Women studying engineering and computer science at the n National University have spoken of “really weird” male classmates, sexist tutors and “knucklehead boys” in an external audit of the disciplines’ culture.
The May Group found young men within the College of Engineering and Computer Science perpetuated a culture in which bias, stereotyping, exclusion and a lack of respect affected women’s experiences within the school.
About 20 per cent of students within the college are female. The consultancy firm interviewed 12 women and 13 men across five focus groups and found many students felt included.
However, the variation between the experiences of men and women was “concerning”, the May Group report said. Women regularly experienced sexual harassment and objectification.
“A lot of the guys are just really weird, and one just leant back in the lecture and started stroking my leg repeatedly,” one woman told her focus group.
Another said: “There hasn’t been a single group project that I’ve been in where I haven’t been hit on or asked out”.
Women also reported exclusion from social events. While men enjoyed an easy camaraderie with male tutors, lecturers and peers and felt comfortable attending social events such as “Engibeering”, women indicated they felt socially isolated in classes and course work, the report said.
“The findings of this audit are clear: young men at CECS create and perpetuate the culture at the college, in part simply due to their dominance in high numbers, as well as their lack of awareness and apparent indifference,” the report said.
” … the male dominated student culture is pervasive, and manifests through the social events catered to male interests, the class environment that privileges those who are naturally more confident, and the teaching styles of staff who were themselves part of this culture and benefited from it.
“It is critical that the college address the bias and foster an environment where men and women are comfortable, supported, and inspired to continue on in the field treating each other as equals.”
Among the May Group’s recommendations was that the College of Engineering and Computer Science create a common room geared towards women but open to all students.
As well, the firm suggested the school ensure greater transparency in the appointment of tutor and research assistant positions to counter allegations of bias, and that both disciplines offer a greater range of events less focused on drinking.
Women receive 33 per cent of tertiary STEM qualifications in . The College of Engineering and Computer Science dean, Elanor Huntington, described herself as a “unicorn” earlier this year, referring to the lack of female representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
“We are committed to meaningful action that leads to lasting change – for our people and on behalf of our professions. We know that this will take time and work,” she said of the audit.
“The ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science has shared the cultural audit report summary with all staff and students of the college and invited them to help map out a response.
“The college has worked particularly closely with the student leadership to make sure the college is a better place for all students.”
Workforce participation stands at 14 and 86 per cent for females and males respectively in engineering and related technologies, and 25 and 75 per cent in information and communications technology, according to Professionals .