Percentage drops for women in most male-dominated majors

Madison Boyer helps mostly male students with their studies as a mechanical engineering teaching assistant. She is part of the small percentage of women majoring in mechanical engineering at BYU. (Natalie Stoker)

Being the only woman in a class full of men is the norm for Madison Boyer.

Boyer is part of the 10 percent female population in BYU’s mechanical engineering program.

“Every now and then it just hits you when you look around and realize that you’re the only girl in the room,” Boyer said.

She chose to major in engineering because she has always loved math and science. Boyer said when she began taking physics classes in high school, she quickly realized she was the only girl going into the engineering program.

BYU mechanical engineering professor Julie Crockett said being one of the only women in a male-dominated field can be difficult at times.

“You are sometimes one of the few women that people work with, so the assumption is that all women are like you,” Crockett said. “You are then the woman that needs to be amazing for all women and that can be a little bit stressful.”

Being the minority in engineering also has its benefits, according to Boyer. She said one of the advantages of being a female in a male-dominated field is being able to offer a unique point of view to the group.

“Being a woman, you bring a different perspective to the table,” Boyer said. “We have different life experiences and different perspectives that really help.”

Crockett said working in a male-dominated field gives women some different opportunities from men, according to Crockett. She said women with the same skill set as men will often have more options academically and in the workforce.

Boyer said it can be difficult when others attribute her success to being “the diversity factor.”

“You sometimes feel like you have to prove yourself, that you actually deserve to be there,” Boyer said.

Montana Wayment, a BYU senior going into pre-med, said there is a similar dynamic in the pre-med program, where the percentage of females is also low. She said she was surprised in one of her pre-med introductory courses when she saw she was one of three females enrolled in a class of over 100 students.

Wayment said from her experience, she feels it is essential for women in male-dominated fields to have an opportunity to voice their outlooks on different issues.

“In the medical field, everyone has different perspectives with their life experiences,” Wayment said. “I think women definitely have a very strong voice that needs to be heard.”

Junior pre-med student Elle Peterson said some challenges as a female in a male-dominated major are the stereotypes that are sometimes placed upon women in the medical field.

“Being a woman, I feel like there’s a certain stigma that maybe girls aren’t as intelligent, or they can’t do it as well,” Peterson said. “But it makes me want to work harder and it makes me feel good when I’m doing as well or even better than the guys in my class.”

The percentage of females majoring in math and mechanical engineering has gone down in the last 10 years according to University Communications.

Females currently make up about a third of the students in the math major at BYU. Bruce Stoutenburg, a freshman majoring in math, said he values the points of view expressed by the women in his major.

“I think that having more minds in general is always a good thing,” Stoutenburg said.

BYU statistics showed that while the percentage of females has decreased in some male-dominated majors, the percentage of females currently enrolled in the accounting major has actually gone up six percent.

Melissa Larson, an assistant professor in the BYU School of Accountancy, said the percentage of women in the accounting program at BYU has hit an all-time high this year, with 24 percent of females in the program.

Larson said she hopes this percentage will continue to increase in the future to more closely match the 50/50 male to female ratio in accounting programs nationwide.  She said businesses are more effective with the collaboration of both men and women.

“Men and women learn differently and their skill sets are a little bit different, but the profession has been successful when they can figure out how to capitalize on the different skill sets that each one has to bring,” Larson said.

The low number of women at BYU currently choosing to major in these male-dominated fields might have to do with cultural issues, according to Crockett. She said historically, women have played a larger role in the home than in the workforce, and the resulting culture might be contributing to the lower female enrollment in certain majors.

Crockett said she thinks the number of females enrolling in male-dominated fields would go up if more women knew what their options were and if they were given more exposure to experience in these fields.

John Moczygemba, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, said he thinks a greater presence of women in the engineering workforce would be a positive change.

“I think it’s a good thing because it shows diversity,” Moczygemba said. “I don’t know why more women don’t like going into engineering.”

Larson said she hopes more women will go into male-dominated majors because more diversity would benefit everyone in the workforce.

“The more diverse your environment is, not just by gender, but any kind of diversity, the better off everybody is because you all bring a different perspective,” Larson said. “You’ve got to be open and willing to listen to other perspectives, and then everybody is enhanced by it.”

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