This story is about how a university project sparked an idea for a tool, which could become very useful to promote gender balance in STEM fields.
The project scope was to come up with a website with a gender element, based on assigned readings. The articles chosen were about women in STEM, in particular in Engineering, The initial research on women in STEM showed that a tremendous number of females working in the field of Engineering quit their jobs or never make it into the field in the first place. This could be attributed to several factors, but one of the key insights gained from the readings is that women are part of a vicious cycle created by their lack of visibility in the field:
How does one break this cycle? The answer is visibility. If one could make STEM professionals more aware and knowledgeable about women’s success in STEM, there would be a higher likelihood of their acceptance and support of women in STEM. The online tool idea is pushing off from this hypothesis. In addition to this, the tool has an innovative element: presently, the challenge of increasing visibility of women in STEM falls to women in STEM themselves. They are the ones who are called to the action of uniting, promoting, voicing their opinions, etc. All this to get noticed in a well-established, historically male-dominated system. Shouldn’t the establishment be making an equal or more significant effort to help encourage change?
This is how AndrEngine idea was conceived. Andr — to reference “ANDRogyny” — neither male nor female, in the middle, neutral. Engine — could be interpreted literally, like an engine, a search engine, or could be an engineering reference as well.
The STEM field is known for the amount of past and ongoing research done within it. Research is part of the day for numerous STEM workers and AndrEngine is a search engine enhancer for such professionals. Installed on computers in STEM workplaces, it helps conduct quality research and enrich their knowledge base more efficiently by providing relevant, high quality, reliable information from trusted sources all over the world.
On the surface, the tool is a research aid. In addition to research enhancement, however, AndrEngine’s innovation is in its promotion of minority groups such as women in STEM, through seeking out quality information in the context of each search. The user has control over what kind of information they would like to be more exposed to and AndrEngine seeks out this information from trusted sources on the web. As an example, if one wishes to know more about female contribution and success in the STEM field, they can set this parameter within the AndrEngine plugin and the program will filter and promote results based on this parameter. The hope is that the more visible the minority group is, the more aware the dominating group is of its existence. And the more aware and knowledgeable the dominating group, the less resistance it will put up in the acceptance of the minority group, moving to a more balanced and nourishing environment for everyone. Bringing it back to the Vicious Cycle of Lack of Visibility, if Joe the engineer is regularly exposed to information about women and their success in STEM, the more he learns about the topic and the less surprised (and hopefully more accepting) he will be when he sees that his company hired a female colleague engineer.
Additionally, besides the indirect benefits, AndrEngine could be directly beneficial to young women in STEM education — ones who are committed to receiving a degree in STEM but do not have a clear path forward when it comes to getting a job. These women generally do not have a prominent female role model, which contributes to developing lower levels of professional self-confidence and puts female STEM graduates right into the “Lack of Visibility Vicious Cycle”, as described above. AndrEngine could be used by women to learn more about female success in STEM and connect with them, which could help them in forming and maintaining healthy confidence in their abilities as STEM professionals.
One difficulty that came with the idea of AndrEngine was including a gender element. There are many websites out there that are targeted towards women in STEM. A large number employing colors (reds, pinks, purples), phrases ( “you can do it, girl”, “for women by women”), and visual elements that have traditionally been associated with the female gender. While this could work for part of the female population, it will certainly not work for all women and definitely will fail with men. By being aggressively targeted towards women, a website would exclude the male population, which, in the case of the challenge at hand, is also a target population. It was therefore decided that the gender element of the AndrEngine tool will actually be gender neutrality, to be attractive to both males and females, but through this gender neutrality, AndrEngine is striving to benefit women first; it is a well-meaning Trojan Horse in a way.
Lastly, the most rewarding part of the project was in the realization that the idea can be applied not only to women in STEM but also to the numerous minority groups, which need more visibility and appreciation. The AndrEngine plugin could have functionality that would enable the user to search with an emphasis on numerous such groups (ex. Black Lives, LGBTQ, Indigenous Groups) thereby broadening their knowledge and hopefully breaking many more vicious cycles.