“…the debate goes on concerning women’s place in engineering, one of the most traditionally male professions” (Bix 45)

The engineering profession comes from a long history of gendered politics, even before the requirement of a formal engineering degree.  In the last century, many women have had to struggle with the issue of not only being allowed into engineering programs, but also proving that they were capable of such a career even after achieving schooling in the field.  Many of the problems arose from the conservative gendered traditions imposed after the need for working women was terminated with the return of men after World War II.  Women were forced back into the traditional  and very limited wife and mom roles that were thought necessary for the nuclear family.

However, there were some very brave women that chose to endure unwanted attention and harassment from colleges that did not choose to willingly accommodate them and male students who did not feel that women belonged in classes with them in order to pursue their technical interests.  These women began banding together to create programs and organized groups such as  the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Association of Women Students (AWS), which worked to pave the way for other female engineering students and facilitate their careers in a male-dominated field.  Furthermore, these organized groups worked very hard in portraying an environment that was welcoming of women in order to cultivate interests in the engineering field in girls who believed it to be a male-only career choice.  Even with associations that looked to eradicate sexism and the passing of the 1964 Civil rights Act which created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there was a lot of backlash from their male counterparts.  Many men did not believe that women were intellectually capable of pursuing a field like engineering and endeavored to criticize and advocate for the ending of coeducation.  Even those men, whether at universities or large scale companies, that deemed themselves “allies” to the cause, chose to sexualize women or completely ignore the prospect of them actually working as an engineer.

As times have gone on and traditional gender roles have been relaxed, women have made great strives to become included not only in the engineering field but many male-dominated fields from which they were previously banned from.  Groups such as  the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Association of Women Students (AWS) have led the way for groups such as Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN), and even the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), which choose to bypass gender and focus on other diversity challenges such as race and ethnicity.  The creation of organized groups such as they ones mentioned above are a response to the lack of diversity in the engineering field, dominated by white male students, and they will continue to improve the conditions that are currently posing problems for society as a whole.

Sources:

Amy Sue Bix, “From ‘Engineeresses’ to “Girl Engineers’ to ‘Good Engineers’: A History of Women’s U.S. Engineering Education.” National Women’s Studies Association Journal 16(2004): 1, 27-49.

“Professional Organizations.” Engineer Girl, National Academy of Engineering, www.engineergirl.org/246/Professional-Organizations?id=246.