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  • Subject area(s): Engineering
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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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Through constant trial and error, mankind has evolved, managing to create a system that allows us to live with some semblance of equality. However, every system has its imperfections, its blind spots. With a myriad of social issues to address, it is inevitable that some fall through the cracks. Arguably, one such issue is the gender divide, which is the difference in treatment between men and women. Many people in the 20th century, including renowned evolutionist Charles Darwin, believed that women were substandard to men (Bergman, 1994). This belief widened the chasm between men and women, having lasting, negative effects on various communities and even countries as a whole. The STEM industry is, unfortunately, also not immune to the plague that is gender inequality. STEM ‘is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach’ (Hom, 2014). In many STEM jobs, there is preferential treatment for males, and one such job is engineering. Engineering marries scientific theory and hands-on research, resulting in the birth of new knowledge about the intricate workings of this world. This marriage is why engineering is so crucial to effective industrial innovation, and its job description, contrary to popular belief, is in no way gender specific. However, ‘only about one out of every seven engineers is female’ (Beede et al., n.d.). There is limited female talent and inequitable male dominance in the engineering sector worldwide.

The restricted entry of females into engineering has palpable impacts on a country’s technological and economic development. There are also further implications on the cultural norms of a country, specifically on the public\'s treatment of women. These three impacts on society, in general, will be discussed in more detail in this essay.  

Firstly, gender inequality in engineering has damaging, long-term impacts on technology. ‘Technology is the application of science, engineering and industrial organization to create a human-built world’ (Pool, 1999). Engineering has contributed immensely to society. For example, Innovation Engineering, a branch of the industry that merges engineering and entrepreneurship, pushes the parameters of our technological advancement with new inventions. Regardless of gender, mankind needs to harness the abilities of all engineers to invent new gadgets that add utility to modern life (Banholzer, 2013).  Due to the gender divide, rightful credit has been stripped off of women and given their male coworkers. By refusing to acknowledge women and dismissing their work as subpar, the technological development in countries may be curbed. For the inventions that have been spearheaded by women, their contributions are either undermined or sidelined altogether. An example would be Chien-Shiung Wu: Wu was described as ‘best experimental physicists of her time’ (Lee, 2013), and one of her greatest, most important contributions was the evolution of the atomic bomb, one of the most dangerous, complex pieces of technology. However, much to the public’s outrage, Wu was not awarded a Nobel Prize for her effort, but her two male colleagues were (ibid). If Wu had been a man, there was a high possibility that she, too, would have been entitled to the Nobel Prize in 1957. Unfortunately, critical opinions of women\'s abilities ran rampant, and Wu\'s contribution was overlooked. In the testosterone-filled field of science and engineering, women have to work harder to be noticed. Even if they were accredited, they typically had to share the credit with their male coworkers or family members (Lincoln, n.d.). This is an unequivocal barrier to achieving a higher technological standard, for it is assumed that no researcher would want their hard work wrongly attributed. Hence, gender divide may very well be the flame that stifles the flame of technological innovation.

There are many aspects to a country’s development that is affected by the gender divide in engineering. The technological side, which has just been discussed, is only one of them. Now, the gender divide’s impacts on the economic development of a country will be examined.

Secondly, due to gender divide, there will be a smaller number of graduates to meet job demands. As a result, the economy of the country is bound to suffer. This is amplified when it is STEM jobs facing a shortage, for the STEM industry is an important benefactor for a country’s economy. Engineering, for example, contributed up to 27.1% of the UK’s economy on its own, according to the Engineering UK report 2016. It is thus worrying that there is a shortage of graduates starting work in the engineering industry (ibid). By deterring women from engineering jobs, the talent pool is automatically reduced by half. With a shortage of workers, any job sector would see a decrease in productivity and thus a decrease in revenue. This is supported by The Institution of Engineering and Technology (2015), which stated that ‘64 per cent of employers’ believe that the deficiency of engineers may harm their companies. To exacerbate the undersupply of workers, sexism and male dominance in the workplace is repelling what little female engineers being employed (Dizikes, 2016). The engineering industry is neither conducive nor hospitable to women, no matter what campaigns say, and it is because of this that the industry has not reached its full potential. The Engineering UK reported in 2016 that ‘more women working in STEM could contribute an extra £2 billion to the economy\'. The UK economy is suffering, and the root cause is the gender divide, which is preventing sufficient female representation. Therefore, appealing and sustaining the interest of female professionals in engineering is cardinal to ensuring sufficient replacement of able workers in the sector. Failing to do so may possible result in a nationwide economic downfall.

However, be that as it may, the more traditional would not be convinced that women play a role important enough to impact the economy on a countrywide scale. Thus, there will be an attempt to see from an alternative perspective and explain its legitimacy.

