculated a quantity called effect size which determines the degree of difference between each gender's average math scores in standardized units. The results showed no difference—the average scores were the same for girls and boys.

Looking at the variability in math scores for both genders corroborated the fact that just as many girls as boys landed in the top scoring percentiles. Also, the data showed that the female students could handle complex problem solving equally as well as males.

As for complex problem solving, the researchers found a glaring omission in all of the state exams for NCLB. The tests just did not delve into the students' ability to solve complex problems, forcing the researchers to look elsewhere for this data. Since teachers gear their instruction to what's asked on their state's exams, it's possible that complex problem solving will deteriorate for both girls and boys in the future. Dr. Hyde noted that “this skill can be taught in the classroom, but we need to motivate teachers to do so by including them on the tests.”

But teachers and tests can only do so much. We, the parents and grandparents, must get more involved in our children's education.

So here's what you need to do. When you go home tonight, tell your daughters all about your challenging engineering work and why you enjoy it. Tell them an engineering career is not just for boys but for girls, too. Girls can handle the math and science courses equally as well as boys if given the proper guidance and encouragement. You can make a difference.

Paul Milo
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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