I saw a job advertisement recently with this line:

We are looking for candidates [for this teaching position] who are able to inspire women undergraduate students to seriously consider careers in physics, engineering, and related professions.

I'm aware there's a large gender imbalance in physics/engineering, but I'm not sure how one might attack the problem at the lecturer level, unless (very cynically) this is code speak for "we are looking to hire a female candidate".

How might an individual lecturer go about inspiring women undergraduate students to seriously consider careers in physics/engineering?

Related: How do some institutions attract so many female computer scientists? which gives some ideas for what can be done at department level.

  • This is not an answer to the question how to inspire, but: longitudinal diagrams by the Leopoldina (in German, leopoldina.org/publikationen/detailansicht/publication/… ) indicates that (in Germany) in biology the proportion of females stays ≈constant till the Master, then starts dropping for the doctorate (but is still > 50 %) and seriously drops for habilitations, roughly similar patterns are observed for other fields. ... Nov 1, 2022 at 17:20
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    ... BUT for engineering, where female proportion is very low, the fraction of habilitations by women now (2017-19) corresponds to the fraction of women starting engineering studies 2001-03. I.e., they seem to have had made up their mind as much as their male colleagues to have a serious carreer in engineering. Iow, undergrad students in engineering may not be the audience you need to convince. This UNESCO report for Asia (unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000231519) indicates that a relevant drop in interest/participation occurs much earlier, around 9th grade. Nov 1, 2022 at 17:28
  • It may very well be that the relevant drop where you are does occur during undergrad studies. But I wouldn't take it as a given (and I could easily imagine such an ad here in Germany, despite the Leopoldina longitudinal results). And, totally different line of thougt: IMHO the job ad insinuates that women do not take their carreer choice seriously. Which I do consider sexist. Nov 1, 2022 at 18:08

2 Answers 2


My best advice on this is actually to provide numerous successful role models. This is also true for other underrepresented groups in a field. If a faculty is "unbalanced" this is difficult, but can be remedied to some extent with guest lecturers and speakers.

Conscious mentoring is also a factor, whether by faculty or by outside professionals. Mentors provide a role model, but also encouragement and career advice to mentees.

One can also form discussion and support groups that might cross fields when numbers are small. This requires some discussion across departments by interested faculty to keep it active.

Over a longer term, work to assure that people are treated fairly and can attain positions of authority. And, fair treatment doesn't always mean the "same" treatment. Child bearing, for example, should not be a block to a woman's career development.

  • provide numerous successful role models How would you do that? Talk about well-known physicists/engineers during class? That seems like inappropriate use of class time.
    – Allure
    Nov 1, 2022 at 15:57
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    Invite them to class or evening talks, perhaps. Start a seminar series.
    – Buffy
    Nov 1, 2022 at 16:05
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    My professional society organizes also online talks by people from industry describing their work to students. Also there, you may make a point of having a wide variety of speakers. Nov 1, 2022 at 17:51

It is rather easy, actually. The candidate just need to show that they are able to not reject women undergraduate students, as it has been done until now.

How? just go to your uni's library or other collaborative space, look how the median male students discuss between them technical topics, and how they discuss exactly the same topics with some fellow female students. Listen to the jokes they make. Have a look at their posture.

It is very easy to see the gender-discriminating (demeaning) behavior ... it is really hard to undo it, because we have been imprinted all our life with "rejecting" behavior... realizing what not to do is easier than having to do something.

  • Can you give cultural/regional background? This description does not match my experience (regional: Europe, Germany, Italy, lots of Eastern European colleagues. STEM field: I'm chemist, have been working also in physics, material science and agricultural institutes) Nov 1, 2022 at 15:00
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    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX My background is not relevant. I do not know your specific case, nor is relevant. Good for you if you had positive experiences. Your experience however is just an anedoctal point. In Europe, practically in all country, in STEM there is a dramatic shrinking of the female/male ratio: the ratio goes from 1:1 at student level, to 1:4 at the decision-maker (in research) level. ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_21_6217
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 1, 2022 at 15:50
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    How can the regional background of your answer on an international website not matter when some countries such as Tunisia, Argentine, Latvia or Serbia have more than half of their reseachers women, and others such as Germany, Netherlands or Luxemburg are barely above a quarter? (your source). Nov 1, 2022 at 16:21
  • As for my experience - it's just as relevant as your unsourced claims. I phrased it experience, btw, because I (also?) do not have relevant publications at hand. However, in case you read German, I invite you to have a look at the German Chemists' Society stats: gdch.de/fileadmin/blaetterkatalog/… (I'm acutely aware that the female proportion in first semester students in chemistry is declining or at least stopped increasing) Nov 1, 2022 at 16:29
  • since OP asks about "We are looking for candidates [for this teaching position] who are able to inspire women undergraduate students to seriously consider[...]" it is evident that this ad is coming from the societies that have a gender imbalance problem (a probelm that arise because the ratio of women to man is constanctly reduced, not because there are "few" women ... and the ad seems misplaced, but this is not a theme of my answer, I don't have so much time to spend on confuting top-down cosmetic measures created to preserve the power in the hand of current holders).
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 2, 2022 at 7:52

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