June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
Educational Research and Methods
22.591.1 - 22.591.16
Engineering identity and the workplace persistence of women with engineering degrees The engineering profession generally agrees that our nation needs more women engineers in theworkforce. Two primary reasons for this are a) to increase the overall numbers in the pool ofavailable engineering employees and b) that women bring a valued diversity to the profession.Much research has emphasized recruitment of women into the pipeline and subsequent retentionas engineering students (K-12 and undergraduate years). However, even after earning anengineering degree, women leave the engineering workforce more frequently than men. The fewretention studies of women in the engineering workplace have focused on the structural featuresof the workplace, rather than on the women, themselves, who are making the decisions to stay orleave. Knowing what personal attributes lead to higher workforce retention could alloweducators to develop interventions to increase these traits in their engineering graduates.We hypothesized that women who strongly self-identified as engineers would be more likely topersist in the workforce, and those who did not would be more likely to leave the workforce. Toassess the validity of this hypothesis, we conducted semi-structured interviews with more than 25women with engineering degrees, including those who persisted in the workforce and those whodid not. We accompanied the interviews with Likert scale measures of identity taken from theliterature. All participants had degrees in EE, ME or Civil engineering, the most traditionalengineering majors, in order to minimize the workplace variabilities. We further limited oursubjects to those who earned their first engineering degree after 1980 in order to limit our studyto more contemporary issues facing women regarding the workplace. As we conducted theme-based coding of the interviews, we listened for the following: the women associating themselveswith other engineers as peers, and the women enumerating aspects of their interests andpersonality that they viewed as ‘engineering’. Finally, we sought to determine the womens’reasons for staying or leaving the engineering workforce.Collectively, the women viewed engineering largely as ‘asking questions and finding solutions toproblems’, ‘solving puzzles’, ‘figuring out how things works’, ‘designing’, and ‘weighing theresources’. They repeatedly spoke of enjoying the ‘challenge’, the ‘hands-on’ applications, andthe opportunity to see something through from idea to reality.Our findings suggest that mediating factors influence the validity of our hypothesis. Whileidentification as an engineer is a strong reason for women to continue in engineering, othersfactors can overcome strong identity and cause women to leave the profession. Lack of suchidentification also corresponds to increased consideration of leaving engineering. Thecomplexity of the situation begs further study. This paper will describe our conceptual modelthat organizes these complexities and will outline further study to better ascertain how self-identity coupled with other factors may be assistive in predicting if someone stays or leaves theprofession.
Plett, M., & Hawkinson, C., & VanAntwerp, J. J., & Wilson, D., & Bruxvoort, C. (2011, June), Engineering Identity and the Workplace Persistence of Women with Engineering Degrees Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. https://peer.asee.org/17872
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