Friday, April 27, 2007

Nanopolitan Bleg: Women and Engineering

One of the key disagreements is in sharp focus now: Either women are averse to engineering (due to whatever reasons, including their parents' old-fashioned ideas) or they aren't.

Observation: Women constituted just about a fifth of all JEE takers in 2006; this fraction was even smaller in 2005!

Possible explanations: May be women don't like engineering. May be women don't want to pursue engineering. Their social conditioning and their parents may conspire to make them view engineering as a less than desirable career to get into. This is a rough paraphrase of Vivek's point, which seems to find quite a few takers. If this is true, there's nothing IITs can do except to wait for the society to unscrew itself. [Update: This paragraph was edited to reflect Vivek's views better. See his comment below.]

Here's a different view (mine!): while women may not be applying for JEE (for example, they have given up on the IITs, due to their past (abysmal) record of admitting women students!), they do get into other engineering colleges in large numbers. So, this 'aversion to engineering' is a myth.

In his comment on my post, Falstaff says, "I noticed your claim that girls attend other engineering colleges in large numbers, but I'd need to see some figures on that - so far it's just a claim."

Well, I don't have the numbers. But, I do have wonderful readers, and I know many of you went to engineering colleges. So, can you please -- please, please -- help us resolve this issue? All I'm requesting you to do is to leave a comment with the following information: the college name, engineering discipline, year of graduation, the number of women, and the number of men.

Many thanks in advance. Here's some example data for my class (just to get this exercise going):

IT-BHU -- Metallurgical Engineering -- 1985 -- 0 women -- 25 men.

Yeah, I know, IT-BHU took -- and still takes -- students through JEE. I will let you decide where the bias was! If you comment under your real name, I promise to buy you a drink the next time you are in Bangalore ...


  1. Anonymous said...

    "...Women constituted just about a fifth of all JEE takers in 2006; this fraction was even smaller in 2005!..."
    If the fraction was even smaller in 2005 than in 2006, it means the situation is improving, right?

  2. Abi said...

    All right, I get to go first! This information is from a relative:

    MNM Jain College -- Computer Science -- 2002 -- 20 girls (approx) -- 35 guys (approx).

  3. Abi said...

    Oops, looks like Srinivasa had already written the first comment while I was composing my comment!

    Last year's case is interesting: the number of women applicants jumped almost two-fold. This increase was largely attributable to the halving of the application fee (IIRC, from Rs. 600 for boys to 300 for girls).

    We will have to wait for this year's data to arrive before commenting on the trends.

    Of course, the IITs do have the trends safely locked up in their vaults!

  4. Vivek Kumar said...

    Small but important correction: I have never said that "women don't like engineering". That line may kindly be deleted.


    In percentage terms, the share of women candidates in JEE went up by 5% (approx) between 2005 and 2006.

    Exact figures here:

  5. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Abi -- what about IISc's engineering departments? Not undergrad, but would be interesting to see the figures anyway and surely you could get hold of them (and even give a department-by-department breakup...)

  6. Vivek Kumar said...

    @Abi: You can forget this exercise now. I have found the data you seek - and much more comprehensive and scientific than comments on a blog can ever make it.

    Visit this page:

    And download the whole report. The data you seek is at the beginning of the report.

    IAS here stands for Indian Academy of Sciences. Concerned over poor enrollment of women in science/engineering, they set this initiative up, called "Women in Science".

    I retract my earlier comment where I had said that we Indians don't seem to be concerned about the real issues. Quite clearly, some people are.. and they are taking steps to correct the situation.

  7. Anonymous said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
  8. Saurabh said...

    Saurabh Madaan

    2006, B. Tech, Metallurgical & Materials Engg, IIT Madras - 31 men, 1 woman.

  9. Saurabh said...

    I will be looking forward to the drink when I drop in to Bangalore.. :P

  10. Sunil said...

    hmm.....from my time in college (Anna Univ, when it was just CEG/ACT/MIT & SAP), there weren't all that many women in engg. I think in mechanical there were some 70 odd guys, and 4 girls. A little better in CS & EEE & ECE(where girls were ~20%). My own major had more girls (~30%, but in a much smaller class of 26 students).

  11. Rahul said...,2008,Electronics Engg, 46 boys and 4 girls

  12. Anonymous said...

    You don't have to buy me a drink, but I'll buy you one the next time I'm there!

    IIT Bombay (starting 1998), Mechanical Engineering: 1 woman, 93 men.

    But if I look at the number of students in my XII class who went to Engineering, the numbers would be closer to 40% women and 60% men.

  13. barbarindian said...

    So, how does this connect with your original tirade against JEE that it is biased against women?

    I think JEE is also biased against morons. What are your thoughts on that?

  14. Veena said...

    No drinks needed. Dosais will do!

    Bill class of 2001 CS at IITB: 42 men, 1 woman (he wants me to tell you that the woman did not get in through JEE)

    Late nineties, my class at PSG Tech in Coimbatore had about 22 women and 35 men. The % of women have been increasing since then (can safely say that for CET, Kerala also). My junior batches, esp CS, women outnumbered men. Since anyway all this data is worthless, let me pile on more. Anecdotally, most of my women friends went into engineering, into classes where there were more than a 25% women (Mech and Production branches excluded here). Also, I think there might be some sort of a North-South skew - a state wide breakup might be nice to see.

  15. Pratik Ray said...

    My batch (2000-04), Metallurgy, NIT Rourkela: 34 boys, 8 girls.

