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Main Reason Why Women Leave Engineering and Change Careers

It is most likely not what you think.

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Here’s the main reason why women leave engineering

The gender gap in engineering is gradually closing thanks to various efforts of institutions which attract women to join engineering. But it appears that there is still so much work to do about convincing more women to be in the field – and eventually to stay.

Only about 20% of engineering graduates are women. This could be higher if only some of them do not lose interest and shift courses in college.

What’s worse is that women only compose about 13% of the engineering workforce, lower than the number of engineering graduates. This only means that some change careers after college. Why?

Some may say that engineering jobs are too demanding and stressful for women to retain. Or they do not allow women to get that desired work-life balance. Others may reason out that not so many convince them to stay due to the lack of mentors in the field.

But a new study reveals that that is not really the factor why women leave the engineering profession.

When working in groups, which is basically essential in any engineering role, women are treated differently, says female engineering students involved in the study.

They say that during internships and summer jobs, women were not given the same level of jobs with that of men, and instead provided with less challenging problems and more of the routine managerial and secretarial work.

Women also desire to work with “real” engineering but are not given the opportunities to do so.

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Source: Share GIF
Source: Share GIF (Why Women Leave Engineering)

Susan Silbey, co-author of the study and a Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology at MIT, shares, “For many women, their first encounter with collaboration is to be treated in gender stereotypical ways, mostly by their peers.

“We found that female students do as well or better than male students in school – but often point to the hegemonic masculine culture of engineering itself as a reason for leaving,” she adds.

The result of the study comes after the researchers followed 700 engineering students since 2003. These students, coming from four institutions in Massachusetts – MIT, the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts – were asked every year during their four years in college and five years after they graduated.

Among the samples, 40 of them – 19 men, 21 women – were requested to write twice-monthly diaries about their educational and career decisions.

A certain Kimberly revealed in her diary, “Two girls in a group had been working on the robot we were building in that class for hours, and the guys in their group came in and within minutes had sentenced them to doing menial tasks while the guys went and had all the fun in the machine shop.”

The researchers have consolidated similar inputs from the 21 women and resolved that such negative teamwork experiences only makes the women doubt about engineering as a career.

Source: Giphy
Source: Giphy (Why Women Leave Engineering)

Not only does that kind of experience prevents women from staying in the industry, but also some informal interactions and sexism they experience when working with a bunch of engineering guys.

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Such is the case of Aurora in the study, who wrote, “The environment was creepy, with older weirdo man engineers hitting on me all the time and a sexist infrastructure was in place that kept female interns shuffling papers while their oftentimes less experienced male counterparts had legitimate engineering assignments.”

Of course, neither of that has been expressed by the males and instead noted that their internships and summer jobs were positive, the researchers discovered.


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Engr. Amy Aguirre
Civil Engineer, fashion model & GineersNow TV host. Speaks Spanish, English and Portuguese fluently. Based in Melbourne and Manila. Follow me on Linkedin


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