The path to becoming an engineer is not an easy one. With rigorous course work in math and science, not everyone is cut out for this profession. However, this already challenging field of study is even more difficult for women.
Tori Herfert is a senior at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She plans on graduating this May with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. As a woman, Tori is the minority in her field of study. She spent the last four years with the extra challenge of needing to overcome the role gender bias plays against women within engineering. “I think there are definitely times where you can feel underestimated, and I try my best not to let that bring me down,” says Herfert.
— Bobby Braun (@DeanBobbyBraun) April 8, 2017
The number of women entering college as declared engineers, is increasing. The Dean of CU Engineering, Bobby Braun, tweeted how proud he was that the class of 2017 would be 42% female and 58% male. However, retention is something that is not discussed, and is where the real issue lies. In a CU survey conducted last year, out of 796 undergraduate engineering degrees, only 178 belonged to women.
Her father, Ken Herfert, is a successful engineer at DuPont Industrial Biosciences. Since she was a little girl, Tori’s father has been her greatest support system. “I’ve always encouraged Tori to pursue what she was good at,” Ken said, “I’ve exposed her to things like my work over the years, and science fairs, all those things that keep some involvement and fun in S.T.E.M.”. Just by graduating with an engineering degree, Tori has already conquered far more in this field than men will ever face, because of her gender.
Tori is excited and optimistic about the future, but the professional world does not get any easier for her. Among the highest degree holders working full time in science and engineering in the U.S., women make 31.3% less then men.
Every day is a tightrope walk between the need to behave in masculine ways in order to be seen as competent, while remaining feminine at the same time, in order to be liked. It is important that the engineering world tries to promote interest in young girls, as well as focus on retaining the interest for those who already have the passion.