How MIT manages to get as many girls and boys enthusiastic about
studying mechanical engineering. And why that requires a strong
Hardly any other discipline fails so obviously in trying to
get more women excited than mechanical engineering. There are
more and more women in engineering, in Germany only one in ten
mechanical engineering students is a woman. The situation is
similar in the USA: Only 13% of Bachelor students in 2015 were
It can be very different: The Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT) has just announced that almost half of its
mechanical engineering students are women. In fact, it was 49.5%
of all mechanical engineering students. And this is no accident.
The interest in mechanical engineering is there
Three MIT scientists wanted to find out why the mechanical
engineering institute is so extraordinarily successful in
recruiting female students. Kath Xu, Dawn Wendell and Andrea
Walsh interviewed employees of the institute and the admissions
office. Her study shows that the high proportion of mechanical
engineering students is the result of profound structural
The study shows that there are at least as many young women
who would be interested in studying mechanical engineering as
there are young men. But they are dissuaded from their desired
career in a variety of ways.
Counteract the flaw of the male domain
One of the scientists' findings was that gender inequality
already begins before enrollment. That is why the regulatory
agency has started to polish up its own image and address women
directly. The popular opinion was clear: mechanical engineering
and the corresponding MIT institute were considered male
domains, although around the year 2000 a third of the enrolled
women were women.
The staff used blogs to draw attention to the fact that
public opinion was misleading and that there were women on
campus. Students began to report on campus life and their
learning content. In addition, the staff increasingly invited
young high school graduates to campus weekend, a kind of open
day at the university.
Provide an insight into the world of mechanical engineering
In addition, MIT started a real recruiting program.
Schoolchildren from 11th grade can try out and learn for four
weeks on campus. In a summer academy, the potential mechanical
engineering students attend lectures, get to know the
institute's laboratories and work in groups on their own
Because the mechanical engineering institute does not suffer
solely from a lack of young women, the program is offered
together with the institute for electrical engineering and
Professors attract young women
Meanwhile, the MIT Mechanical Engineering Institute can reap
the fruits of years of work. The employees use the balanced
gender ratio as a recruiting tool. As admissions director Stuart
Schmill says, many women on campus promote the university's
positive image among young women. And vice versa: If you hardly
have any female students and professors on campus, it will be
difficult for you to win over young students.
Former director Rohan Abeyaratne remembers the reactions of
the students after Anette Hosoi, professor of mechanical
engineering at MIT, was appointed to the institute's management.
"I remember the large number of female students who came to
their clinic shortly after their (Ms. Hosois) appointment." At
the time, he realized that he had to hire more female employees
at the institute if he wanted to get more female students
interested in his subject.
Hosoi himself pointed out to the scientists that this is not
just a role model. The students wanted to know what their
prospects on the job market would be. In the USA and Germany,
the prospects for mint jobs are good, and wages in mechanical
engineering have been at a high level for years. Hosoi himself
came to MIT in the 1990s via a large women's initiative. At that
time, like many colleagues, she received a call asking to apply
for a position at MIT.
Twenty years of catching up
Twenty years have passed since the first major promotion for
more women at MIT. This was how long it took the university to
balance the proportion of women and men among mechanical
engineering students. "In order to achieve equality of thought,
you need sustainable commitment and conscious strategies,"
explains co-author Walsh. Without the support of the other
institutes, without continuous awareness campaigns at their own
university and public relations projects, the number of female
students in mechanical engineering would not be nearly at the
level at which they are today.
It is time for universities around the world to think about
the hidden discrimination lurking in their systems. In any case,
the potential for more women in mint courses is there.