(WOMENSENEWS)–As students return to and start graduate and professional programs at universities around the country this fall, women’s advocates say it’s a good time to celebrate the advances women have made and to look more closely at why certain professional schools remain less than welcoming to female students.

In addition, college administrators say they’re keeping an eye on why women seem to be pigeonholed and channeled into certain branches of professions, such as pediatrics or human resource management that are perceived as more suited to women’s stereotyped “nurturing” personality traits.

“Women have been making forward progress in all areas,” said Pamela Haag, director of research for the American Association of University Women. “But the standout is really in law and graduate programs in the humanities.”

In law, medicine, veterinary science and humanities doctoral programs, women have made enormous headway, said Haag. The latest medical school statistics show the proportion of men to women at about 55 percent to 45 percent, a narrowing of the gap.

“When you think that before 1971 some medical schools had quotas to keep the numbers of women down, it’s really amazing. It attests to the investment that women have made in their educations,” she said.

Women are expected to be the majority of first-year law students this fall, compared with just 10 percent in 1970, and almost 50 percent of the 43,518 students who started law school last fall.

Women Still Are Avoiding Sciences, Engineering

Still, women haven’t made similar progress in professional and graduate programs in the fields of engineering, computer science and business.

“There’s still a perception that boardrooms are largely male and that there isn’t room at the table for women,” said Sherril Hoel, associate dean for academics and administration, at Keller Graduate School of Management, in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., where women’s enrollment is approaching 50 percent.

Jerry Doyle, associate director of admissions at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., where women comprise about 30 percent of the graduate students, said the media and the business community need to do a better job of educating adolescent girls about career options in business.

While television shows portray lawyers and doctors as people who make a difference in others’ lives, girls usually learn about business from seeing mostly male Wall Street traders on the evening news, he said. Tuck, like other business schools, is also working to increase the pool of qualified female applicants by reaching out to college seniors and women already working in business or banking.

AAUW’s Haag agreed that women tend to make decisions about careers in middle school or early high school and that girls may not be encouraged to think about traditionally male careers such as engineering. It’s a question, she said, of how “the material is taught early on” and how careers are presented.

And, Haag said, women’s advocates are keeping an eye on something called vertical segregation–the way in which women tend to be steered toward some branches of professional careers. Female physicians, for example, tend to be over-represented in pediatrics and underrepresented in surgery, she said.

How Women Fare in Professional Fields

Women have made real gains in the field of accountancy, according to a recent study of women in the field by Frank J. Coglitore and Janice Raffield of the University of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While women made up only 35 percent of accounting graduates in 1980, they had attained a majority, 53 percent, of new graduates by 1995.

But Coglitore and Raffield found that younger women thinking about attending accounting programs might have a hard road ahead. In a recent survey by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 55 percent of the women responding reported that they had left their jobs because they felt they would encounter barriers to promotion and advancement in their company. In 1997, women made up 39 percent of full-time professional staff at accounting firms, but only 16 percent of partners at those firms are women, according to the institute.

Women have an interesting history in the field of architecture, according to Diane Favro of the Association of Women in Architecture, based in Beverly Hills, Calif. When the University of California at Berkeley graduate school of architecture opened early in the century, almost half its students were women, Favro said. But, by the 1950s, that number had dropped considerably. Over the last decade, the percentage of women graduating from architecture programs has risen to between 40 and 50 percent, Favro said.

While those numbers are encouraging, Favro said that many newly qualified architects find it difficult to balance the long hours required in the profession with family responsibilities. The number of licensed female architects remains small–only 18 percent of all licensed architects are women–because many female architects go into partnership with their husbands and frequently only the husband will get the license for the firm, she said.

A survey conducted by Business Week and U.S. News and World Report last year indicated that women make up only 29 percent of students in top U.S. business schools. The Graduate Management Admissions Council puts the percentage at 38.5 for all business schools nationwide. There is great disparity between business schools, however.

Hoel, of the Keller Graduate School of Management, said that Keller has achieved 45 percent female enrollment in its graduate program–that’s up from 29 percent in 1990. She added Keller’s flexible, part-time program, featuring night, weekend and on-line classes appears to be particularly attractive to women.

Dentistry is another field where women have made some progress in recent years, but advocates worry there may be a glass ceiling. In 1999, 37.6 percent of the dental school classes were female. That may not sound impressive, but it’s up from only 5 percent in 1970 and 11 percent in 1985, said Margaret Scarlett of the American Association of Women Dentists.

