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Understanding The Barriers To Recruiting Women In Engineering And Technology

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



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Page Numbers

6.1082.1 - 6.1082.11

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Paper Authors

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James Thom

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Caroline Hoy

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Raymond Thompson

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

Session 3592

Understanding The Barriers To Recruiting Women In Engineering And Technology Programs

J. M. Thom, R. E. Thompson, C. Hoy Purdue University


Traditional recruiting strategies for engineering and technology seem to be ineffective on modern young women. The traditional model may allude to the “adventure” or “uniqueness” of the career field. It may emphasize hardware or products. Indications are this traditional way of describing a career may actually be a de-motivator for young women.

The traditional recruiting model ignores the internal needs of young women. Women are very conscious of self-image and self-worth in their teen years. At a time when they are coming to grips with these factors, teenage women are bombarded with imagery in the mass media of what is considered successful. For example, television programs depicting successful women show lawyers or doctors, not engineers or technologists. The mass media plays a role as a de-motivator by reinforcing stereotypes and supplying inaccurate role models. This same stereotyping and prejudice exists in the high schools, possibly as a result of media influences on educators.

Young women are strongly peer influenced. This leads to the perception by young women that by entering technical career fields they are going to be perceived as less feminine. Despite years of gender equity efforts, young women are convinced that males have more inherent technical knowledge than females. Interviews with students find many women assume men have superior technical knowledge. This assumption coupled with young women’s self-image issues, makes them afraid of appearing inferior before a peer group.

Our research suggests it is critical to address young women’s internal barriers. The normal anxieties encountered by teenage women are not independent of career development issues. These normal anxieties are the foundation of efforts needed to bring more women into engineering and technology. Unless these issues are understood and proper recruiting strategies developed, none of the exterior efforts, such as Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) or aggressive recruiting, can have sustainable affects.

I. Introduction

Universities and industry continue to have difficulties in recruiting women into technically based professional careers. Despite forty years of gender equity advances and aggressive attempts by both academia and industry to interest women in these areas, women are still not choosing some of the very technical career fields in large numbers. Various reasons for this disparity have been proposed over the years and many of the limiting factors have already been addressed. Through aggressive human resource initiatives and a new management mentality, acceptance of women in

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Thom, J., & Hoy, C., & Thompson, R. (2001, June), Understanding The Barriers To Recruiting Women In Engineering And Technology Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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