Only 28% of undergraduate students in the Cockrell School of Engineering are women. The narrative of women being a minority in STEM fields has persisted for years and is especially prevalent in engineering majors at UT.
Not only does the Cockrell school lack female students, it also lacks female faculty. In such a male-dominated atmosphere, professors must make sure that women are able to get the representation they need. To do this, professors at Cockrell should ensure women are equally represented by asking more women in the workforce to speak in classes instead of relying on female-centric STEM organizations.
In many cases, hiring female guest speakers becomes the implicit responsibility of women-centric organizations on campus. Although these groups are important to creating an inclusive space for women, it should not be the only place where female students find representation.
It is imperative that featuring female engineers is also normalized in class through guest speakers instead of primarily left up to outside clubs. This way, both male and female students are able to learn from the experiences of women in the field as opposed to only being subject to a male perspective.
Mechanical engineering sophomore Jacqueline Kelly said although the organizations she was a part of brought in female speakers, the guest lecturers in her intro to mechanical engineering class had all been male.
“The lack of female guest speakers was definitely something I noticed while taking the class, and it was honestly kind of upsetting,” Kelly said. “I remember one of the male speakers saying that engineering was one of the least gender-discriminatory fields, and I remember sitting there like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Kelly said because there aren’t many female professors, she feels it is especially imperative to be represented somehow.
“It’s especially important because bringing in female (guest speakers) would show us what it’s like in the industry,” Kelly said. “Being a male in the industry and being a female in the industry are two very different experiences.”
It is not fair to delegate the responsibility of representing female students to female-centric organizations and groups. For example, there is a Women in Engineering first-year interest group, but female students outside of this specific FIG lack that representation. Female guest speakers in classes are also essential in order to allow both male and female students to understand the experiences of women in the workplace. By only prioritizing female speakers in female-centric organizations, professors propagate the idea that women in STEM are the “other.”
If more female speakers were to come in and share personal and workforce experiences, both male and female students would learn important lessons about being a woman in the industry. Tricia Berry, director of the Women in Engineering Program at UT, agrees.
According to Berry, choosing guest lecturers is based on the individual decision and personal connections of the professor. Berry said that it is important to have diverse guest speakers because research has shown that exposure to role models can help women to counter negative stereotypes.
“When you have STEM role models, those people that look like you who are sharing stories and experiences, it can have a really positive impact,” Berry said.
Female guest speakers cannot be solely limited to organizations outside of class — professors at the Cockrell School of Engineering need to better incorporate and acknowledge the experiences of their female students in the courses offered. Including women from the workforce as guest lecturers in classes is essential in helping to create a more equal and representative environment in an already gender-skewed field.
Nayak is a communication sciences and disorders sophomore from Austin.