By Amy Brown-Bowers
Female engineering students are getting a new mentoring program this semester, but there will be no such concessions for males in female dominated programs in the near future.
The new Women in Engineering program matches up senior female engineering students with first and second-year students.
“[Female engineers] might be only one of three girls in a class,” said Lisa Anderson, who works in the engineering department and is responsible for the needs of females in engineering.
While women make-up 15 per cent of first-year engineers, men make up only five per cent of first-year students in food and nutrition and yet they have no special program offered to them.
Janet Chappell, associate director of the School of Food and Nutrition, said there is no male support group in her program because the cause of the gender imbalance in nutrition is different than the cause in engineering.
Chappell said the disparity in nutrition is socially prescribed, meaning men don’t enter the program because it doesn’t appeal to them. However, the disparity in engineering is socially constructed, meaning women don’t feel welcome.
Sue Williams, dean of the faculty of community services, shared this view.
“The structural barriers women face in engineering are more historical and deep seated and need structural intervention,” said Williams.
She said the reason there aren’t comparable resources for males in female dominated faculties may come down to social prestige and money.
The “perceived prestige and financial enumeration upon graduation” is greater for male-typical programs, than for female-typical programs, Williams said. “There is more incentive for women to look at male dominated careers than for men to look at female dominated careers.”
According to Williams, there has been little interest to start a mentoring program for the males in her faculty.
Jerry Lee is one of seven first-year men in early childhood education, but he doesn’t think a male support group is needed in ECE.
“There really isn’t a need for sex-oriented mentoring — you pretty much know everyone — and we learn to work together,” he said.
Lee does agree the incentive for men and women to go into fields where the opposite sex reigns isn’t even.
“When women pursue male dominated programs they are more encouraged than when men pursue female dominated programs,” Lee said.
Anderson originally piloted a mentoring program that links senior female engineering students to women working in the field. It was the success of that initiative that led to the development of the new mentorship program in which first-year female students are paired with third and fourth-year women engineers.
According to her, there are 125 women in first-year engineering. There are six times that number of males.
“It’s important to encourage women to go into engineering, and to retain them,” said Nandita Bajaj who has volunteered as one of the senior mentors in the program. “[Some female students] don’t have confidence instilled in them yet.”