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Gender Issues in Engineering Education: What Systemizing and Empathizing Have to Do With It

[+] Author Affiliations
Jan Fertig, Subha Kumpaty

Milwaukee School of Engineering, Milwaukee, WI

Paper No. IMECE2017-72597, pp. V005T06A030; 10 pages
  • ASME 2017 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Volume 5: Education and Globalization
  • Tampa, Florida, USA, November 3–9, 2017
  • Conference Sponsors: ASME
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5840-0
  • Copyright © 2017 by ASME


More than half of U.S. students entering college are female, but female students are still largely absent from engineering fields. The persistent absence of females in engineering may owe itself, at least in part, to a fundamental difference in cognitive approaches between males and females. Although there is a significant amount of cross-over, males are more likely than females to have a systemizing brain, which is associated with a drive to understand how the world works through the identification and creation of patterns and rules. Females are more likely to be born with an empathizing style, which lends itself to a natural aptitude for identifying others’ thoughts and emotions. This systemizing-empathizing dichotomy is based on the work of Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Engineering programs are geared toward those with a higher SQ (systemizing quotient). This paper reviews relevant research on how systemizing-empathizing (S-E) theory applies to engineering education and examines current research on the reasons behind the dearth of females in engineering, finding that the contemporary engineering culture in college is also characterized by subtle forms of discrimination that systematically direct women away from engineering. Finally, some recommendations are made for how engineering programs might engage a broader base of students.

Copyright © 2017 by ASME



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