Growing up in a post Title IX era, I did not think about discrimination on the basis of my gender in school. I played sports when and where I wanted to and participated in many accelerated courses in high school. As a humanities major and now a law student, I’ve mostly been in courses where women were equally represented, if not the majority of students.
The same is not true for my sister, Jessica, who is a nuclear engineer. In her time at Berkeley she was often the only woman in her classes and continues to be one of few women in her field. I asked her to about her thoughts on what Title IX and equality in STEM education means to her. Here’s what she told me:
“I have always been interested in how things work. I realized at an early age that math and science were my strong suits, so in high school I opted for advanced courses in these disciplines rather than in the humanities. When I was applying to college choosing a major was easy: I was going to be an engineer. Not only did I embody the characteristics that make a good engineering student, it was fun. Up until this point I was aware that people considered boys to be more interested, or even better, in math and science, but this was not apparent during my educational experiences.
Once I enrolled in Berkeley the dichotomy was obvious. UC Berkeley is a place where most students are extremely serious and devoted to their chosen profession, so this is not to discredit the effort it took to be in any major at this university, but it was obvious that there were more women in less technical majors. Women who were in the sciences were concentrated in the biological sciences. This is when I realized that engineering, especially the traditional disciplines (civil, mechanical, and electrical) is definitely a profession dominated by men.
I never felt to be lesser than my male counterparts at Berkeley, however I expect if I was in my mother’s generation that would not be so. In my major there were no, as in zero, female professors. There were very few in the engineering school period. During a summer internship in Orange County, there were no women in the engineering group at all, and the few women I saw were in secretarial positions. The few female classmates in my major, nuclear engineering, joined the navy. Although this is where many of the nuclear engineering jobs are, I suspected that the military offers women more opportunity than in the private sector.
In my position as a civil engineer for the City of San Francisco, I am still one of the few females on the engineering staff, but this continues to change over time. While the 50+ members of my group are all men, men outnumber women in the middle aged staff 2:1, and those who have been hired in the past 5 years have been 1:1.
I think that the work of organizations that support women in science and technology is important. I have been very fortunate to have received my education in Berkeley and worked in San Francisco where there are more women pursuing science and technology. While the tide has definitely changed since the passing of Title IX, there are still places in this country that do not encourage women in science and technology.”