- Math at Work: Women in Nontraditional Careers, and: Women in Dentistry, and: Women in Engineering
Why are women underrepresented in careers in science? This important question has received increased attention recently due to a controversy that arose during a conference entitled, "Diversifying the Science and Engineering [End Page 87] Workforce." At this conference, Harvard University President Lawrence Summers suggested that innate differences in aptitude between the sexes in science and math might partially account for greater numbers of men than women in top positions in these fields. The intense controversy surrounding these comments has spawned a public debate regarding the under-representation of women in science and engineering. One thing that this debate has made clear is that we, as educators, must increase our efforts to promote women's entrance and retention in these fields.
The Her Own Words series of videos on "Women in Nontraditional Careers" makes a valuable contribution to this effort through its documentation of the success of women in nontraditional careers—including science and engineering. Three videos of this eleven video series are under review here.
In these videos, individual women provide first-hand, narrative accounts of their experiences working in nontraditional occupations—or occupations in which women comprise less than 25% of the workforce. These women's stories are captured through a series of photographs with voice-over narratives. The women featured come from a variety of backgrounds and tell their stories in their own words.
Math at Work spotlights thirteen women in different fields who describe how they use mathematics on the job. The women represent numerous occupations, and include a welder, an architect, an apprentice plumber, a uniformed special investigator, a sheet metal worker, a firefighter, and a National Guard helicopter pilot. Appealingly, the viewers learn how math applies to each of these women's chosen field. The welder uses math to read blueprints, the helicopter pilot uses math to calculate distance for her flights, and the firefighter uses math in her fuel reports. Many of these women emphasize how the applied nature of math in their jobs made learning it stimulating and relevant. As a welder tells us, "I got into welding and then I found out how the numbers related to what I was actually doing . . . rather than just playing with numbers on a piece of paper, now they had some relevance and then it became interesting."
Women in Dentistry tells the stories of four female dentists, all of whom work in a different specialty, including as an orthodontist, an endodontist, a periodontist, and a general dentist. The four women interviewed provide extremely detailed accounts about the nature of their work and their respective specialty areas. This video is most engaging when the women explain their reasons for becoming dentists and the advantages they have experienced since working in the field. Some of the rewards they describe include the satisfaction of helping people, the ability to have a flexible work schedule, and the opportunity for self-employment. [End Page 88]
Women in Engineering introduces us to thirteen women, including a mechanical engineer who designs roller coasters, a product engineer who works in baked goods manufacturing, an architectural engineer who designs lighting systems for buildings, and an environmental engineer who monitors the quality of surface water. Using the same format as the others, this video leads viewers through the broad world of engineering in the modern workforce. What is most notable about this video is the amount of enthusiasm that the women convey when describing their satisfaction with their work in the engineering field. The women largely attribute this satisfaction to being able to solve problems and see the end products of their work.
The primary strength of these videos comes from the uncensored, personal, and authentic accounts of women who have direct experience in these nontraditional fields—experiences that enable these women to serve as role models for other women who are considering entering these occupations. These videos also...