Despite the advances to recruit and retain women in engineering, I don’t believe real progress has been made on the fundamental issues.
My basic premise is this: women who succeed in technical fields tend to be extroverted and physically attractive. You don’t find many introverted, ordinary-looking women make it to the top in these fields. I am sure there are exceptions to this, but I am talking about averages.
The women in any graduating engineering class tend to be at the top of the social pyramid. They are presidents of student councils and committees. They are well-dressed and well-spoken. This is what it takes for a woman to succeed in a male dominated field. The males, on the other hand, can succeed without any of these qualities. In my undergraduate class I had male friends who rarely took a shower, came to class in the same clothes they slept in, and were socially inept, yet most of them rose to the top in their professions. It would be impossible to think of a female succeeding with those same characteristics.
I have known many technically competent and intelligent females whose careers didn’t move very far. On the other hand, I also know (as many of us do), frighteningly incompetent females who are hired into top positions at elite organizations. The one thing that the latter group have in common is good looks and charming personalities. I even know of a case where there was a concerted effort to hire a female faculty who had literally spent time behind bars, but had the looks and charms to outweigh those negative aspects.
So, before we pat ourselves in the back with the increasing enrollment of females in engineering, lets take a hard look at if we are being truly honest about gender diversity.