While women accounted for more than 20 percent of engineering school graduates over the past two decades, only 11 percent of practicing engineers are women, and only 9 percent of electronic and environmental engineers are, said Nadya Fouad, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She presented findings from the first phase of a three-year National Science Foundation study that surveyed 5,300 engineering alumnae spanning six decades, mostly from the 30 universities with the highest number of women engineering graduates and from 200 other universities.
Women who left engineering more than five years ago said their decision was due to caregiving responsibilities (17 percent), no opportunities for advancement (12 percent) and lost interest in engineering (12 percent). More than two-thirds continued working and among those, 55 percent were executives, 15 percent were managers and 30 percent were staff members.
Women who persisted in their engineering careers worked on average 44 hours a week and earned salaries between $76,000 and $125,000 a year. About 15 percent were executives, a third project managers and the remainder staff members. Supportive bosses and co-workers, and organizations that recognize their contributions, provide training and paths for advancement and support a work-life balance were reasons women gave for staying in their jobs, according to the study.
"Current women engineers become a flight risk when they experience a career plateau with few advancement opportunities, poor treatment by managers and co-workers and a culture that stresses taking work home or working on weekends with no support for managing multiple life roles," Fouad said.
Survey participants did not single out any one industry as being more or less supportive of women, according to the study, which examined aerospace, transportation and utilities, construction, computer services/software and biotech.
"For organizations to retain women engineers, they first need to realize that it is not a 'women's issue' to want to spend time with their children," Fouad said. "The reasons women stay with their engineering jobs are very similar to why they leave - advancement opportunities and work climate."
Session 3350: "Leaning in, but Getting Pushed Back (and Out)," invited address, Nadya A. Fouad, PhD, University of Wisconsin , 3 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. EDT, Saturday, Aug. 9, street level, room 150A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., NW, Washington, D.C.
Presentations are available from the APA Public Affairs Office.
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