USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering houses a number of student-run programs that weave together the threads of women and technology. The results are organizations like Girls in Tech (GIT), Women in Computing, and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).
Gabrielle Van Der Velde-Kraft, President of SWE particularly felt the need to find female fellowship once she joined the Mechanical Engineering school as a freshman.
“Even though Viterbi has a good 50-50 distribution of men and women,” she said. “I noticed that a lot of the design teams that made rockets and cars were male-oriented.”
Velde-Kraft’s discomfort made her gravitate towards a search for women-centric science groups.
Alice Parker, a professor of electrical engineering at Viterbi, thinks women have come a long way socially in the field of technology.
“It has surfaced in me this sense that women had a hard time for a long time, and it’s persisting in very subtle ways,” Parker said.
According to Parker, these continuing signs of struggle are the cause of attrition.
“Women go into technology and then there is attrition...some of them might stop to become school teachers, some leave to take care of their family. In addition to that there is a work climate that may not be conducive to diversity, though it has improved a lot now,” she said.
While the numbers have risen from Parker’s days where women were extremely few and far between, Velde-Kraft presents a shocking number for the workforce today.
“The percentage of women in my class when I joined three years ago was about 41%. The number has evened out since. But this is not the case in real life. Women occupy only 13% of positions in many tech companies,” Velde-Kraft said.
SWE has projects underway to increase the visibility of women in the field of technology. One such program is November’s National Conference in Anaheim. SWE will be sponsoring 20 girls to participate.
Velde-Kraft credits the conference as a hotbed of opportunities, as she landed her first internship with The Boeing Company through the program.
However, the danger of being type-cast is an ever-present roadblock that Parker believes still plagues women today.
“I think seeing women be more friendly, open and connected can lead to an identification of seeing them ‘like a mother, or sister, or wife’ and not as a colleague,” said Parker. “They are accused of feeling too much and being too emotional or passionate.”
“My advice to women,” Parker goes on, “is to be who you are. Be true to yourself, but sometimes that’s difficult when you’re in an isolated situation.”
Reclaiming oneself is an idea the USC chapter of Girls in Tech practices. Their Instagram page grids sits in bold pink. Through seemingly small ways, GIT appears to reassert femininity and intellect as a unified idea.
One of their upcoming projects is titled ‘Hacking for Humanity’. According to their website, it is “a 2-day code-a-thon where developers, designers, scientists, students, entrepreneurs, educators and mentors work together to build apps that solve social problems.”
Viterbi tweeted in August that 50% of its incoming class are women. This number is a 6% increase from 2017. With the national average standing at 21.9%, according to the American Society for Engineering Education, USC’s engineering school stands at a rate twice as high.