Closing the gender gap

24 June 2015

Last December, the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering hosted a very well-attended family fair showcasing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Children as young as two years old built bridges out of marshmallows and toothpicks, as part of the civil engineering exhibit, and wide range of other activities designed by student across the various departments captivated the attention of of children of all ages.

Depending on location, parents can face an exhaustive list of preschool, K-12 and extra curriculum options; not to mention the stress of navigating ever-changing educational policies, standardized testing and the infamous common core curriculum. Meanwhile the number of families choosing to home school has increased in the last decade. Reaching out to communities and families, as well as university students, is key to promoting STEM, and to closing the gender gap.

There has been ongoing discussion about the number of women in tunnelling, with the UK's Crossrail hosting a competition last summer to develop "innovative ways" to attract young women to engineering, as well as other campaigns organized by various foundations, committees and other groups worldwide.

Results are mixed at best. Focusing only on closing the gender gap is short-sighted for the tunnelling industry, and efforts to make STEM "girlie" by the wider STEM community is insulting.

Don't focus solely on increasing the number of women working in STEM fields or in tunnelling. Focus on promoting STEM to all; all students, children and people. By increasing the interest in and graduates in STEM fields, in addition to promoting tunnelling as an option, there will be more people pursuing it, and there will be more women.

In education there is constant discussion about how to "get girls interested in science," or how to keep them interested after specific ages. And again, the discussion should not be focused entirely on increasing one gender's interest, but all children and the population in general. Scientific and math illiteracy is a growing and adults are just as much a part of that, unfortunately. The questions should be "how can we make engineering relevant, how can we promote it to children and students with other academic strengths and interests?"

Work with other special interest groups to solve the problem of promoting STEM to children, families and communities -- first and foremost.

You'll see results, and then you'll be able to also promote tunnelling as a career option.

Stop bemoaning the reasons you think women won't want work in this industry. That simply reinforces ideas that aren't even accurate.ce

Instead, create an industry that both genders are eager to join. And if it's really necessary to split hairs, what will bring women to your industry -- any industry -- is respect. Be the industry that offers equal pay and promotion, and make it your reputation.