Advancement opportunities and workplace climate are the key factors determining the future careers of women in engineering, according to a recent study presented last week at the 122nd Annual Convention of the American Psychology Association (APA). Below is a background of the study, followed by the key findings and recommendations.
Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering includes a survey of 53,000 engineering alumnae across six decades. While 62% of respondents have persisted in their engineering careers, 21 percent of graduates left the field more than five years ago while many others never entered the field. Overall, women account for less than 11% of practicing Engineers in America.
Statistics that highlights the under-representation of women in engineering are similar to findings in Australian and have sparked a number of initiatives.
However, this particular APA study compares the experiences of female graduates currently working in engineering professions with those who have perused other paths.
A majority of respondents who currently work as engineers described their workplace as supportive organisations which invested in training and professional development while providing clear, transparent paths for advancement. One third of these women held management positions and 15% worked in executive roles.
Meanwhile, 12% of women who left the field more than five years ago said that they were not offered any advancement opportunities. One third of these women reported staying at home as care-takers because companies did not accommodate to work-life concerns.
Professor Nadya Fouad, the leading author of the study, warns that organisations need to implement change in order to retain female engineers.
“The reasons women stay with their engineering jobs are very similar to why they leave — advancement opportunities and work climate.”
The study also proposes a number of strategies for retaining more women in engineering fields. Prof Foad says that companies should provide more training and adopt a zero-tolerance approach toward behaviors that undermine others.
Prof Fouad says that there are companies making a substantial effort to make changes but she emphasises the need for action beyond new policies. She says that companies can improve by clarifying expectations, offering mentoring opportunities and using behavioral analysis to address issues in the company culture.
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