The Future of "Male-Dominated" Industries

Taking a deeper look inside female's perspectives on male-dominated industries, and if the intimidation factor still exists.

by Maria DeSimone / Garnet & Black

Walking into a lecture hall on the first day of classes is terrifying enough, but what about when you’re one of ten women in a room of 90 males? Your mind goes racing. Will you be taken seriously? Will you be included? Will you be treated fairly? Will you be spoken to? Female engineering, sport management, or computer science majors must get used to these classroom ratios, as they’re all at least 70% male-dominated. As intimidating as this may sound to a college-aged woman, there is much less to worry about than you might think.

Rasha Karakchi, a Computer Science and Engineering Instructor here at the University of South Carolina, started her undergraduate education in 2001. Her love for math and science drew her to engineering, and she recalls her classes only being about 10-20% females. While the number of women in her classes was small, she wasn’t scared away or treated differently. 

 “As a student or instructor in computer science and engineering field, I don't remember being treated differently,” Karakchi said. “The work demands and the study requirements have always been the same for all, and the opportunities are open to everyone.” 

Although Karakchi was in school 20 years ago, her experiences are similar to those in school now. Lauren Speck, for example, is a junior biomedical engineering major at UofSC. She was inspired to go into engineering after caring for her grandmother with Parkinson’s Disease. With this, she wants to use science and engineering to help find cures for neurodegenerative diseases and make a positive impact on those who are suffering. 

Unlike other forms of engineering, biomedical engineering majors are about half men and half women. With that being said, Speck sees an imbalance of males and females in her other classes, but is not bothered by it.

“In the overall field of engineering, it is most definitely male-dominated. However, I have not experienced any discrimination, and have instead been encouraged and supported by both my male peers and professors,” Speck said. “If I put in the work and hold myself with confidence, I have noticed that I obtain the respect of those around me and my work is taken seriously.” 

Getting fair treatment in a classroom full of males is just a small victory. Some women are coming out of school ahead of their male classmates. There are resources like scholarships, organizations and conferences that are created specifically for women to get more involved and provide them with unique opportunities. 

“Nowadays, tech companies and institutions are looking to have more diverse environment. Annual events, conferences and organizations such as the Grace Hopper Conference, Women in Chemical Engineering and many others are designed specifically to encourage girls to enter the domain, show them the career and research opportunities, as well as help them connect with women in the industry,” Karakchi said. 

Society of Women Engineering (SWE) is a popular example of a resource created for women. It is the “world's largest advocate and catalyst for change for women in engineering and technology” with over 40,000 members.

All this talk about fair treatment in classrooms and unique resources makes it seem like being a female in the engineering or computer science industry is perfect. But what happens when one expands beyond STEM majors and investigates the workforce? 

According to Pew Research Center, 50% of women in STEM jobs say they have experienced gender-related discrimination. Of the 50% of women, 29% describe it as being treated like “they are not competent because of their gender.”

“I am more likely to be dismissed when I contribute. It took a lot longer for my efforts to be recognized than my male counterparts,” a female software engineer told Pew Research Center. 

The contrast between classroom and workplace environments may be a tough pill to swallow, but confidence goes a long way. As Karakchi said, “Girls need to have more confidence in themselves and their ideas.” I think we can all agree with that.

Speck said it perfectly: “A lot of the most wonderful things lay on the other side of fear and intimidation; oftentimes it is not truly as bad as you think.” With growing numbers, confidence and resources, the idea of “male-dominated” industries will likely fade and become equalized with women. 

Male-dominated industries like engineering, sport management and computer science have the potential to intimidate women who are interested in these professions. Walking into a classroom full of males can scare female students, but is there less to be scared about than one may think? Although one would hope everyone is treated fairly, women in these fields have different experiences, some good and some bad. As the number of females in these male-dominated industries continues to increase, the treatment of women is likely to change, hopefully for the better.