It may come as a surprise to no one, but apparently the gender gap lives on in terms of the number of practicing female vs. male engineers as well as their perceptions of job quality in the field.
According to the National Science Foundation, women comprise more than 20% of engineering school graduates, but only 11% move into formal engineering roles, despite decades of academic, federal and employer interventions to address this looming gender gap. The Project on Women Engineers’ Retention (POWER), a new study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and funded with a half-million-dollar grant from the NSF, was designed to drill deeper and explore the factors related to women engineers’ career choices. More than 3,700 women with engineering degrees from over 230 universities responded to the survey, according to Dr. Nadya Fouad, UWM Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology, and Romila Singh, UWM associated professor of business, both co-authors of the study.
The study found that one in three respondents were soured by the engineering field or left an engineering position because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture. In fact, women were more likely to leave engineering jobs or the field because of an uncomfortable work climate rather than because of family reasons, according to the findings. Nearly half of the survey respondents said they left an engineering career because of negative working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or a low salary.
Some key findings of the survey:
- One-third of respondents who didn’t enter engineering after graduation didn’t because of their perceptions of the field as being inflexible and the workplace culture as being non-supportive of women.
- Women’s decisions to stay in engineering are typically influenced by key supporters in the organization such as supervisors and co-workers.
- Opportunities for training and development were key factors influencing current engineers’ career and job satisfaction.
- Survey respondents indicating they wanted to leave their companies were also more likely to leave the field of engineering altogether.
Looks like the field has some serious work ahead of it to train, cultivate, mentor and retain budding female engineering stars.