WHY WOMEN LEAVE ENGINEERINGNadya A. Fouad, Ph.DRomila Singh, Ph.DUniversity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
“I have to get OUTSIDE OF THE CUBICLE.”“ y work for many years at a USMnational laboratory has providedboth the flexibility and scientific/educational environment I need.In turn I give my professional bestwhile at work. It is a WIN-WIN.”“ There is little to noRESPECT for women in male-dominated fields.”“WOMAN ENGINEER FRIENDLY.My current workplace is very Women get promoted and paidat the same rate as men.”“ Being a blonde, blue-eyed femaleDOESN’T HELP when interviewing ina manufacturing/plant setting.”“Still getting asked if I can handle being in a mostly male work environment in interviews in 2009 - I’ve been an engineer for 9 years, obviously I can.I know when I’m asked that question,I HAVE NO CHANCE AT THE JOB. Itis nice they brought me in for equal opportunity survey points but don’twaste my time if you don’t take females seriously.”“ The lack of women in general, and the lackof women mentors makes it [engineering] aLONELY field for women to want to stay in.”
3TABLE OFCONTENTS5Executive Summary11Chapter 1: Introduction15Chapter 2: Participants’ Profile and Study Procedures17 Chapter 3: Women Who Never Entered the Field of Engineering afterEarning Their Undergraduate Degree in Engineering23 Chapter 4: Women Engineers Who Left the Engineering Field Over FiveYears Ago29 Chapter 5: Current and Former Women Engineers: Who Are They andWhat Are They Doing?35 Chapter 6: Women Currently Working in Engineering: How are TheyFaring in their Jobs and Careers?41 Chapter 7: Women Currently Working in Engineering: How are TheyManaging Their Multiple Life Roles?47 Chapter 8: Women Currently Working in Engineering: How Strong isTheir Bond to the Engineering Profession and to Their Organization?51 Chapter 9: What Explains Women Engineers’ Desire to Leave theCompany and the Profession?57Chapter 10: Summary & Recommendations62References
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTSA study of this scope is not possible without the help and cooperation of many individuals.The study was conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and funded with agrant by the National Science Foundation.We would first like to acknowledge and thank the many womenengineers who so generously volunteered their time to participatein this study. They did so with enthusiasm and commitment, oftencontributing many suggestions, ideas, and comments to help usgain a better understanding of their decisions to stay in, or leave, anengineering career. We couldn’t have done it without them!We thank the members of our team who were doctoral students in counseling psychology:Jane Liu, Michelle Parisot, Catia Figuereido, and Melissa Rico and, in particular, MaryFitzpatrick, a former engineer who provided us with invaluable insights and assistanceas we developed the study.We thank the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and all of the partner universities fortheir invaluable cooperation and support. We were remarkably fortunate to work with anumber of Deans, Associate Deans, and WIE Program Directors from 30 partner universitieswho dedicated many staff hours and resources to provide us with mechanisms to reachout to their alumnae.We thank the members of the UWM-ENTECH team who helped to create our website andthe database, and continued to help problem solve the inevitable bugs and glitches.We thank Gina Johnson, Communications Specialist at UWM, for her creativeconceptualization and design of all media associated with this project.We thank Alfonzo Thurman, Dean of Education at UWM, and Kanti Prasad, former Deanof Lubar School of Business at UWM, for their additional financial support of the project.We thank Patricia Arredondo, Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, and SammisWhite, Associate Dean, School of Continuing Education, at the UWM Center for the Studyof the Workplace, for their support and encouragement.We thank the media relations team at UWM, particularly Tom Luljak, Vice-Chancellor,University Communications and Media Relations, Laura Glawe, Director, UniversityCommunications and Media Relations, and Laura Hunt, Senior University RelationsSpecialist, for their assistance with the project.Finally, we thank our families who gave us advice, feedback, and support, especiallyDr. A. A. Fouad, who is still disappointed his daughter chose psychology over engineering.This project was funded by the National Science Foundation (“Women’s Persistence inEngineering Careers: Contextual Barriers/Supports”; NSF # 0827553). Any opinions, findingsconclusions, and recommendations, are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect theviews of the National Science Foundation.
5EXECUTIVESUMMARYSTEMMING THE TIDE:WHY WOMEN LEAVE ENGINEERINGWomen comprise more than 20% of engineering school graduates, but only 11% of practicing engineersare women, despite decades of academic, federal, and employer interventions to address this gendergap. Project on Women Engineers’ Retention (POWER) was designed to understand factors related towomen engineers’ career decisions. Over 3,700 women who had graduated with an engineering degreeresponded to our survey and indicated that the workplace climate was a strong factor in their decisionsto not enter engineering after college or to leave the profession of engineering. Workplace climate alsohelped to explain current engineers’ satisfaction and intention to stay in engineering.
6WOM E N IN ENGINEERING 2 0 1 1 RE PORTKEY FINDINGS: Some women left the field, somenever entered and many are currently engineers:Those who left: Nearly half said they left because of working conditions, toomuch travel, lack of advancement or low salary. One-in-three women left because they did not like the workplaceclimate, their boss or the culture. One-in-four left to spend time with family. T hose who left were not different from current engineers in theirinterests, confidence in their abilities, or the positive outcomesthey expected from performing engineering related tasks.Those who didn’t enter engineering after graduation: A third said it was because of their perceptions of engineeringas being inflexible or the engineering workplace culture as beingnon-supportive of women. Thirty percent said they did not pursue engineering after graduationbecause they were no longer interested in engineering or wereinterested in another field. Many said they are using the knowledge and skills gained in theireducation 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 acombination of psychological factors and factors related to theorganizational climate. Women’s decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced bykey supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors andco-workers. Current women engineers who worked in companies thatvalued and recognized their contributions and invested substantiallyin their training and professional development, expressed greatestlevels of satisfaction with their jobs and careers. Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizingmanner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisorsand co-workers were most likely to want to leave their organizations. Women who considered leaving their companies were also verylikely to consider leaving the field of engineering altogether.
