This is a topic I have been thinking a lot about recently. I am raising a very smart preteen daughter who enjoys programming in Java. And, I work as a software engineer. This is a very male dominated field where we are having active discussions about how to be more welcoming to women.
My daughter was recruited into a group called "Science Club for Girls". As a father and as an engineer I hate it. First of all, she isn't being challenged to learn real science (i.e. developing the skills that are needed to succeed). They are doing science crafts focused around biology. Biology is the one scientific field where there are more women than men. Shunting off all the women scientists is a problem because it is the least mathematical and technical field... this just strengthens the traditional gender stereotypes.
For the record, my daughter likes the club because her friends are there... and I support her choice. I do have an ongoing discussion with her about what it means to be an engineer. It is not easy being my daughter. But at home she tinkers with and solders electronic circuits and is writing a web application in Java... for more important from a science and engineering perspective.
So now to answer the question.... And I have some expertise in this; currently I am an engineer and I have a hard science degree (in Physics).
There are a few traditionally "male" skills that are absolutely needed to excel in science or engineering.
1) The ability to argue. Science is about arguing facts. You present your hypothesis and then other people attack it. That is the way science works. You also need to look at other hypotheses and attack them. And this argument has to be based on facts... without taking it personally or worrying about feelings. This is how great scientists arrive at the successful theories or great engineers arrive at the correct designs.
2) An obsession with mathematics or design. Successful engineers or scientists fixate on an idea to the exclusion of pretty much anything else. All of my peers have slept in an office, or have "forgotten" social engagements or have even neglected personal hygiene. For the best engineers, mathematics is not a subject in school or a career skill, it is an obsession... it gives us pleasure.
3) A love of tinkering. I was reading research about the different ways that boys and girls use computers. Boys are much more likely to see computers as a toy... and engineers more so. We don't see technology as a tool, we see it as something to take apart... to master, sometimes to destroy (it is a common experience for engineers to have taken apart appliances in our childhood).
I could probably come up with more with more thought.... but these things are the reason that really good engineers are really good. Of course there are girls who already have these traits, but it is not possible to truly be a great engineer or scientist without them.
I read some blogs about what we need to do to make engineering more appealing to women. The suggestions make me laugh (or choke or laugh while choking). They include focusing on "cleanliness" and getting rid of crazy schedules or long arguments. These are the very things that make engineering successful... you really can't do this.
There are some things that we can and should do to make engineering and science more welcoming. Abuse and crass joking are problems and aren't at all necessary for the crazy creative process.
But yes, the women who really succeed in science and technology can strongly argue their points based on facts, have a mastery and love of math, and an obsession that drives them beyond what is normal. In this way they aren't any different then the men.
I don't see that as acting "like one of the lads". I see this as acting like an engineer (or scientist). This is deeply productive, creative and satisfying... but it isn't for everyone. I hope that more women will decide to do this.
Here is what I wrote again. The quote in question is "Shunting off all the women scientists is a problem because it is the least mathematical and technical field... this just strengthens the traditional gender stereotypes". I can kind of understand that this quote might be seen as upsetting to a biologist... but not really.
Maybe in hindsight I would rewrite that (although I do not think it is factually incorrect).
But the important point is that I want my daughter to have the opportunity to enter any field of science or engineering
that she chooses. And, I am not worried about this.
My daughter is programming a web page. She works with and solders electronic circuits. She plays in a video game league. None of these activities require gender segregation. She does them because she wants to (the fact that she sees her engineer dad enjoying these things probably doesn't hurt).
Gender doesn't matter to her as far as what she likes to do. I am very proud of this. Right now she says she wants to be a software engineer and I support this. (Of course, I will support her even if she chooses to become a biologist
The main point I am making is that gender segregation is not helpful when it comes to raising a very smart, and technically inclined daughter.