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Not All Women Leave! Reflections on a Cohort of “Stayers” in Civil Engineering

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Recruitment & Retention of Women I

Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1103.1 - 22.1103.14



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Paper Authors


Mary Ayre University of South Australia

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Mary Ayre is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of South Australia having recently retired from a senior lectureship at the University of Glamorgan, Wales, U.K. When teaching mathematics to engineering students 25 years ago she became interested in recruiting female students and since then has been involved in many women in engineering initiatives and research projects in the U.K. and Australia.

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Julie E. Mills University of South Australia

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Julie Mills is Professor and Program Director in Civil Engineering at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, Australia. Prior to commencing at the University in 1996, she worked for fifteen years as a structural engineer in private industry on industrial, commercial and residential projects. She has a B.E. (Hons.) from Adelaide University and a Ph.D. from Curtin University in the area of structural engineering education. Her primary research interests are in cold-formed steel structures, engineering education and women in engineering. Julie served as Chair of the National Committee for Women in Engineering in Australia from 2004 - 2006 and has received several university teaching grants and awards. Julie has recently led a national project on Gender Inclusive Curriculum in Engineering and Construction Management and co-authored a book on Gender Inclusive Engineering Education published by Routledge in 2010. In 2009, Julie was awarded the Australasian Association for Engineering Education National Teaching Excellence Award.

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Judith Gill University of South Australia

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Judith Gill is an Associate Professor in Education at the University of South Australia. She has published widely in the area of gender and education, particularly with reference to issues of girls and mathematics achievement and women in non-traditional work.

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Not all women leave! Reflections on a cohort of “stayers” in civil engineeringCountless studies and statistical reports indicate that a disturbingly high number of women leave theengineering profession within 10 to 15 years of graduation. Many reasons have been suggested toexplain this phenomenon, the most common being that engineering workplace cultures and workpractices are uncomfortable for many women, a situation made worse by the lack of family-friendlypolicies and/or policy implementation. Thus for many women the engineering workplace comprisesthe last exit point of what has been termed the ’leaky pipeline’ describing the career progression ofwomen in STEM fields.This paper reports on a study of a group of women who have remained in the engineeringprofession. The persistence of women in engineering was not the first focus of the enquiry however.Rather, the initial intention was to undertake a longitudinal study of the professional engineeringexperiences of a particular cohort of women all of whom had graduated from the same program(civil engineering) at the same institution (a technical university in Australia) over the period from1974 -when the first woman had graduated - to 2008. A total of 76 women had graduated from theprogram during this period and 63 of them were able to be contacted and were willing toparticipate in the study.The study involved two phases. An online survey was distributed to the 63 contactable women and56 responses were received (89% response rate). Interviews were then conducted with 15volunteers from the group who had completed the survey.The online survey used was adapted from the national survey undertaken by the authors in 2007 ofall female members of Engineers Australia – the professional organisation for engineers in Australia.The most immediately surprising result was that the vast majority of the women in this particularcohort were still working as engineers or in an engineering related role (53 of 56, or 95%). Inaddition 40% of respondents were responsible for the care of children, significantly more than thenational survey results (22%) and results from other Australian studies.These results obviously raised questions about what was different about this cohort of women?Why/how had they stayed in engineering, and combined work and family when many other womenengineers had not? Was it to do with the type of engineering they had studied? The particularconditions of their employment? The resources made available to professional women engineers attheir sites? Or perhaps a ‘critical mass’ effect at their place of employment? In order to explore thepossible answers to these questions this paper will present an analysis based on the survey andinterview data which may suggest some potential ‘solutions’ to the engineering workplace as thelast phase of the leaky pipeline.

Ayre, M., & Mills, J. E., & Gill, J. (2011, June), Not All Women Leave! Reflections on a Cohort of “Stayers” in Civil Engineering Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18956

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