Analyzing the Gender Gap in Environmental Engineering

In 2008, 41 percent of incoming college freshmen males intended to study science and engineering, compared with just 30 percent of females, according to the National Science Foundation’s Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering report.

Numbers are typically a little better in environmental engineering, as Angela Bielefeldt, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Colorado¬ Boulder told PBS. She notes that her classes average about 40 percent female, which still is not optimal.

3 Reasons Why the Gender Gap Still Exists

Curious about what is causing the gender gap in environmental engineering? The following three factors often play a role in deterring women from entering ─ or remaining in ─ the field:

  1. Discrimination from Male Students: Unfortunately, female students often have to be very strong-willed and assertive or risk being pushed aside. Male students often attempt to place them in more “traditional” female roles in group projects ─ such as having responsibility for administrative tasks ─ rather than assisting with subject-related matter.
  2. Feelings of Isolation: Females often feel like environmental engineering is a “boys club,” leaving little room for them. When classrooms are predominately male, it can be difficult to form connections with other students, making them feel lonely and detached from the rest of the group.
  3. Undervaluing Skillsets: Thanks to the distinct stereotypes placed on women’s technical abilities, many gifted females tend to downplay their skills, as they don’t realize their potential. When these young women are unable to see how their talents can make a significant contribution to the environmental engineering field, they often decided to focus their studies elsewhere.

It’s important for both parents and teachers to work hard to break down the barrier to entry in environmental engineering. Females have just as much to contribute to the profession as their male counterparts, and should be provided with equal encouragement and opportunities to enjoy a thriving career in the field.

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