Ling Gao

A notable gender disparity is apparent in two of Yale College’s four primary academic areas, namely in disciplines that fall under the Arts & Humanities category and those that fall under Physical Sciences & Engineering. 

Data released by Yale’s Office of Institutional Research from the 2022-23 academic year has revealed a notable gender disparity in certain academic areas — particularly in arts and humanities and in physical sciences and engineering.

According to data released by Yale’s Office of Institutional Research — which presents figures through a gender binary — there are 664 junior and senior male majors within the Physical Sciences & Engineering realm, compared to 351 women. Meanwhile, the number of female Arts & Humanities majors far outnumbers male ones, with 701.5 women and 420 men. The decimal point accounts for interdisciplinary majors that fall in more than one of the four dominant divisions — for example, the Archeological Studies major being classified under both Arts & Humanities and  Social Sciences. 

Although the percentage of women in Physical Sciences & Engineering has increased between the 2000-01 academic year and now — from 26.3 percent to 34.5 percent — for the last 10 years, this percentage has fluctuated between 33.6 percent and 38.8 percent without a clear upward trajectory.

On the national level, numbers are worse. The American Society for Engineering Education, for example, reported that women were awarded only 24.1 percent of the total number of bachelor’s degrees in engineering in 2022.

Though Yale has seen more success in gender diversity than the national average, the University is falling short compared to peer institutions. At Princeton, 40.6 percent of the bachelor of science in engineering degrees that the school distributed in 2023 were to women. At MIT, 48 percent of undergraduates studying engineering were women. The same year at Yale, only 34.5 percent of junior and senior physical sciences and engineering majors were women.

Vincent Wilczynski, deputy dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science, told the News that engineering faculty maintain a close relationship with admissions officers while admissions decisions are being made.

“Admissions clearly, clearly, clearly has its eye on this topic,” he said regarding gender diversity.

Internally, too, Wilczynski said diversity and inclusion remain central priorities at the engineering school. He cited several professional organizations — including the Society of Women Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers — which he said help create safe environments for engineering students who are part of underrepresented minorities.

Wilczynski said that the engineering school has many support systems in place, aimed at combating the “national and international problem” of gender inequity in STEM.

Though some engineering departments — such as biomedical and chemical engineering have more female students — most departments in the engineering school are male-dominated.

For the electrical engineering and computer science combined major, for example, the class of 2025 has 10 men but only one woman in the major.

Rajit Manohar, the director of undergraduate studies for the electrical engineering component of the electrical engineering and computer science major, told the News that he thinks his area of study has an “image problem.” He said he thinks this dissuades students of all genders from studying the discipline as he thinks that many students do not have an accurate understanding of what engineering is.

“I had a really interesting conversation with some folks at the art school and I said, you know, we are much more similar to you than you think,” Manohar told the News. “Because engineering is about creativity. You’re designing something new.”

Along with engineering, physics is also a disproportionately male major at Yale, with 46 declared junior and senior men and 13 women in the 2022-23 academic year.

Sarah Demers, the director of undergraduate studies in physics, said that within the already male-dominated physics major, there are four introductory sequences, and the department has noticed many fewer women in the most advanced sequence.

“Physics is a subject that’s traditionally seen as very challenging. It has that stereotype and that in some ways works against us in terms of people feeling like they don’t belong if things start to get really hard,” Demers told the News. “If people aren’t open and communicating and they don’t realize, ‘oh, wait a second, this actually is pretty tough for everybody,’ they might assume that they’re the only one who’s confused.”

Demers penned an op-ed about gender bias in science in 2013. She wrote about a 2012 study that revealed that when science faculty members were shown identical applications for a lab manager position from men and women, they were more likely to see men as more competent and deserving of a higher salary.

The gender inequality in physics majors is echoed in an uneven faculty gender distribution, Demers said. Still, Demers added that she is hopeful about improvements that have been made in recent years.

“I believe the numbers are seven women out of 37 tenure track faculty members,” Demers said. “Which is actually very good in the national context. If you go back 20 years ago, there was a period when there were one or two.”

Demers told the News that her department is focusing not only on gender but also on other types of diversity, specifically citing race and ethnicity.

She said that diversity is important for reasons deeper than optics — that different perspectives and backgrounds can improve a work environment as well as the ideas and findings that come out of that space.

“It also is a benefit to the science,” she said. “I mean, we’re just not going to be doing as much physics or as good physics if we’re restricting unnaturally who participates, right?”

These issues are central to “Being Human in STEM,” a science course led by professors Rona Ramos GRD ’10 and Benjamin Machta.

The course addresses topics of diversity and representation in STEM disciplines, seeking to study solutions to these stagnancies.

The bulk of the class focuses on discussions of readings, including peer-reviewed papers on subjects such as stereotype threat — a phenomenon that finds that people tend to fall back on vocalized stereotypes of themselves in performing intellectual tasks.

“It’s great that I get to hear the youth’s perspective on this,” Machta said. “It’s quite a fun course.”

As a final assignment, students aim to create and implement a project that will improve STEM culture at Yale.

Machta noted that the gender inequity problem is complex, and one without obvious reasoning.

“It’s a problem of culture, really,” Machta told the News. “And culture is slow to change.”

Yale College first welcomed women in 1969.

Pam Ogbebor contributed reporting.

Hudson Warm covers Faculty and Academics. She is a first-year in Morse College studying English.