It’s the butt of every joke made about the department, but now statistics from the University’s Planning and Information office have proven what every Bachelor of Engineering student already knew: the faculty has the lowest percentage of female students of any in the University. An Honi Soit survey ranking each faculty according to the percent of undergraduate students who are women has shown the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies’ 3820 strong undergraduate program is only 21% female. The Agriculture and Environment and Medicine faculties were the next most male dominated, with 67% and 56% of enrolled students male respectively.
Melanie Dunnill, a Bachelor of Engineering student, said the gender imbalance of the faculty had not detracted from her university experience. “It’s something I expected so it doesn’t really bother me. The guys in my course are great and fun to hang out with, plus there [are] more girls than when I did my trade course,” she said.
Gabriel Smith, the head of Marketing and Communications at the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies, said the Faculty was doing what it could to encourage higher rates of female participation by sending female students to speak at high schools and supporting organisations like the Sydney University Women in Engineering club. “If you look at the 31st of March 2008 we had 635 females in the faculty and if you look at the 31st of March 2013 they’ve nearly doubled,” Smith said, referring to the total number of both undergraduate and postgraduate students. For the first time this year one of the Faculty’s courses, Biomedical Engineering, has a female majority.
The Faculty is very much bucking the trend in a university where women represent the majority of undergraduate students in 12 of the 18 faculties. At the other end of the scale were the Education and Social Work and Veterinary Science faculties, both of which had approximately 75% female enrolment. University wide, 56.07% of undergraduate students are women.
While Engineering and Information Technologies lags behind, others faculties such as Business have broken even in recent years. Kylie Salisbury, the Careers Adviser at Fort Street High School, said business classes at the school now had a nearly equal number of male and female students, while IT and engineering classes were virtually completely void of young women. “I think there is still a bit of negativity here amongst girls towards careers like IT and computing,” she said.
Melanie Dunnill thinks women at high school need to be targeted at a younger age if their levels of participation are to be improved. “Most girls in Year 10, 11, and 12 have already made up their minds about what they would like to do after finishing school and have picked subjects that steer them away from Engineering or IT.”