Female BYU students in male-dominated majors find support through mentorship programs

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The BYU Marriott Inclusion in Business Student Society and Women in Management welcomed women in the Marriott School of Business to a mixer on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The recurring event, held the last Tuesday of every month, aims to connect women in business with others who can relate to their experiences and help them succeed. (Ariel Harmer)

Several mentorship programs at BYU are aiming to support women in male-dominated majors and help them establish a place in their fields.

The percentage of female undergraduate students at BYU has increased over the years. In Fall 2020, BYU reported a 50/50 split between male and female students, and in 2021, that percentage changed to 51% female and 49% male.

That ratio is not so evenly distributed among the university’s colleges, however. Some majors have a higher percentage of female students; the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System reports that 65.8% of BYU psychology graduates in 2020 were women. Some majors, like most of those in STEM and business, have a higher percentage of male students. This reflects nationwide data, as the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that only 36.1% of all science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates are women.

This graph compares the numbers of women and men who graduated from BYU with degrees in accounting, psychology, economics and elementary education in 2020. Most of those who graduate BYU in STEM- and business-related majors are men. (Made in Canva by Ariel Harmer)

Sarah Lyman graduated BYU with a degree in finance in 2018 and began consulting at Ernst & Young. She later worked at a private equity firm where she was one of two women on the team. This experience was not new to her; during her time at BYU, Lyman said she was often the only woman in her classes.

Now that Lyman is in an MBA program at BYU, she said she is working to ensure that female students like her have female mentors in order to provide unique resources and connections, encourage confidence and help them envision their future careers.

Lyman said that while there may have been a smaller percentage of women in her major, that number is not the same at all universities or in the workforce.

“I had a friend who studied finance at CSU, and 50% of her cohort was female,” Lyman said. “Finance at a lot of corporate firms [and] Fortune 500 companies have a fairly large population of women.”

Jane Robinson, a senior in the BYU accounting program, said she has seen the male/female split in her major start to even out over the years. In 2020, the BYU Marriott School of Business reported the accounting program was 24% female, and Robinson said she has even had some accounting classes where women made up half the class.

Robinson said that mentorship has been invaluable in her studies. Through the Women in Business program, Robinson was paired up with a senior in the finance major who was able to talk about how to prepare applications and what to expect in the business world.

“In terms of making my mark and being confident in my abilities, that was super helpful,” Robinson said.

Robinson said it was especially useful to get advice from someone who knew how she felt and was only a few years ahead of her.

“It’s really important to make connections with women who are right in the next step in graduate programs,” Robinson said. She explained that having someone in a similar situation but only a few years older made their advice more relevant and personal.

A flyer for the Women’s Mentoring Program promotes mentorship. Women’s mentoring programs help students navigate their majors and build confidence. (@byumarriottinclusion via Instagram)

Robinson is part of the Women of Marriott Inclusion in Business Society, which promotes inclusivity and diversity in the school. She and Lyman, who works with Women in Management, collaborated to host the monthly Marriott Women’s Mixer, which gives women in the Marriott school the opportunity to meet the last Tuesday of every month.

“We had this event last semester and it was just so awesome to see people making these connections,” Robinson said. “It’s pretty empowering.”

Rachel Dangl, a Global Supply Chain Management major at BYU, said there are about 45 people in her class, 12 of whom are women, and only one of her five professors is female. She said she was grateful for the professors who were aware of the gender gap in her classes and made an effort to support the women in her major.

“They talk a lot about imposter syndrome, that ‘Do I deserve to be here? Am I smart enough? Am I good enough?’ [feeling],” she said. “People might call a man assertive and confident, but they might call a woman bossy and emotional. And so there’s a little bit of a stigma against women being in male-dominated fields.”

Dangl said her teachers encouraged those in her classes and reminded them that their contributions were all valuable.

“Everyone worked hard to be here, and so everyone deserves to be here,” Dangl said.

Like Robinson, Dangl has been able to work with mentors during her time at BYU, and said she feels it is important to have that guidance.

“The Women in Business Club is great at providing mentors,” Dangl said. “It’s truly encouraging to know that people have been in your place before, they’ve done it, they’ve survived and they’ve come out in the end stronger and better than ever.”

Abby Dryer, a first year in the accounting program, said she participates in the Women of the School of Accountancy club, which also provides mentorship opportunities. She said the group helped her know she was not alone in her struggles, and her mentor made a big difference in her academic career.

“Having that mentor was a game changer for me,” Dryer said. “She helped get all my thoughts together and was my biggest cheerleader while enduring the program.”

Dryer said she has noticed that she is often one of only a few women in her classes, and it can feel isolating. Despite that, she said she does feel supported by the men in her major. “These guys are some of my best friends,” she said. “I’m grateful to be surrounded by such great people.”

Lyman echoed her thoughts. “It’s not to say that men can’t be incredible mentors,” she said. “[But] it is rare for a woman to have a linear career, and we just need other women in order to see that that’s okay and to see what a non-linear career path looks like.”

Lyman said several men in finance would come to her classes to talk about their careers. She said they often graduated, got a job in investment banking, went to private equity and stayed there. Lyman said that women often have unique demands on their time, especially when balancing their career with a partner’s, and this means their careers might progress in different ways.

“There’s a ton of women in my program who have started out in this, and then went to that, and then needed to take a break to raise their children, and life happens and their mom got sick and they took time off there, and now they’re in the MBA program and they’re gonna do this,” Lyman said.

Lyman said every woman’s academic and career path is different, and it is important to recognize that.

“I’ve found a lot of validation from women who say, ‘This is how my career played out; yours will be unique,'” Lyman said. “That’s okay for it to be non-linear. We will still make great things happen.”

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