    Another piece of stat: 6 of the 8 girls were through girls quota (Till 2002, Orissa had a girl's quota in their state entrance exam, and since NIT-R accepted students through the state entrance exam, had reservations for girls as well. That changed with the advent of AIEEE, and the girls quota was removed for NIT-R. It is still present for the state run engineering colleges and the private colleges I believe)

  16. Vivek Kumar said...

    @Abi: Over at my blog, I have added data from 19 other countries (from West Europe & North America basically) apart from data for India. It is virtually the same story everywhere.

    Norway, the country rated highest in terms of gender equality and empowerment, has 17.1% share of women in total engineering graduates.

    Admit it now, JEE has nothing to do with it. It has lots to do with society's stereotyping of professions and of women. And these stereotypes cut across countries. Just run a Google Image Search for "engineer" or "engineering", and you will see.

    As an aside, I am thankful to you for disagreeing with my gut feeling about this issue. If not for that, I would never have cared enough to explore deeper and look at the wealth of research and data that is already available on this subject.

  17. barbarindian said...

    Arjun Singh will sooner admit that the OBC quota is a votebank ploy.

  18. Anonymous said...

    I agree with the author of the blog. Women don't come in because they don't take coaching as much as boys do.
    However I don't at all agree with the solution suggested by the author. Solving JEE's paper is a joy not only for the top 500 but the top 5000. Solving GATE and CBSE papers is an excecise of boring monotony.
    The solution is only a more equitable society. Wanting to reduce JEE to a CET is preposterous and unacceptable to a class of people who have seen how much of joy it is to solve those papers.

  19. Anonymous said...

    Here's the result of last years internal examinations at Netaji Subhas Institute of technology, Delhi. Results of all branches are available, you can count the no. of women in each year and branch. In the list, women students are marked by a (W) after their names.


  20. Anonymous said...

    According to data in the IAS report , women constitute 21.5% of students studying engineering.

    Percentage of women at IITs in 2005 is at 6.3%(321/5092). which definitely points in one direction.

    I doubt if complete equity could be possible but there is a difference between 6% , 21% and 50%.

  21. Cosmic Voices said...

    I went to a private engineering college and from my observation I can safely say that atleast 35-40% of the students were girls in my college. And I am sure it is not very different in other engineering colleges in AP. That includes the so-called masculine departments like Mechanical Engg.

    And yes, the state entrance exam provides reservations for girls.

  22. Wavefunction said...

    I have a different question; is the culture in the IITs too alpha male?

  23. Govar said...

    I think an important factor in Indian context is the marriage. Most parents look at marriage for their daughters as the 'final destination', and everything they do to their daughters revolves around it. And it really becomes very difficult to find grooms in India when girls come out with flying colors since marriage, again in Indian context, is something that is NOT a match of equals. Grooms are almost always better placed professionally than the brides. So if you are a father of a daughter, finding a guy for a girl who's studied in say IIT is a difficult proposition. That said, I don't think fathers make an effort not to get their daughters to IITs. It may be just that fathers are satisfied with a girl doing engineering from a regular college, while the same ones might push their sons towards IITs. Hope I made some sense there! :-P

  24. Anonymous said...

    Coming to the point of finding grooms, women still want their husbands to have a higher degree than themselves! A lot of men complain that when most women have B Tech degrees, the men have to be M Tech or PhD. So we need to invent more degrees if we want more qualified women. Any thoughts on that? How many women are married to men less qualified than themselves? I think that choosing a life partner is nearly as important or more important than a career even for men.

  25. Anonymous said...

    Hey, I graduated from VIT, Pune, in 2006. I studied Computer Science Engineering. Boys ~ 90. Girls ~ 30.

    Hope that helps.

  26. Anonymous said...

    Hi, Yes I belong to the "third sex" as they used to say in my day (1981-1985), THE IIT WOMAN. I am currently Professor of Electrochemical Nanomaterials at Newcastle University and therefore have NOY yet changed sexes as yet.

    I think women do not attempt IIT entrance exams mainly because it requires a different kind of preparation and competition psycology, which is strongly discouraged in an Indian girl during her teens. Getting into IITs requires mental preparation from about the age of 14 or 15 and a strong belief that all this preparation will be useful later in life.

    However, parents patronise daughters as this "education" being "whimsical" or "desirable" rather than "survival" (as is done for a boy WHO HAS TO GET A JOB. My parents thought the same, but I was a stubborn beast (and still am) and do not buy into the concept of "woman" being nurturing, nice, patient etc (who makes up this rubbish anyway?). So I got into IIT and survived in Engineering (post IIT). Personally, getting into IIT is just the beginning, and ceratinly not the most difficult thing I have done. I found it much more difficult to change 4 countries, adapt to different languages, and develop into an academic without any family or support. But I saw science as destiny, and something I was at loathe to give up, AND MY MEAL TICKET. After all how many people get to do what they absolutely love and get paid a reasonable salary for that? I consider myself priviledged. Until the time women see it as a necessary meal ticket and priviledge they may get into engineering but will not survive.

    Now that I have stayed in engineering for over 20 years I notice that even very motivated women drop out after 5, 10 or 15 years after graduation. Beleive me, if you think there are few women in IITs, try looking for women engineering professors in western europe, USA and Japan, because raising a family and holding a demanding job is not everyone's cup of tea. The easy approach is to give up.

  27. Anonymous said...

    I wish the anonymous professor would have left her name and contact :(.
    Its always a pleasure to read and study about people who think they have broken the barriers :).

  28. Ajith Prasad Balakrishnan said...

    The trend is there everywhere, though I would say, its slowly becoming better..NITC comp science 2004 passout batch.. 47 guys, 4 girls