A look at the top five undergraduate engineering programs in the United States (according to the U.S. News and World Report) reveals that women comprise a significant proportion of the class enrolled, comparable to (and in some cases even outnumbering) men.Sadly, however, the distribution of the genders is far from even when it comes to women in the profession.
In fact, a recent study undertaken by the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee (UWM) finds that while women comprise 20 per cent of engineering school graduates, they account for only 11 per cent of practicing engineers.The study, which surveyed over 3700 women with engineering degrees, found that workplace climate was the foremost reason behind women choosing to stay away from the profession after college, or quitting it after a temporary stint.
A third of women who chose not to enter the field even after completing the degree said that they were guided by perceptions that it was an inflexible profession and the culture was not supportive of women.
Among those who left, nearly half said they did so because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary, while one-in-three left because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture. as one survey respondent wrote, 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, in spite of spending my whole career trying to act like a man.
The Project on Women Engineers' Retention (POWER) study was led and co-authored by Nadya Fouad, UWM Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology and Romila Singh, associate professor of business at the University. It could have important implications in terms of finding ways to encourage more women to participate in and contribute to the advancement of engineering practice, as the authors found that women's decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers.