Closing the gender gap in mechanical engineering

Women make up 49.5 percent of MIT’s undergraduates in mechanical engineering, due to department’s proactive approach, study finds.

In 2015, comments from a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist claiming female scientists distract their male colleagues in the lab immediately led to backlash across social media. Women shared selfies going about their routine conducting research to demonstrate just how “distracting” they are. Months later, individuals around the world responded to offhand comments about a female engineer with the hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer. Earlier this year, General Electric envisioned a reality in which female scientists, such as the late MIT Professor Emerita Millie Dresselhaus, are revered just as much as celebrities and athletes.

These events reflect a wider movement to combat sexism and encourage women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The gender gap in these fields is pronounced, to be sure. In mechanical engineering, for example, only 13.2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in 2015 were earned by women, according to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). However, this number is in stark contrast to the undergraduate population in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE), which as of fall 2016, comprised 49.5 percent women.

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