To Professor Nilsson we say: "Yes, and."
Increasing the percentage of women in engineering will better the field, expanding the kinds of work engineers do. We are professors, students, staff, and alumni from an engineering school enrolling 50% women, many in traditional fields of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering. Here students, across the curriculum, do technical engineering work embedded in social context, from designing equipment for small-scale farmers to building prosthetic fingers for a grandmother who wants to play LEGO with grandchildren.
We absolutely need more of this in engineering. But let’s not accidentally create "caring enclaves" for women, where this work may be perceived as less technical (and thus easier) than traditional engineering work. We often hear that traditional engineering (i.e., male-dominated, ultra-technical, not-people-oriented) is technically more difficult. This assertion is untrue and damaging: it can lead to the expectation that the rest of engineering is fine as is. Siloing women in “caring" forms of engineering may perpetuate the very gender-based stereotypes and hierarchies that many of us work to eradicate as we battle everyday sexism in the field.
The authors of this letter are all affiliated with Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Massachusetts (faculty, staff, students, alumni).
Lynn Andrea Stein
Yevgeniya V. Zastavker
Rebecca J. Christianson
Carisa Rubi Leal
Chen Santillan Wang
Emily Tisei Moscol
(If you're an Olin community member and want to support this post, feel free to add your name and Olin affiliation in a comment below.)