Why Female Engineering Students Are Discouraged: Really?

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Below is an extract from Inside Higher Ed.

Begin Quote: Why Female Engineering Students Are Discouraged: October 26, 2011 – 3:00am

Women perform as well as men in engineering courses, but are less likely to stay in the field because of a confidence gap, according to research published in the new issue of American Sociological Review. Women are less likely to feel “professional role confidence,” the study found, which has to do both with their view of their own talent and also of their sense that they are in the correct field. “Often, competence in engineering is associated in people’s minds with men and masculinity more than it is with women and femininity. So, there are these micro-biases that happen, and when they add up, they result in women being less confident in their expertise and their career fit,” said the lead author of the study, Erin Cech, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. End Quote 
Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2011/10/26/why-female-engineering-students-are-discouraged#ixzz1c2l4sNLA

If this is the best that Stanford can do, we are in bad shape.  Professional role confidence? Engineering is associated with masculinity? Women feel less confident? Really? And therefore, what? Will Stanford offer a new course on Engineering and Feminity? Or how to make engineering feminine? May be a confidence pill? How about men in nursing? Do they need a confidence pill as well? Such reports and findings contribute nothing to our understanding of how to help our students and the US compete globally. Confidence, or lack thereof, is a universal problem and a universal aspiration. It spans all careers, all age groups, all disciplines, all nations, and all economic strata, albeit in varying degrees. There is no cure for it. Many of us suffer with it in some area or the other and we work our way through it.

We have women in the battlefield winning wars and medals. Is the military masculine? Did it stop women from enrolling and becoming leaders? Do these women feel less confident? We must stop splitting hairs and wasting resources on reports that are then widely publicized and become “truths.” Women AND men are strong, talented, confident. Some men lack confidence – some women lack confidence. Some professions are perceived as masculine, others feminine. So what? Ask women CEOs – they will tell you there were times when they did not feel confident or on top of the world. Yet, they plugged along. They persevered; they worked hard – harder. They didn’t blame others – instead, they tried to better themselves. They didn’t say or think about writing reports on their lack of confidence. They kept their eye on the goal and kept working. Most women do the same – they just don’t publish reports.

Dr. Uma G. Gupta is the President and Founder of STEM.SMART, a non-profit dedicated to the advancement of STEM.

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