E X E C U T I V E SU M M A RYSTUDY METHODS:In November 2009, we launched a national longitudinal study, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), toinvestigate women engineers’ experiences in technical workplaces. To reach women who earned engineering undergraduatedegrees, we partnered with 30 universities and recruited their female engineering alumnae through e-mail and postcards.Women recognized the importance of the study and responded enthusiastically to our survey. In fact, women from anadditional 200 universities have participated after hearing of the study in the media and through colleagues. As of January2011, over 3,700 women have completed the survey and more than three quarters have agreed to be re-contacted in futurewaves of the study.THE PARTICIPANTSThe engineering alumnae who participated in the study consisted of 4 groups: those with an engineering undergraduatedegree who never entered the engineering field, those who left the field more than 5 years ago, those who left the engineering fieldless than 5 years ago, and those who are currently working as engineers. We first report on what we learned from the firsttwo groups of women who are no longer working in engineering. Then, to help understand potential reasons why women leftthe field, we compare current engineers with engineers who left less than 5 years ago on their perceptions of the supportsand barriers in the workplace and their perceptions of managing multiple roles. We only contrasted the current engineers withthose who left less than five years ago to provide similar time frames for comparison as well as to ensure that recollectionswere recent enough to be accurate.7
8WOM E N IN ENGINEERING 2 0 1 1 RE PORT“At my last engineering job women were fed up with the culture: arrogant, inflexible, completely money-driven, sometimes unethical,intolerant of differences in values and priorities. I felt alienated, inspite of spending my whole careerWomen Who Left EngineeringSome alumnae never entered the engineering profession:Fifteen percent (N 560) of our participants had completedthe rigorous training required to earn a baccalaureate degreein engineering but chose not to enter the field of engineering. What did they major in? The three most frequently citedmajors were: Industrial Engineering, Chemical Engineeringand Mechanical Engineering. Nearly half of this group ofengineers earned an additional degree, primarily master’sdegrees, although 11% had earned an additional BS degree. Are they working? YES. Although they did not enter engineering, 4 out-of-5 of them are working in another industry. Twothirds of the women are working in a managerial or executiveposition. The most frequently cited industries in which theywork are: Information Technology, Education, and Government/Non-profit. A quarter of the women who did not enterthe field reported that they were earning less than 50,000,while another quarter reported earning between 51,000 and 100,000. Most of this group had a spouse who was alsoemployed full time, reflected in the third of them reporting afamily income greater than 150,000. Why did the women not enter an engineering career? Thetop five reasons women reported for deciding not to enterengineering were: They were not interested in engineering,didn’t like the engineering culture, had always planned to gointo another field, did not find the career flexible enough, orwanted to start their own business. These reasons did not differsignificantly across different age groups or years of graduation.TRYING TO ACT LIKE A MAN.”Some women left an engineering career more than fiveyears ago: One- in-five of the participants (N 795) started in an engineering career but left the field more than five years ago. What did they major in? Similar to the women engineerswho never entered the engineering field, the top three majorsearned by this group of women engineers were: IndustrialEngineering, Mechanical Engineering, and Chemical Engineering. Almost half had earned an additional degree, mostoften an MS or MBA. Are they working? YES. Two thirds are currently working, athird of them are earning over 100,000, and 70% of thesewomen are in management or executive level positions. Morethan two thirds reported a family income of over 100,000.The top three industries in which these women are workingin are: Education, Healthcare, and Consulting. Why did they leave an engineering career? A quarter of thewomen reported that they left the field to spend more timewith their family. Other women reported that they lostinterest in engineering or developed interest in another field,they did not like the engineering culture, they did not likeengineering tasks, or they were not offered any opportunitiesfor advancement.
E X E C U T I V E SU M M A RYProfile of Women Currently Workingin Engineering and Those Who LeftLess Than Five Years AgoAre current engineers more likely than women who leftengineering less than five years ago to:POTENTIAL REASONS FOR LEAVING: be confident of their abilities to navigate the political climateor what they expect from managing these dynamics? NO.The women who left engineering less than five years agowere compared to those who are still in an engineeringcareer. Current engineers were the largest group in our study(N 2,099) while those who left less than five years ago werethe smallest group (N 291). We first compared the groupson various demographic and career-related variables. Are current engineers less likely to be married or to be parents?NO. The groups were not significantly different in race, maritalstatus, or parental status. Both groups were about 80% White,with two thirds married, and 40% had children living athome with them. Both groups of women were relativelyevenly distributed across the different age groups. Are current engineers more likely to have majored in a particulararea? NO. The two groups of engineers, for the most part,did not differ by disciplinary area. The top three majors forboth groups were Chemical, Mechanical, and Civil Engineering. Did women leave engineering to stay home with children? Athird appear to have done so, but two thirds of the womenwho left are working full time in another field, and 78% ofthose are working in management or executive level positions.For those who are currently working, there were no significantdifferences between those who left and those who stayed inthe average range of salary.We next compared women currently working in engineeringwith those who left the field key psychological factors. I