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A variety of successful strategies were developed in the 1980s and 1990s to attract more young women into the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. However, what works with one generation of teenagers may not be as effective with the next generation, so efforts to attract more women into these fields need to be evaluated regularly and fine-tuned to the needs and culture of each new generation. It is also important to ensure that women have positive experiences when they choose to enrol in these post-secondary programmes: success is more than just numbers. Responding to Declining Enrolment of Women Recalling that the enrolment of women in undergraduate engineering courses almost doubled between 1990 and 1995, from 12 percent of the total to 22 percent, we need to understand and address the issue of the recent decline in the numbers of women entering the first year of courses in Chapte r 1 0 R Recruitment and Outreach 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 161 16/11/09 6:19 PM 162 THE BOLD AND THE BRAVE almost all the engineering disciplines across the developed world. It is difficult to point to a single reason for this decline, and a combination of factors is most likely to explain the situation. First, the serious decline in high-tech jobs after the “dotcom bubble” burst may well have affected the attitudes of many young people. Those whose parents lost their jobs would have found technology-related careers less attractive, while those whose parents kept their jobs would have seen them working many hours of overtime. Second, there has been a resurgence of conservative values in society, which has been accompanied and reinforced by reductions in grants to women’s organizations, the continuing display of gender stereotypes in the media, and a new preoccupation with the drop out rates of boys in high schools. While this is an important issue in itself, this preoccupation has tended to overshadow the problem of girls dropping out of science. Third, as was discussed in Chapter 8, the decline in the enrolment of women in science and engineering courses has been mirrored almost exactly by increased enrolment of women in health-related studies. For women, this is not a bad choice, considering the ageing of the population and the increased need for physiotherapists, pharmacists, optometrists , and other workers in health-related fields. Women also see a direct link with helping people in these professions. Nevertheless, this trend represents a serious loss for science and engineering, a point that may not yet have been considered seriously enough by scientists and engineers themselves. Many advocates of recruitment efforts have been spurred on by the belief that a critical mass of women will bring enriching and complementary perspectives to designs, technological solutions, and the culture in these fields. It is not difficult to take it for granted that brilliant women will make it in any field. However, stereotyping of women’s abilities may have particularly acute repercussions for those 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 162 16/11/09 6:19 PM Recruitment and Outreach 163 women whose performance is average. Will they succeed to the same extent as average men? Outreach Activities in New Brunswick and Ottawa in the 1990s Youth outreach activities developed in earlier decades now experience mixed success in attracting women into careers in science and engineering. A study of such activities in British Columbia, published in 1995, raised many questions about their impact and success (see Vickers, Ching, and Dean 1995). Its authors found that coeducational activities usually had more success in attracting boys than in attracting girls, and that the strongest positive impact on girls came from a single-sex programme called Girls in Science. Of almost 1,600 students surveyed, 44 percent of the young women indicated that medicine was their first career choice, as against 26 percent of the young men, while only 4 percent of the young women chose engineering as a preferred profession, as against 20 percent of the young men. Both the young women and the young men in this survey placed high values on “future job security” and “interesting work,” but the young women rated “contribution to society” more highly than the young men did. Interestingly, the impact of parents was similar for both genders and was rated more highly than the impact of friends, teachers, guidance counsellors, or the media. The majority of summer outreach programmes in Canada in the mid-1990s had unbalanced enrolments, attracting many more boys than girls. In 1993, I obtained a generous...


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