The study, conducted by Dr. Romila Singh and myself, reveals some of the challenges that women in engineering have to confront in their careers.
Women comprise more than 20% of engineering school graduates, but only 11% of practicing engineers are women, despite decades of academic, federal, and employer interventions to address this gender gap. Project on Women Engineers’ Retention (POWER) was designed to understand factors related to women engineers’ career decisions. Over 3,700 women who had graduated with an engineering degree responded to our survey and indicated that the workplace climate was a strong factor in their decisions to not enter engineering after college or to leave the profession of engineering. Workplace climate also helped to explain current engineers’ satisfaction and intention to stay in engineering.
Some women left the field, some never entered and many are currently engineers:
Those who left:
- Nearly half said they left because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary.
- One-in-three women left because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture.
- One-in-four left to spend time with family.
- Those who left were not different from current engineers in their interests, confidence in their abilities, or the positive outcomes they expected from performing engineering related tasks.
Those who didn’t enter engineering after graduation:
- A third said it was because of their perceptions of engineering as being inflexible or the engineering workplace culture as being non-supportive of women.
- Thirty percent said they did not pursue engineering after graduation because they were no longer interested in engineering or were interested in another field.
- Many said they are using the knowledge and skills gained in their education in a number of other fields.
Work decisions of women currently working in Engineering:
- Women’s decisions to stay in engineering are best predicted by a combination of psychological factors and factors related to the organizational climate.
- Women’s decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers. Current women engineers who worked in companies that valued and recognized their contributions and invested substantially in their training and professional development, expressed greatest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and careers.
- Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizing manner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisors and co-workers were most likely to want to leave their organizations.
- Women who considered leaving their companies were also very likely to consider leaving the field of engineering altogether.