Out of approximately 1.6 million engineering jobs reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, the number of women who own those jobs is far from half.
In 2015, the National Science Foundation reported that about 12.9 percent of employed engineers were female. But the low percentage of female engineers, which was 11.6 in 2006, is not new information.
A typical Cal Poly Pomona engineering class reflects these statistics, but the CPP’s Society of Women Engineers seeks to change that in the long run.
“I just want it to get to the point where it’s not a matter of supporting women in engineering — it’s the fact that it’s normal for a woman to be an engineer,” said Jego Santos Fonseca, the president of CPP’s Society of Women Engineers.
Though Kylie Ng, a third-year mechanical engineering student, said the male-to-female ratio varies by class, she said it’s usually not 50-50.
“In a class of 30, there might’ve been a total of four girls, which is more than I initially expected because I thought I’d be the only girl in my class,” said Ng, the team tech coordinator of CPP’s Society of Women Engineers.
While a CPP engineering classroom is an apparent microcosm of the engineering workforce, this disparity in male and female numbers prompted the creation of the national organization Society of Women Engineers, or SWE, in 1950.
CPP’s own SWE, known as CPP SWE, was established on campus in the late 1980s according to Fonseca.
Since then, the organization aims to foster a community in which female engineers could interact and network with other female engineers on and off campus.
The organization offers opportunities in outreaching, networking, building company-sponsored projects and socializing to bolster support and camaraderie among female and male student engineers at CPP.
The name of the organization can be misleading, Fonseca explained, but she denied the conception that SWE is exclusively for females.
In fact, the organization launched a campaign in 2015 called HeForSWE to gather more male support for females in engineering. The campaign seeks to include male students as active members of the organization to “support women to reach their full potential,” according to CPP SWE’s website.
“Since engineering is a male-dominated field, we need the support of males in the field in order to be successful,” Fonseca said.
Members of CPP SWE like Ng and Yatziri Enriquez appreciate the inclusion of both males and females in the club.
“I think it’s great, the fact that it focuses on women being added to the club, but it opens the door to also men, and it really creates a support system for everybody,” said Enriquez, a senior civil engineering transfer student.
Ng expressed the inclusion shows growing support for gender equality in engineering.
Although neither Ng nor Fonseca cited sexism as a problem during their experiences at CPP, Fonseca did remember one instance of being delegated simpler tasks by her male peers.
“I don’t know if it’s exactly because I’m a girl, but they tended to give me the easier ones,” recalled the fourth-year mechanical engineering student.
With that, Fonseca said one important benefit of CPP SWE is that it spotlights female figures that have succeeded in engineering whom members could look up to.
“Having a program like this really is helpful to see that there are people who have done it before you, and so can you,” Fonseca said.
Similarly, a 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America reported positive effects of female peer mentors on female engineering college students.
The study noted the mentors increased student retention in engineering and promoted positive academic experiences.
“You get the opportunity to see these people and be like, ‘Hey, it’s possible,’” Fonseca said.
One of Fonseca’s ultimate goals for CPP SWE is to develop a larger presence on campus again, as member numbers have fluctuated in the past years.
“We have a good presence, but we could do better,” Fonseca said.
She recognizes SWE is a large organization at the national level, and she hopes to match that on campus by coordinating bigger events that feature more engineering companies to boost turnout and membership rates.
Another goal of Fonseca’s is to introduce WeForSWE, a movement that everyone, not just males, supports the cause to encourage females in engineering.
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