Opinions

Sexism in Engineering

October 27th, 2017

Why is this still a problem?

For years, women have faced problems in the workforce. Although these problems have significantly decreased over the last decade or so, there are still some issues that remain prevalent. The wage gap is still at 85% and Trump’s new birth control restrictions mean that women are still not treated as equals. When it comes to a certain program at our campus it’s not any better. The engineering program, in general, is known for having a male-dominated faculty. There is even a running joke on our campus that the massive painting of the baby chicken in the EME building as the “only chick in engineering.” In my time at UBCO I have discovered that the complaints from female students in engineering are very different from those in other programs. While we all complain about workload and the pressure of assignments, these women are facing a set of challenges many believe to be behind us. I have been in contact with several women who would, for obvious reasons, like to remain anonymous, as well as Kaila Spencer and Holly Denby of the Women in Engineering Club, and their stories are very real.
The main complaint involves group projects, which nearly every class in engineering has. Several of the sources reported that these group projects are often dominated by one or two male students who take over the main tasks and limit the amount of important work that the women can do. Each source that has encountered this all tell a similar story: that they get the easiest job, nothing critical, and never anything that has to do with calculations. This was no surprise to Kaila and Holly as they mentioned that “every woman will have a story like this because of the sheer number of group projects.” One source mentioned that even when she did manage to do the mathematical work, her work was simply not used at all. “It seems I end up getting the “easiest” parts as I won’t be able to handle the other harder parts,” she says, “Once I get my sections finished it never seems to be good enough. Either I have to redo it or they don’t allow me to fix it and they just do it themselves.” When you put 12 hours and almost 10,000 data points of work into a project and your hard work is disregarded, it is not hard to understand how these women can be beyond irritated.
Outside of group work, the problems become less unified and more of a constant reminder of the inequality. Some women notice a lack of respect from a couple professors or teacher’s assistants during class, “I have also had issues with Profs and TA’s not treating the women the same [as men] with regards to giving out marks and answering questions,” said an anonymous female Engineering student. Holly commented that some professors are taking a stance against this and making student use gender-neutral pronouns for their work.

That may not be enough, however, when women have their ideas rejected, which happens to everyone, but then have those same ideas praised when they are made by a male student. While these are circumstantial problems that might not happen all the time, when you add them all together it paints a picture of a program that is not welcoming for everyone and makes others understand why the wage gap is still an issue.

The Women in Engineering Club will be hosting events and workshops to promote women in the program. The workshops will include guidance for job interviews and how to negotiate higher wages, all about the imposter syndrome (women feeling like they don’t belong) and how to promote engineering to women. They are focusing on the positive rather than the negative and how to improve the situation rather than dwelling on the problems that currently exist.

Holly and Kaila were very clear that the culture has significantly improved from the past. There are women in leadership roles and they feel that our school is very approachable when it comes to issues of any nature, not just the issue of sexism. As Holly and Kaila have mentioned “it all depends on who you work with” as it may only be one or two men. Although that is not a large number of poorly raised men, a negative and discouraging impression that has been left on those female members of the engineering program who have experienced discrimination.

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