Nearly 40 percent of women who get a degree in engineering don’t end up making it in that career, according to new research presented at the American Psychological Association convention.
These women either never enter the field at all or end up leaving. Eleven percent never got an engineering job to begin with, while 21 percent left more than five years ago and 6 percent left less than five years ago. Of those who leave, “poor workplace climates and mistreatment by managers and co-workers are common reasons,” according to the release. Two-thirds of those who left less than five years ago found a better opportunity in another field while a third stayed home with their children because their companies couldn’t accommodate their caregiving needs. Of those who left more than five years ago, 17 percent cited their caregiving duties and 12 percent said they didn’t have an opportunity for advancement.
“These findings are likely to apply to women working in fields where there are less than 30 percent women,” said Dr. Nadya Fouad of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who presented the findings, in a release. That makes them “more vulnerable to being pushed out because they typically aren’t in the internal ‘good old boys’ network.”
But the secret to keeping women isn’t tough to figure out. The women who stayed in engineering jobs cited supportive bosses and coworkers, paths for advancement, and the ability to balance work and life. “The reasons women stay with their engineering jobs are very similar to why they leave – advancement opportunities and work climate,” Fouad said in the release.
The research notes that women have made up more than 20 percent of engineering school graduates over the past two decades, yet just 11 percent of engineers are women. Generally, women make up 41 percent of graduates from science and engineering programs but only about a quarter of the workers in the science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) fields. And the steady march of progress has recently stalled. Most of the growth for women under 40 entering these fields happened between the 1970s and 1990s, but it’s tapered off since then.
That may be in part because women are leaving the field at a high rate. They are 45 percent more likely to leave a STEM job a year in than men. Women and black people with advanced STEM degrees are more likely to end up with a job outside the field than white men.
Work/life balance is one thing that gets in the way. Women in STEM are less likely than men to have children at home: 62 percent don’t have kids, compared to 57 percent of men. That’s likely a sign that children are an obstacle to women staying in the field in a way that they aren’t for men. Women may also be facing outright discrimination. Science professors see their female students as less competent than their male ones even when they have the same accomplishments and skills. Both genders are twice as likely to pick a man for a math job than a woman.