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How and Why Women Leave Engineering Careers: Toward an Integrated Framework of Counseling and Organizational Psychology Career Theories

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Women in Engineering Division Technical Session 9

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Christina A. Pantoja Purdue University at West Lafayette (COE)

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Christina Pantoja is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Her research interests include career choices, pathways, and retention in engineering, with a specific interest in understanding the engineering career pathways of women and underrepresented minorities. She earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University and an M.S. in Education from Indiana University. She has four years of experience as a process engineer in industry and more than fifteen years of experience in education and career counseling.

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Women leave the engineering profession at higher rates than men; thus, exacerbating their underrepresentation in the field. The purpose of this paper is to increase our understanding of women’s engineering career decisions, including how and why their career plans change over time, therefore, contributing to the conversation on the underrepresentation of women in the engineering profession. Both counseling and organizational psychology theories have informed previous studies of the career plans of women in engineering. However, theories from these two disciplines were not yet fully integrated, and many questions remain. This paper provides a potential framework to integrate concepts of an organizational psychology theory (unfolding model of turnover), a traditional counseling psychology theory (career construction), and a third theory that spans both disciplines (person-environment fit). In this manner, I conceptualize an idea for moving across traditional boundary lines to explore new ways of thinking about engineering career decisions. Moving towards integrating counseling and organizational psychology theories broadens our understanding of how and why women’s engineering career plans change over time. In this paper I describe a specific application of the framework to my research on how and why women leave the engineering profession; however, the framework is also useful in studying women’s career decisions at any developmental stage (early career ideas; selecting engineering careers, and college majors; persisting in engineering academic programs; leaving/ staying in the profession; etc.). Research using this framework has the potential to narrow the gap between the disproportional percentage of women bachelors’ in engineering graduates vs. women engineers practicing in the workplace. Furthermore, this knowledge informs the career decisions of women engineers and those considering engineering as a profession; and guides advisors, mentors, and career counselors in identifying new ways to support these women along their career journey (early career ideas; exploration; selecting engineering careers, and college majors; persistence; and leaving/ staying in engineering careers).

Pantoja, C. A. (2021, July), How and Why Women Leave Engineering Careers: Toward an Integrated Framework of Counseling and Organizational Psychology Career Theories Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37248

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