Research Assessment 5

The article explored the causes and impacts of the gender disparity found in STEM fields by exploring connections between collaboration, high degree centrality, citations - a source being used for another paper - and gender of the authors. The study found that women were more prone to collaborate and publish papers in more esteemed journals, but receive fewer citations than their male counterparts in those journals. This lack of citations decreases their degree centrality, while the collaboration increases it.

After interviewing with Kate Van Dellen, my eyes were opened to the gender inequality found in aerospace engineering and specifically the aviation side of it. The number of women dwindle when you get even more specific and begin looking at female pilots. Mrs. Van Dellen also recalled many female students dropping out of the engineering program or switching occupations and in most cases settling for lower jobs after just joining an aerospace company. Even when I was searching for contacts on LinkedIn, very few of women popped up on the search results or under mutual connections. This lack of equal interest and continuation in the aerospace field sparked my curiosity in the gender gap found in engineering fields.

The article addressed that women participate in the male oriented culture, often regarding the work of men to be superior to the work of women and co-author papers with more men. I believe that part of this is due to the masculinity of these fields, which forces women to become “one of the guys” in order to be accepted and respected. At the same time, since men are the overwhelming majority in engineering, so naturally, it is easier to find men to work with than women simply since there are just more men.

Women also need to prove themselves even more than men. The article pointed out that the 6% of women found in aerospace engineering tend to occupy high level positions. Although this is a feat, it says a lot about the expectations set. Women have to be extremely qualified to “make it,” so the ones who do not reach this high bar are discouraged from continuing in the field. This once again contributes to the cycle of inequality in interest and the number of each gender in the field.

The study effectively proved that gender neutral “teams” - groups of collaborators - are the most productive and publish papers that have a high degree centrality, so they are very influential and progressive in the field. The study then also pointed out that men still choose to work with other men even when provided with opportunities to work with women. Clearly, the culture needs to be changed. The preconceived notions of intelligence and gender are false so steps need to be taken in order to change this.

I believe that if an equal number of women and men show interest in the field by receiving equal opportunities and gender neutral education, women will be just as respected as men. I attribute the lack of interest in STEM fields with societal norms attributed to gender. Even if you look at the toys young children play with, toys for boys tend to be more logic oriented and stimulate the brain compared to aesthetically oriented toys marketed to girls. The lack of equal representation in the fields also discourages women from pursuing the occupation. I believe both genders are equally capable of success in engineering, including aerospace engineering, but the expectations of our society unconsciously forces men into “masculine” fields and women into “feminine” fields.

Going forward I plan on asking the professionals I interview what their take on this issue is. My interview tomorrow is with Armstrong Ekpete and I am interested to see if he has noticed this trend and how working for the Department of Defense minimizes or accentuates the inequality. This can also be a really interesting topic for my original work. I could research causes and implications of gender inequality in aerospace engineering and then break it down into aeronautical and astronautical. Then I could propose solutions and measures that could be put into effect to increase interest, participation, opportunities, and success of women in aerospace engineering.

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