Gender-based Hiring in Engineering: Insulting Today, Inspiring Tomorrow
I have been fortunate to be shaped by incredible women in my field, and it is my conviction that with time, my experience will be less of an anomaly.
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It is a well-known fact that the world of engineering is dominated by men. In the summer of 2019, the Technical University at Eindhoven in the Netherlands announced that in the next 18 months, the university would only be hiring women. This was a direct response to the revelation that only 15% of their faculty were female. We face similar statistics here in my country (the US): only 17.4% of faculty colleges of engineering in the U.S. are women.
Some years before, in 2017, I was an intern at an engineering firm where one in twenty engineers was a woman. One afternoon, while my coworker was at my desk, a client came up to us and told my coworker that his nephew would love to have an internship at our firm. My coworker replied that he probably wouldn't get the job because "we only hire female interns''. When I countered that half the interns were male, he defended himself by implying that the company will hire women who are not as talented as men, just to have more women. I had to excuse myself so I wouldn’t get publicly upset. When I came back, the client leaned over to my coworker and said, jokingly, "ooh she's mad at you". Later, I cried silently on the train home.
I am not an engineering professor, but I have been affected by the biases they face. My greatest mentor during my Bachelor’s degree was repeatedly denied a promotion by department heads who insinuated that her obligations as a mother would get in the way of her performance. I was devastated to see someone I admired so dismissed. It is disheartening to see the gender bias played out so plainly - a bias that I will inevitably face in my own career as well. Yet I feel inspired to share her story – she is the reason I loved fluid dynamics and led me to the internship in wind energy that shaped my career trajectory.
In its new measure, TU Eindhoven recognizes the benefits of diversity and seeks to overcome the inherent gender-based prejudice present in the hiring process. A 2012 study found that both female and male science faculty members “rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hirable than the (identical) female applicant, selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant”. Although it upsets me, I am not shocked by this statistic – it took me years to unlearn my bias that the boys in my class were ‘naturally’ more talented at math.
I have been fortunate to be shaped by incredible women in my field, and it is my conviction that with time, my experience will be less of an anomaly. As I progress in my engineering career, I hope that I might grow in my capacity to mentor and advocate for those women who will shape future solutions. In an ideal world, universities will allocate more weight in their hiring decisions to the intangible ways how women and under-represented minorities will improve their departments. Despite the short-term reinforcement of gender-based bias, quotas inarguably provide a way to drastically increase female presence in TU Eindhoven’s faculty. My heart reaches out to those women who apply despite being insulted by the notion that they can only be competing against other women.
Regardless, I am hopeful that when they are hired, they will go on to inspire a new generation of scientists. A generation who will not question the need for a diversity of perspectives and intellects to solve the world's most pressing problems.
 In physics and engineering, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that describes the flow of fluids—liquids and gases.
 Moss-Racusin, C. A., J. F. Dovidio, V. L. Brescoll, M. J. Graham, and J. Handelsman. "Science Faculty's Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109, no. 41 (2012): 16474-6479. doi:10.1073/pnas.1211286109.
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