Opponents may say that the gender divide would negatively influence neither the STEM industry nor the economic development of a country because of the old-fashioned belief that a woman is only as good as a housewife (Anonymous, n.d.). It may be because women generally possess a lower muscle mass than men, making them biologically weaker than men. That factor alone makes men more efficient and apt for manual labour jobs. Taking into account that blue-collar workers were in higher demand before the 19th century than they are today (U.S. Department of State, n.d.), this conjecture had some merit in its own time. However, today’s employers are favouring skilled workers over unskilled workers (ibid). White-collar jobs like engineering require a high degree of intelligence and less of physical strength. Males no longer have an undisputed advantage over women, as shown in the GCSE level Physics results, where ‘girls and boys achieve almost equal A* to C grades’ (Engineering UK, 2016). If males and females perform equally well in Physics, a core subject in engineering, in their teens, it is safe to assume that they will be equally as proficient in the workforce. Therefore, despite the stereotypes, women can be as skilled in the engineering industry as men and are able to pull their own weight at work.

 Unfortunately, generations-old beliefs against women still hold strong despite its diminishing validity. This perpetuates the social stigma of women’s inability, and has a ghastly effect on society\'s behaviour regarding women, which will now be elaborated upon.

Lastly, for a long time, men have labeled women as impotent, painting a grim picture of the social standing of women. With continued gender inequality, the public will believe that women are actually inferior to men, and will continue treating them as if they are. The cycle of mistreatment would then persist on for generations on end. People’s mentalities are very hard to change, especially a collective one. Women are rarely given a chance to prove their abilities, resulting in an underrepresentation. This could lead to conclusion born from logical fallacy; that women are underrepresented due to their ineptitude. It is stated by Huhman (2012) that ‘young girls are rarely encouraged to pursue math and science,’ both of which are highly related to engineering. She claimed that this is due to two reasons: the masculine stereotype encompassing the math and science fields, and the lack of confidence in girls’ abilities to excel in these areas of study. Ultimately, significantly more boys pursued engineering than girls and the result is a dearth of females in the engineering industry. Due to this dearth, the next generation of girls are then discouraged from choosing STEM careers like engineering, and the cycle repeats. To quote Jocelyn Goldfein, a Facebook engineer (n.d.), “The reason there aren’t more women computer scientists is because there aren’t more women computer scientists.” It is the exact same situation for engineering. For the existing women in the affected fields, this poses detrimental effects on their work life, ranging from inconveniences to the infringement of human rights (sexual harassment). ‘63 percent of women say they experienced harassment on the job and dismissive attitudes of male colleagues’ and ‘53 percent said in order to succeed in their careers they had to “act like a man” ’ (Belkin, 2008). This speaks volumes for the discrimination women received in STEM jobs as a whole and the way they are viewed, making them a rarity in these fields, especially engineering. This suggests that women are more incapable at engineering than men are, which seems to be preposterous. Women are scorned upon without even a chance to prove themselves, and as long as women remain the extreme minority in these jobs, the cycle would repeat, and society would continue to treat them as second-class people.

While some may think that the disparity between society’s attitude towards men and women is a thing of the past, research has shown that sexism in the workplace is still present in modern society, albeit in smaller doses than in the past. In 2016, the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project also discovered that 52% of women had encountered sexual harassment during office hours.’ This is much more than what men face, which is around 33.3%, according to Vitelli (2015). Whether people see it or not, the gender divide is an existing, deep-seated problem society will very much do better without.

However, notwithstanding the opposition, it is generally agreed that gender inequality, especially in the workplace, poses deleterious repercussions. More specifically, gender division in engineering can culminate in the technological, economic and the cultural deterioration of a country, all of which have been justified earlier on in this essay. The gender divide is obstructing the flow of talent into the engineering industry by ostracizing the entire female population. In the technological sense, this reduces the number of viewpoints and dampens creativity, and this threatens the country\'s technological advancement. In the economic sense, a shortage of workers would not bode well for any business, as any company requires manpower to keep afloat. Without sufficient workers to fill in vacancies left behind by the retired, work output will decrease and so will total revenue. In the cultural sense, the manner in which women are treated will remain callous. In engineering, women lack a voice, being overpowered by the sheer number of men. Deterring more women from entering is akin to giving a green light for this discrimination to continue. In order to close the gap between the perceived and actual abilities of women, employers should first change their mindset on women and enforce anti-discrimination policies in the office. Some may call the aforementioned repercussions a stretch, but amidst the heated debates encircling this topic, one thing remains clear: gender inequality is a problem that must be addressed. The times have changed along with women\'s value to society. To be able to continue evolving, mankind must fix the fission that threatens to tear apart the fabric of society.

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