‘They are valued’: Campus faculty, students speak on underrepresentation of women in engineering, business

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Diane Dwyer, a lecturer at Haas School of Business, divided her class into six project groups with one male-identifying student in each group. When she asked for a representative to give a summary of each group’s progress, the male-identifying student stood up in every case. Only one-sixth of her class identified as male.

Among Haas class of 2018 graduates who are employed full-time, only 38 percent are female-identifying, according to the Haas Full-Time Employment Report. Only 28.6 percent of students in the UC Berkeley College of Engineering are female-identifying.

Gireeja Ranade, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, or EECS, echoed Dwyer and noted that some of her female-identifying students “faced difficulty speaking” and “felt uncomfortable” during their discussion sections.

“It’s really hard to notice the male-to-female difference in lecture halls, but when you go to discussions, that’s where you see the discrepancy. There’s usually 20 guys to two girls,” said Ritika Shrivastava, a campus freshman majoring in EECS.

Although women in business and engineering face challenges, UC Berkeley students and faculty have taken steps to better prepare and advise female-identifying students entering these fields. Ranade believes that campus faculty members try their best to encourage women in engineering through various initiatives.

“To support female engineers, I think the more role models we can provide, the better we can make our community, and I also think there is great value in having peer support circles,” Ranade said.

FEMTech, a campus organization that aims to promote gender diversity in technology fields, provides various resources to help women engineers, such as the Launch program, which provides tutoring in computer science classes.

The organization also offers networking through its Talk and Dine programs, where students can get to know invited companies, according to Prakriti Singh, the president of FEMTech.

Approximately 50 percent of undergraduates and 43 percent of graduate students in the Haas class of fall 2018 were women, according to Ute Frey, the deputy director of marketing and communications at Haas.

Women become more vulnerable as they grow older, however, as a severe drop in percentage of women occurs from middle management to senior management, according to director of the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership, Kellie McElhaney.

Women in business often find it difficult to gain respect and traction for their work and ideas relative to a similarly positioned man, according to Adair Morse, an associate finance professor at Haas. Thus, it is important to not only teach women to speak for themselves, but also to teach men how to help women and make compromises, Dwyer said.

“We’ve looked to women to change the existing structure of policy culture and climate. As opposed to saying no, we need to change policy structure and climate,” McElhaney said.

McElhaney has taken steps to train male- and female-identifying students in her class about equity-fluent leadership. Through her teachings, McElhaney aims to encourage students to use their voices to address barriers.

To support women and people of color pursuing careers in business, McElhaney suggested a sponsorship strategy in which these groups are assigned sponsors who communicate their experiences to senior management.

Haas has undertaken several special initiatives to prepare female-identifying undergraduate students for leadership roles in business. The assistant dean of the Haas Undergraduate Program, Erika Walker, co-created Women’s Empowerment Day in 2012.

Women’s Empowerment Day is a half-day conference featuring a keynote speaker and alumni who serve as table mentors. Created to promote awareness and equip women in business with tools and tips, the event includes conversations about gender equity and challenges that arise both in the campus setting and after graduation.

Berkeley Women in Business, or BWIB, is a student organization that helps support women in the broader business community by offering leadership development opportunities and networking connections. The club connects female-identifying students with professionals in the Bay Area, according to Deeksha Chaturvedi, internal vice president of BWIB.

“Because we think gender equity should be a male and female issue, … one way we have raised awareness about the lack of mentorship and promotions is by creating a ‘manbassadors’ program,” Chaturvedi said. “(The program) seeks to teach different men … ways they can be an ally and support a diverse workplace.”

While there is a value in increased discussion about challenges women face in the workforce, it is important for women not to be discouraged, according to Ranade.

“I hope that women in particular would know that they are making a difference and they are valued,” Ranade said. “Try not to be discouraged, because these issues are talked about a lot — try to do what you love.”

Contact Aishwarya Kaimal at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Aishwarya_R_K‏.