Female representation has long been an issue in STEM industries At Penn Engineering, the student body is well distributed between genders; however, the composition of faculty is much less representative, and this has far-reaching effects on students in Penn Engineering. Thus, taking steps toward achieving more accurate representation of females in Penn Engineering faculty is prudent.
Female Faculty Composition by Department
In the Faculty Inclusion Report published on March 21, 2017, Table 3b details the breakdown of standing faculty in every school at Penn in 2016. The data for the Engineering School pertaining to representation of females in faculty are summarized as follows:
Effect on Students
In a survey conducted in March 2018 with 110 respondents, roughly 25% of students reported that they had never had a female professor before. 8 respondents also remarked that there is a “need” for more female professors or that they “wish” they had more. One student said that “This is a huge problem,” and another explained there is an issue with guest lecturers as well: “In two 300-level BE classes, we had about 8 guest lectures combined and they were all male. We need more females to be selected to represent these fields.”
In the last 4 years, several articles have been published in the Daily Pennsylvanian raising awareness about the consequences that this lack of representation can have on female engineering students. Some students feel that it is difficult to feel motivated by their dreams and passions if they can’t find anyone that looks like them in the field that you want to enter; it is also very difficult to find a mentor within the University to help female students with matters related to research and careers, which naturally puts female students at a disadvantage. They also feel that it makes the professor-student relationship even more distant, which can impede with studies, along with other concerns about professionalism in the workplace.
The obvious recommendation for this topic is to improve the gender representation across all departments in the Engineering School, but there are also intermediary steps that the administration can take to alleviate some of the issues and pain points that students perceive more immediately. For example, the administration can raise awareness of this issue to current faculty who teach classes that invite guest lecturers to ensure that there is a good balance across genders. Training modules can be implemented to train incoming, and perhaps even current, faculty about professionalism and how to better support female students in the classroom in terms of mentorship.