Kath Xu ’16, senior lecturer in mechanical engineering Dawn Wendell ’04 SM ’06 PhD ’11, and Andrea Walsh lecturer in comparative media studies and writing studied the reasons for the increased gender diversity in MIT Mechanical Engineering department and presented their results in June at the 2017 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference.
The study is revealing in many ways and can be utilized back home in India to bring down the increased gender gap in engineering streams.
Gender Parity as recruitment tool
One of the tools employed by MIT was to showcase the number of women and minorities at the institute. By showcasing the number of women on campus through blogs and Campus Preview Weekend, MIT was able to pull in more female applicants.
Indian institutes do not follow a similar admission process, but showcasing the engineering institutes with favorable gender diversity, the possibility of receiving more female applicants can be increased. In 2017, total candidates who registered for the JEE Main exam, an entrance exam for admission to engineering institutes, were 1186454 out of which 856897 were boys, 329554 were girls, and 3 were transgender candidates.
Female Faculty as Existence Proof
In their study, the researchers found that female students looked up to female faculty not just for guidance and mentorship but also as a proof of existence of women in the department. It was clear that having more women in leadership positions helped female students to have perspective about engineering and career in engineering. This can work in India too, were the gender ratio in terms of faculty in an engineering institute is low too.
Accepting the existence of Gender Gap
The researchers said that the first step to bridging the gap is to accept that there is a gap. The researchers also addressed the cultural biases and said that subtle changes helped in slowly combating the gender gap and that it was still a long way to go.
In India, engineering institutes have incorporated various schemes to combat the gender gap in its classrooms. Only recently, IITs increased the number of seats reserved for women from 2018 onwards. The NITs too are pondering over increasing the number of seats for female students.
Challenges in India
Apart from the factors mentioned above, there are certain other challenges which are exclusive to India. One of the glaring reason for less women in engineering streams and still lesser in mechanical engineering is the assumption that these are fields meant for men. The career path for engineers is male-dominated too making it difficult for women to stay in the field after completing the course. Many female engineers we spoke to confirmed that their co-workers or female classmates chose to quit after marriage or pregnancy.
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