Monday, 10 October 2016

04 - Where have all the female engineering students gone?

The title might seem a little bit forced, but otherwise I couldn't show you this video that I just found :) I wanted to write a post about engineer women because I recently attended two conferences (and will attend shortly the third) and couldn't help but notice one shocking phenomenon: the saddening ratio of female participants. (I'm a little bit afraid of writing about this so I want to make it clear already that I'm  not against engineer men, neither against engineer women, I just observed something that I'm sharing with you now.) You may say that it's perfectly normal in the engineering field but I can't agree with that because this is not what I remember back from my undergraduate and graduate student years. Before continue reading (in case you still insist on that...) please keep in mind that I do not intend to present here a scientific paper on the topic, just trying to capture my thoughts and collect my personal experiences on the issue.
Let me start with some numbers from my Bachelor studies (conducted at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Hungary – and since I mention it here, let me advise you to have a look on the exact building, where I spent four years four my life; spectacular, isn't it? :)). As I still have access to all my courses I ever took and all the relevant data (marks, lists of students, schedules etc.), I randomly picked some courses and counted the female and male students who attended them together with me.

Ratio of male and female students during my Bachelor in different courses I attended.

I think it's not too bad… And this is what I was actually remembering when I got shocked on the first conference I attended. OK, it's not 50-50, but not that far from it. In addition, as far as I remember, among the students that actually regularly visited the courses, the ratio of women was even better ;) 

I have a joint Master degree from the Erasmus Mundus Master programme called SUSCOS and so there we had our fixed class throughout the three semesters. In this class that ratio of women were still at the acceptable level of 30.4 %.

To be honest I also tried to find some general statistics on regarding the ratio of female students of higher education in the technical fields or of employees in the technical fields in general. However the only really relevant data set I could find was the 'Share of women among tertiary students enrolled in engineering, manufacture and construction' and some chosen country's data you can see in the figure below. Minor remarks: I chose France because I'm here right now and because the conference I'm going to attend will be held here; I chose Ireland because I'm moving there soon for my secondment and because one of my past conferences was held there; I chose Slovakia because the other conference was held there; and I chose Hungary because despite how much it can upset me what is going on there, it still remains my beloved home country.
'Share of women among tertiary students enrolled in engineering, manufacture and construction' [Ref: eurostat]
So let's see first the data of Slovakia. The numbers are close enough to the ones I experienced during my BSc and MSc studies, which is quite good (although theoretically 45-55% should be called 'good'...). However the other countries' numbers, especially Hungary's and Ireland's,  don't look friendly at all, moreover they actually has decreased since 2003. How can that be? I don't know...

And so finally let me show the statistics of my three aforementioned conferences: CERI2016 in Ireland, BDB in Slovakia and ESReDa in France regarding either the presenting or the first author of the papers (so I counted one person per paper and not all the participants as I do not have data for the latter).

The ratio of the male and female 'presenters' of 'my' three conferences

This figure shows that the ratio of women on these conferences is about half of the ratio of the female students during (my) civil engineering studies. I would also like to emphasize that on BDB conference there were industrial designers as well beside researchers and academic people. Which fact, I may think, could lead to an increase of the number of female participants, but 'en fait' it didn't.

I don't really have any answer... I only have questions now... And as I'm not a sociologist maybe this is fine like this. Nevertheless I promise to return to bridges in my next post ;)

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