Fouad and Singh, Stemming the Tide

There’s been lots of links around the results of Nadya A. Fouad and Romila Singh (2011) Stemming the Tide: Why Women Leave Engineering. Since it’s freely available, I thought I’d encourage people to go directly to the source. Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary:

KEY FINDINGS: Some women left the field, some never entered and many are currently engineers:
Those who left:

  • Nearly half said they left because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary.
  • One-in-three women left because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture.
  • One-in-four left to spend time with family.
  • Those who left were not different from current engineers in their interests, confidence in their abilities, or the positive outcomes they expected from performing engineering related tasks.

Those who didn’t enter engineering after graduation:

  • A third said it was because of their perceptions of engineering as being inflexible or the engineering workplace culture as being non-supportive of women.
  • Thirty percent said they did not pursue engineering after graduation because they were no longer interested in engineering or were interested in another field.
  • Many said they are using the knowledge and skills gained in their education in a number of other fields.

Work decisions of women currently working in Engineering:

  • Women’s decisions to stay in engineering are best predicted by a combination of psychological factors and factors related to the organizational climate.
  • Women’s decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers. Current women engineers who worked in companies that valued and recognized their contributions and invested substantially in their training and professional development, expressed greatest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and careers.
  • Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizing manner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisors and co-workers were most likely to want to leave their organizations.
  • Women who considered leaving their companies were also very likely to consider leaving the field of engineering altogether.

Nadya Fouad is also writing blog entries about the study, the most recent is Is it all about family…?:

We heard from women who said that leaving to raise a family was not their first choice, and if the work environment had been more welcoming or flexible, and if supervisors and coworkers had been more supportive of employees’ balancing multiple roles, they might not have made that choice.

Have a look through Stemming the Tide: what stands out among their findings to you?

5 thoughts on “Fouad and Singh, Stemming the Tide

  1. Elizabeth G.

    In the current issue of the Society of Women Engineer’s Magazine the Executive Directer and CEO of SWE, Betty Shanahan, wrote a short editorial entitled “Why I am a SWE Member”. In it she writes:

    I learned [from SWE] to consciously adapt my approach to be effective with my male colleagues, and to accept the discomfort that comes with not using my natural style. But at times – especially as I moved into leadership roles – I challenged the culture so that I, and others, could more authentically contribute to discussions and activities in the workplace.
    ….
    But never being authentic at work – ultimately becoming a “white man in high heels” – is disconcerting, even alienating. At extreme, the cultural burden overwhelms the technical satisfaction to the point that the job “just isn’t worth it.”

    I think that this so perfectly discribes the feelings that come with having to “pretend” to be someone else at work.

  2. B

    I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you posting this because sometimes it seems like this blog is mostly concerned with CS, and maybe even specifically web CS, which I think it a different environment than other subsets of engineering.

    To Elizabeth G. — I’m not a member of SWE, but have been considering joining. I was really turned off by their campus recruiting and never looked back. Do you find it a valuable resource?

    1. Elizabeth G.

      I had a really great group of women in undergrad. My first national conference in 2005 I got an internship. My second, in 2006 I got 3 job offers. When I took one of those jobs and moved to a place were I had not family, the SWE ladies became a wonderful support group. Now that I am in grad school the local section is a bit younger than me but since there are no other women in my field the group has given me a couple of really close friends. This last year’s national career fair didn’t provide any job offers but things are a lot tougher than they were before, but I still had a fabulous time and I meet a girl that has become one of my closest friends. I love SWE! It has helped me personally and professional. At the same time there are some very valid criticisms. A lot of membership and leadership are really hesitant to identify as feminist. It doesn’t deal so well with intersectionality. It could do a little more advocacy for my taste.

      I would suggest you check out your local section. On the local level it is only as good as its members.

    2. Kim Curry

      I’ve noticed that too. The software engineering world I used to inhabit is close enough to CS and IT that I can usually “translate” the posts, but it would be interesting to read other perspectives.

      B wasn’t asking me, but I find SWE to be an extremely valuable resource NOW that I’m in the workforce. I didn’t participate in SWE when I was in college either.

      I’m not sure exactly what it was that didn’t feel right. I was in other Women in Engineering programs in college for a while. I don’t ever remember being the only woman in an engineering class. There always seemed to be a few others, and maybe that was enough.

      After I had been in the workforce for a few years, I ran into another woman at a conference, who was looking for support. I started introducing her to the other woman engineers I knew, and that’s how we started getting into SWE. I’ve been a member for 7 or 8 years now, and SWE has added meaning and value to that time.

  3. John

    It’s informative in its own right, but it’s a pity it doesn’t use as a baseline “why men leave engineering” (or simply “why engineers leave”). Some of the reasons are clearly gender-related, but some of them, such as this section (p38 of the report) seem to be likely to apply to all engineers (but it would be interesting to know whether they occur more commonly with women — I suspect they do):

    Women who reported facing excessive workload felt least satisfied with their jobs. Women who were systematically undermined by their supervisors and co-workers, felt least satisfied with their jobs. Being undermined by their work supervisors also lowered women engineer’s overall satisfaction with their careers.

    Of course, things that apply to all need fixing too!

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