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Can A Media Strategy Be An Effective Recruitment And Retention Tool For Women In Engineering And Technology? A Pilot Study

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Potpourri Session

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.338.1 - 12.338.13



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Paper Authors

author page

Mara Wasburn Purdue University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Can a Media Strategy be an Effective Recruitment and Retention Tool for Women in Engineering and Technology? A Pilot Study


Despite the fact that many Western nations face a critical shortage of skilled professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and despite abundant job opportunities in STEM disciplines, few women still prepare themselves for careers in these fields. Recently, there have been suggestions that new media programming, such as television dramas with women engineers, computer technicians, and/or engineers in leading roles, might help attract more women to these fields. This paper identifies a theoretical rationale for a media centered strategy. It involves using the mass media to create a more positive understanding of women in these professions. It then describes a pilot study that utilized a national sample. Data from that survey suggest that a media-centered approach might have some success in producing greater interest among women in pursuing certain STEM careers.


It is commonly accepted that part of the solution to the increasing problem of the shortage of well trained technical personnel in all advanced industrial nations involves attracting considerably more women to careers in STEM disciplines. Approximately half the potential STEM talent pool consists of women. In the United States, there is still a great deal of occupational segregation by sex. Although women constitute 46 percent of the labor force, less than a quarter of the scientists and engineers in the country are women.1 International comparisons of occupational segregation are difficult because nations seldom use comparable coding systems.2 However, such data as are available indicate not only the existence of such a gendered division of labor throughout Western Europe, but also the likelihood of its persistence. For example, while half of all university students in Germany are women, women represent only 34 percent of all students in the natural sciences and 19 percent of all students in engineering.3 Similarly, men were found to be over represented among computer science graduates in all 21 industrial nations considered in a recent study. In the United States, the “male over representation factor” is 2.10, in the United Kingdom 3.10, in France 4.57, and in Germany 5.58.4

In 2000, a United States government commission was charged with developing strategies to attract more women and minorities in STEM careers. The commission reported to the Committee on Science of the House of Representatives that significant barriers to these goals persist (Committee on Science, 2000). Such deterrents range from differing male/female attitudes toward science and technology that begin to diverge as early as elementary and middle school, to the absence of women faculty, mentors, and fellow students in college and university classrooms that create a “chilly climate for women” in these areas.2,5

A 2003 United States National Science Foundation publication6 described 211 ongoing projects in the country designed to attract and retain women and in STEM courses. More than $90 million had already been poured into these projects. Given the proliferation of such efforts, some measurable effect on the entry and persistence of women in these professions should be

Wasburn, M. (2007, June), Can A Media Strategy Be An Effective Recruitment And Retention Tool For Women In Engineering And Technology? A Pilot Study Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1590

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