Why Women Leave Engineering
So, after a break from blogging due to the end-of-semester rush, I’m back in action with a long list of stuff to post about. I finished my project – I wrote three articles. I submitted two articles about Kaylee Frye and Women in the Trades to Bitch Magazine and submitted the third, a book review on Shop Class as Soulcraft, to the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine. So perhaps I will get published!
In any case, I want to keep up with this blog as a much-needed space to discuss gender and engineering topics.
Yesterday, I attended the young alumnae tea at my all-girls high school and was sad to hear several first and second year students discuss plans to switch out of engineering for all of the classic reasons that women leave engineering. According to the Online Ethics Center, those reasons are:
- Experienced discouragement and loss of self-esteem from low grades in freshman and sophomore years (77.9%).
- Rejected the lifestyle associated with a Science and Engineering (S&E) career (67.9%).
- Found conceptual difficulties with S&E coursework (50.0%).
- Had problems with the overload and pace of S&E courses (35.7%).
- Found a more appealing non-S&E career option (32.1%).
- Had problems with poor teaching/unapproachability of S&E faculty (25.0%).
- Switched majors to attain a career goal (7.1%).
Of course, they were all planning to switch from engineering to science – so I’m not sure it’s fair to clump science and engineering together like that. This behavior actually reminded me of the recent Sociological Images post on the Fractal Nature of the Gender Binary. As Lisa Wade explains,
Take education (which is, arguably, feminized): we can split it into physical sciences (masculine) and social sciences (feminine). And we can split the physical sciences into biology (dominated these days by women) and physics (dominated by men). So the gender binary has a fractal character.
Of course engineering works in a similar way where there is science (feminine) and engineering (masculine). Then engineering can be split into bio-engineering/industrial engineering (feminine) and electrical/mechanical engineering (masculine).
People often say that it’s easier for women to get into engineering school as a minority – but that is just another way to attack women’s self-confidence. In reality, the women who choose to study engineering are extremely self-selecting and therefore more likely to be qualified. However, once they get to engineering school, those women do not find the support that they need and fool themselves into thinking that they are not doing as well as they actually are. Women need someone to be there to make sure that they know that and don’t leave engineering for the wrong reasons.