Everyone knows the engineering field could use more gender diversity. But even if more girls head down that path with encouragement from parents and schools, what awaits them isn't exactly encouraging.
Close to 40 percent of women with engineering degrees wind up dropping out of the field or avoiding it entirely due to the culture, according to Nadya Fouad, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee who studied the subject. Only 62 percent of 5,300 women she surved were currently working in engineering.
Her findings, presented recently at the American Psychological Association convention in Washington, D.C., highlighted issues women in tech face at large, from "old boys club" workplaces to having little to no room for advancement and no female role models.
A poor work-life balance also played a part. Long hours and a demanding lifestyle led 17 percent of the engineering grads to leave for caregiving reasons, mainly because they could not work from home.
It is no surprise, then, that only 20 percent of engineering graduates in the last two decades have been women, Fouad noted in her presentation, and only 11 percent of working engineers are women. More than any other profession, even medicine and law, she said engineering has the highest turnover of women. To her mind, "it's not women who need to change--it's the work environment that does," she recently told NPR.
But what would change look like? First and foremost, Foud said it involves realizing there's a problem, then making changes at the leadership level, which would hopefully trickle down. Until then, it seems, things will remain status quo.
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