Women who leave engineering jobs after obtaining the necessary degree are more likely to leave the field because of an uncomfortable work climate than because of family reasons, according to findings from a study being undertaken at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Nearly half of women in the survey who left an engineering career indicated they did so because of negative working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement, or low salary.
Despite successful interventions to increase the numbers of women earning degrees in engineering, the field now faces the problem of retaining those female engineers. The study, supported by a half-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, allowed respondents to list more than one reason for leaving, and about half did.
Findings show one in three respondents left engineering because they didn't like the workplace climate, their boss, or the culture. One in four left engineering to spend more time with family.
"Some women are leaving because of family issues, but that's not the majority of women who responded to our survey," says Nadya Fouad, Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor of educational psychology.
This is the first systematic study of the engineering field's retention of women, says Fouad. She and co-author Romila Singh, Wisconsin-Milwaukee associate professor of business, received input in the form of an online survey on the topic from more than 3,700 women with degrees from 230 universities.
Respondents fall into four groups: those who currently are working as engineers, those who got their degree but never entered the field, those who left the profession more than five years ago, and those who left less than five years ago.
Other key findings include that one-third of the women in the survey who didn't enter engineering after graduating said it was because of perceptions of the field as being inflexible, or the workplace as being not supportive of women.
Women's decisions to stay in engineering are best predicted by a combination of psychological factors and factors related to the organizational climate. Also, women's decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supporters in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers. Being given opportunities for training and development was a key factor that influenced current engineers' career and job satisfaction.
Women in the survey who wanted to leave their companies were also likely eventually to leave the field of engineering altogether. Those who graduated with an engineering degree but who didn't enter the field are using the knowledge and skills gained in their education in a number of other fields.
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