Retaining Women Trained as Engineers in the Profession

Friday, 14 February 2014
Columbus AB (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Nadya A. Fouad , University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Romila Singh , University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
This presentation will report the results of Stemming the Tide, a study that investigated factors that contribute to women’s decisions to stay or leave engineering careers.  Women are underrepresented in the field of engineering at every level. Most of the research on effective interventions has focused on increasing women’s choice of engineering major. However, though women are now 20% of engineering graduates only 11% of professional engineers are women (National Science Foundation, 2003). In fact, the proportion of women engineers has declined slightly in the past decade, suggesting that, while the pool of qualified women engineering graduates has increased, they are not staying in the field of engineering. Over 5500 women responded to our study.  We will present our key findings on differences between women who stayed in engineering and those who left the field.  For example, we found that nearly half of women left a career in engineering because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement, or low salary.  One-in-three women left engineering because they did not like the climate, their boss, or the culture.  One-in-four left engineering to spend time with family.  Women who left engineering were not different from those who stayed in the field in their interests, confidence in their abilities, or the positive outcomes they expected from performing engineering related tasks.  We also found that women’s decisions to stay in engineering are best predicted by a combination of psychological factors and factors related to the organizational climate, including key supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers, and 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 who wanted to leave their companies were also very likely to leave the field of engineering altogether.