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October 29, 2014 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-10-29

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8B Wednesday October 29 20 The Statement

From Page 5B

Research done by the US Air Force con-
cluded undergraduate females with a larger
proportion of female STEM teachers are
more likely to declare STEM majors. Of
the 157 tenured and tenure-track profes-
sors listed in the Electrical Engineering and
Computer Science faculty page, less than 14
percent are female.
"It's true we need more women on our
faculty, we also need more minorities, and
really there are not enough in the pipeline
in terms of enough graduating with Ph.D.s
in engineering, which makes it challenging
for us to build," Munson said. "We can't tell
departments who to hire, but we do approve
the pool from which they choose, which
lets us ensure it's not just a list of Caucasian
The dwindling numbers
Abigail Stewart, a psychology and wom-
en's studies professor, currently serves as
the founding director of U-M ADVANCE -
a University program designed to improve
campus environments for faculty members,
particularly women and minorities. Accord-
ing to her, recruitment is only half the battle.
"ADVANCE, over the past 12 years has
coordinated with many faculty depart-
ments, including physics and engineering,
when it comes to hiring a diverse field of
candidates," she said. "But part of it is also
making sure that. after we hire them. they

aren't being discounted."
"In order to ensure that doesn't happen,"
Stewart said. "We conduct periodical cli-
mate studies,goingto different departments
and evaluating whether or not there's a
healthy work environment in place. Because
a lot of the times, for graduate faculty and
postdocs, this is their world."
"They're not all over campus doing all
these different things," she continued.
"They're in one space most of the time, and
so if that one space is confining or demoral-
izing, it can be extremely detrimental."
In the meantime, the imbalance contin-
ues to create work and classroom atmo-
spheres that may not be outwardly hostile,
but are tilted in favor of the dominant
majority. Hochster described multiple stud-
ies carried out over the last decade which
highlight obvious examples of engendered
sexism appearing in everyday contexts.
One of those studies, also cited in Pol-
lack's article, pointed to work done by Yale
researchers who quantifiably concluded
that women in STEM fields with the same
qualification as their male counterparts are
less likely to be offered the same job. And if
they did get the job, they would - on aver-
age - collect $4,000 less in annual pay.
This creates a cyclic nature of depre-_
ciation in the classroom that Davis, as the
director for WISE, feels needs to be com-
bated while tangible efforts are made to
make classrooms more renresentative of the

"A critical mass of any group within
a larger setting is important in terms of
climate, so small numbers of women in a
classroom can lead to a feeling of margin-
alization," Davis said. "As the numbers
increase there is a qualitative difference in
terms of comfort levels and contributions."
Carrie Schoeneberger, an Engineering
senior and SWE's external vice president,
described her experience interning at a
nuclear power plant over the summer.
"I was put into a systems engineering
group and almost everyone was male, but I
feel like I was able to adapt to it," she said.
"No one was openly being discouraging or
anything but you pick up on little things -
like people (censoring) jokes so they don't
'offend the woman.' "
Engineering senior Lauren Reeves, presi-
dent of Michigan's chapter of the National
Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), added
that the biased treatment becomes more
visible when faced by women of color.
"A lot of times in my classes if we're
breaking into groups, I'llnotice that it's usu-
ally just other people of color who approach
me to work with them," she said. "Which
furthers the sort of negative, unwelcoming
attitude alot of people don't even have to
think about."
"And because there are so few of us, the
problem feels even more magnified," Reeves
Through NSBE,Reeves
and other members try to
create a close-knit fam-
ily that can offer new
students the outlets they
may need to express
concerns and seek guid-
ance. Though with an
ever-diminishing body of
Black student engineers,
the situation presents a
"Our membership
depends completely on
how many Black stu-
dents are accepted by
the College of Engineer-
ing," Reeves said. "So the
smaller that number is,
the harder it is for us to
create a strong commu-
nity for the people who
are here."
A ticking clock
So why are we talking
about this now?
According to McKay
and Munson, many of
these issues have been
brewing behind the
scenes for decades.
Though departments
across the country have

been trying to address the daunting task
for years, recently, the discussion has been
pulled to the forefront in a highly transpar-
ent, social-media-centric world.
"What's encouraging, though, are the
most recent results of the check-ins we do
every five years across campus to gauge
whether or not we're addressing the prob-
lems," Stewart said. "In the first one we did,
from 2001 to 2006, we got a pretty regular
spread, but from 2006 to 2012,,there's been
this huge, positive upswing in dialogues
about these topics."
"Part of that is transparency," Stewart
added. "Though I'm convinced more has
to do with just a general willingness to hit
these problems head-on, which is inspiring."
Still, concrete explanations for seemingly
random dips in representation - like the one
experienced across most STEM fields over
the last decade - are few and far between.
One possible answer has to do with the
Curiously, the slowdown of women's rep-
resentation in the STEM workforce early in
the 21st century coincides with upticks in
national employment figures. When those
employment percentages fell in 2008, after
the housing and credit meltdown, women
turned back to science coursework.
Mapped in yearly demographic reports
by the National Science Foundation, strong
upward trends in the representation of
women in STEM occupations between 1997
and 2003 were followed by years of a slow,
plateauing decline. But after 2007, there was
an acceleration, likely due to a larger portion
of female undergraduates seeking degrees
that offered more job security in the midst of
a tenuous economic crisis. Even so, the pro-
gression is more dire when limiting our view
to computer science, where - unlike any
other subsection of STEM - representation
has fallen since the early 1990s, showing no
signs of slowing the decline after 2007.
"I think this holds true for a lot of minori-
ties going after the sciences," Munson said.
"The job security these majors offer has
always been a great pull, so the economy
is definitely a factor, but we hope the trend
"It's worth noting that these pressures
from the economy also means they're more
anxious about whether or not they want
to go after those careers - go after those
careers as women," Stewart said. " 'Is this
really somethingI want to devote the rest of
my life to?''Will I be viewed differently in
society, as less of a woman, if I do?'"
The explanations-for why representation
slowed when the economy soared are more
difficult to come by, but can provide insight
into avoiding similar dips in the future.
Some lines of reasoning cite societal pres-
sures on females to move away from bread-
winner roles, especially at times when the
traditionally male-dominated economy isn't

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