But while the increase is heartening, Scarlett said that the number of women going on to more specialized training for oral surgery and other fields is extremely low, except for fields such as pediatric orthodontics. She hopes to change that by educating young women about dentistry and letting them know what they need to do to enter the profession.

Scarlett is on the board of the National Museum of Dentistry, which has created partnerships with the Girl Scouts and other youth organizations to educate girls about dentistry.

She said that she thinks girls don’t immediately think of going into dentistry because the chances are that they had a male dentist when they were growing up. Most dental schools still have largely male faculty and administration, Scarlett said, adding to the impression that the profession is a “man’s world.”

In order to help retain new graduates in the profession, the American Association of Women Dentists has created a mentoring program to match new dentists with experienced professionals and to connect women students and women professors at dental schools.

Only 12 percent of engineering doctorates go to women, according to Haag of the American Association of University Women and only 8.4 percent of the engineering workforce is female.

In 1997, the Engineering Workforce Commission of the American Association of Engineering Societies reported that, in the engineering field, 19 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 20 percent of master’s degrees and 12 percent of doctoral degrees went to women.

Some of the reasons women cite as the reason they leave engineering and switch to a non-science major are the inflexible curricula, lack of role models, stereotyping of engineering as a male field, gender bias on the part of faculty members and difficulties in obtaining academic guidance. Obtaining a graduate degree is influenced–often negatively–by the quality of faculty and student interactions, the challenges of marriage and childbearing, the availability of mentors, peer support and the need for financial assistance.

Women make up a majority of journalism students at schools nationwide, according to a August 15 annual survey by Lee. B. Becker and Gerald M. Kosicki of the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

In the autumn of 2000, 65 percent of the students enrolled in journalism and mass communication master’s degree programs were women, and 54 percent of the students enrolled in doctoral programs in journalism and mass communication programs were women.

By comparison, in 1996 the percentage of master’s degree students in journalism and mass communication programs who are female was 62 percent, where it has remained since 1988. The percentage of female doctoral degree students in 1996 was slightly less than 50 percent.

Women make up about 44 percent of graduates of top law schools, according to a Business Week and U.S. News and World Report survey. This fall women are expected to be the majority of students entering law school.

In 1970, women made up about 10 percent of first-year law students; last fall, they accounted for 49.4 percent of the 43,518 students who began law school. More women than men have applied to law schools this fall.

Medicine was once considered a male field, but according to the American Medical Women’s Association, the number of women enrolled in American medical schools has been steadily increasing. During the 1969-1970 school year, only 9 percent of medical students were female. For 1979-1980, the number was 25 percent. By 1989-1990, women made up 36 percent of medical school classes and in 1999-2000, women made up 44 percent of the classes.

Military Academies
Women have made progress at the U.S. Service Academies, particularly since the first classes to include women graduated in 1980. At the Air Force Academy, women were 10.9 percent of the 1980 graduating class and 14.7 percent of the class of 1999. The Coast Guard Academy has shown the best progress, moving from a class that was 9.2 percent women in 1980 to a class that was 31.5 percent women in 1999. West Point’s class was only 6.8 percent women in 1980; the class of 1999 was 13.4 percent women. The Naval Academy almost tripled the number of women enrolled in 20 years. In 1980, the graduating class was only 5.8 percent women. In 1999, 15.2 percent of the graduates were women.

Veterinary Medicine
Veterinary medicine is one of the bright spots in the higher education landscape, though some in the field say that the encouraging numbers may mask the truth that women who show talent in biology may be steered toward the profession instead of other scientific careers.

According to the Association of Women Veterinarians, women’s rise in the field has been astounding. In the 1930s, women made up less than 1 percent of veterinary school graduates. But by the 1990s more than 60 percent of graduates were women and the number is heading toward 70 percent.

But Dr. Andy Kohen, a professor of economics and women’s studies at James Madison University, said in a recent issue of Vetcentric Magazine that veterinary medicine may be considered one of the “caring” professions, in which women have been traditionally encouraged because of stereotypes about personality and job suitability.

“It may be very well that becoming a self-employed practitioner is easier for a veterinarian that for other applied scientists,” he said. “And self employment is certainly a way in which several identifiable groups in our society that have been the subject of employment discrimination have coped with that discrimination.”

Sarah Stewart Taylor is a free-lance writer in Washington, D.C.

For more information visit:

American Association of University Women:

Council of Graduate Schools:

American Society of Women Accountants:

American Business Women’s Association:

Association for Women in Architecture:

American Medical Women’s Association:

Association for Women Veterinarians:

Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia: