Engineering a Balance

As enrollment at SEAS rises, so does concern about its persistent gender gap

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Macdonell praised the organization’s efforts. In reference to the distribution of nail polish favors to female students at WEcode, which attracted media attention and claims of sexism, she wrote that the favors helped to reaffirm that “you can be a woman, you can be feminine, and there is a place for you in the tech world where you can keep that identity.”

Still, it is difficult to measure the success of efforts to attract female concentrators, particularly as SEAS has rapidly grown. Most evidence of these initiatives’ effects is anecdotal, Madoff said.

Moreover, some students question the efficacy of efforts to recruit female concentrators. Hempel said that the school’s attempts to target admitted female students who have already expressed an interest in engineering does not address the deeper problem of increasing the number of women interested in the field in the first place.

Vladimir Bok ’14, a computer science concentrator, said that he prefers student initiatives over administrative attempts to address the gender gap.

“I do recognize it as a problem,” he said.”But I am always having a hard time [with] any centralized effort to engineer something to happen. I am a much bigger fan of the grassroots efforts, such as [WICS].”

In fact, Harvard’s 1:2 ratio of female to male concentrators is actually above the national average. According to a 2009 report from the National Science Foundation, women represented only 18 percent of students enrolled in engineering programs.

“It’s really a testament to how hard the SEAS faculty, administration, and students have been working—really, before this was a hot topic—to be make the department welcoming to and accepting towards women,” Madoff said.

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at Follow him on twitter @trdelwic.

—Staff writer Alexander H. Patel can be reached at Follow him on twitter @alexhpatel.