Machine Design, Editorial Comment
July 20, 2000

Amy Higgins and I wrote the article, and while researching we discovered some inequities ranging from how girls are educated to how women are treated in the workplace. When I expressed opinions about this to some of the men in the office, they accused me of being full of venom on this issue. But I'm not angry. Surprised and enlightened, yes. I could rant and rave about how women will never bust into the Old Boy's Club, but that's beating a dead horse and will not solve the issues Amy and I unearthed.

Here's what we discovered. Beginning as early as grade school, boys generally are encouraged to study advanced math and science, while girls are encouraged to study the humanities. This guiding helps predetermine what career paths boys and girls eventually choose.

Studies show that by college years, many females look to major in the humanities rather than math and science, in large part because of their deficiency in advanced math and science courses from grade school through high school. Coupled with this deficiency is the desire to raise a family. By college age, many women consider having a family and believe that "nontraditional" careers, such as those in math and science, will not give them the flexibility necessary to do this.

And there's the lack of female role models as well. Some people discount the importance of role models, but I disagree. Studies show both boys and girls, after being shown a woman in a "nontraditional" career, believed a woman could and should perform in that role. This is a clear example of the importance of role models.

Unequal pay is another serious issue. Research shows women are paid less to do the same jobs as men. And it's an indisputable fact that we typically leave careers behind to have babies and raise them. Is that what holds us back? Are we considered temporary workers because once we marry, it's only a matter of time before we have children and quit? Or, if we come back to our careers, is it only in a diluted sense because family demands make us less available to dedicate ourselves full time to our careers?

I don't have the answers, only some ideas. I have to walk a fine line between sounding like a victim or a militant feminist, neither of which I aspire to be. For example, my choice as an English major was easy, it was something I had an aptitude for. I didn't feel forced into it because it's a field women "should" be in. Nor do I think it's a good idea to discourage women from "traditional" career paths and force them into math and science so we can one-up men.

I believe females, from school age through adulthood, require a well-rounded education including emphasis on advanced science and math courses. This would provide a wider selection when it comes time to choose a career. Young girls must be encouraged and given the opportunity to enter any field they wish, and not be held back by an inadequate education.

From a personal stance, I want my nieces to have an equal chance in competing with males and to truly pursue what they love. After all, don't we tell our children they can be whatever they want when they grow up? To make this promise a reality, we need to dismiss the idea of "traditional" and "nontraditional" careers, as well as teach children equally, regardless of gender.

-- Sherri Koucky, Associate Editor