It doesn’t add up.
UC Santa Cruz, which is so focused on the sciences, ranking third in research influence according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings in 2011, is taking little action to support the vastly outnumbered 15 percent of women earning bachelor’s degrees in the physics and engineering majors.
UCSC does have the group Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), which reaches out to female and underrepresented students before and during college through networking, mentoring and outreach.
WiSE is a great resource, but it has had to weather budget cuts which have robbed it of its director of diversity recruitment and retention in the graduate division, Margaret Ortega, forcing the program to be mostly student-run.
Having robust resource groups like WiSE at UCSC is increasingly important, as the quality of K-12 science education declines. According to a study by the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011, 40 percent of elementary teachers said they spend only 60 minutes or less a week teaching science.
Without having positive learning experiences in the sciences, how are young girls, who tend to be pushed toward the humanities, supposed to become interested in science?
And it doesn’t get better after college. Not only is the professional world of science dominated by men, just as it is in college, but disturbing trends such as “brogrammers” in Silicon Valley make certain fields less inviting.
According to the Mother Jones’ article, “‘Gangbang Interviews’ and ‘Bikini Shots’: Silicon Valley’s Brogrammer Problem,” brogramming is a trend in the technology field that seeks to turn the generally nerdy image of a startup tech company to that of a rowdy fraternity. Such chauvinistic boys-club antics as using ads with young women in company T-shirts and underwear, and event perks like “friendly female waitstaff,” are used to recruit new (male) employees. Needless to say, these tactics are alienating women even more in a field whose culture can already be hard to identify with.
As Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, said in the Mother Jones article, the sciences are putting out products intended for the general public, and if a whole gender is missing during creation, the product itself will suffer blind spots. Harvey Mudd College has made large changes to their program in the past few years to try to attract more women to the sciences, with success. Their female student enrollment has increased from 35.6 percent in 2008 to 41.9 percent in 2010, with a record high of 85 of the 201 incoming students (42.3 percent) being female.
Many of these “brogrammers” likely studied computer science, a major that only has a female population of 11% at UCSC. Had they been used to interacting with more women in scientific and engineering atmospheres before entering the workplace, they would surely be more aware of how they are treating their fellow female scientists. Better yet, perhaps more women would be starting their own tech companies.
It all goes back to encouraging women in academic settings. UCSC has the opportunity to supply its female scientists and engineers with a support system, resources during college, and a network of peers and mentors that will help them in the professional world.
College is a time of learning, forming connections, and shaping our own future and that of the field we work in. UCSC should put a vote in for women and make funding programs like WiSE a priority.