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Women Engineers: Preparing Them For The Workplace

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.633.1 - 3.633.9

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Elaine Seat

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

Session 3592

Women Engineers: Preparing Them For The Workplace

Elaine Seat

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee

Introduction The engineering workplace is changing, and one of the changes is in the gender mix of technical professionals. There are more women entering the engineering workforce, and with time, it is expected that women will compose a greater percentage of the total of engineers. However, simply because there are more women graduate engineers doesn’t mean that they will remain in engineering for a career. A successful career depends on both technical competence and social skills, and a quality educational experience supplies both of these qualities. This paper examines the social side of a career in engineering for women and suggests techniques for improving social performance. It discusses reasons for attrition among women engineers, how women engineers view themselves, and how to coach women engineering students to have a more accurate self-perception to counter career dissatisfaction.

Retention of women is not only a problem in the technical disciplines, but is also a problem in many other professions. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women leave the science and engineering workforce and other professions such as law and finance by mid-career1, 2. In women’s athletics, it is disturbing to note that as the opportunities have increased for women to coach women’s teams at all levels or to manage women’s programs, the percentage of women in those jobs is decreasing3.

Several studies suggest that the real reason for poor retention among women in traditionally male professions is a result of incomplete occupational socialization. Incomplete occupational socialization is “when individuals or groups of individuals do not acquire the necessary knowledge, values, or skills to be socialized into an occupation adequately and are consequently not successful in and eventually drop out of the occupation”4. This concept suggests that women are socialized in a manner that doesn’t fit the social patterns of the workplace with a resulting conflict of values and perceptions. The reward system of the workplace doesn’t fit the value system of the individual, resulting in career dissatisfaction.

In the case of women engineers, they may not physically drop out of their profession, but they may become emotionally removed and unmotivated as they approach mid-career. The phenomenon of socialization differences is exhibited through the differences in interaction style and perceptions of aggression and ability. In a review of attitudes of and toward women engineers by Catalyst5, the example is given of how engineers gain respect through aggressive technical interchanges. This report found that when women behaved in this manner, they were thought to be overly aggressive and penalized, yet when they attempted to participate in a less aggressive style, they were not thought to be competent. With respect to technical competence and ability, women were thought less because they tended to not have “hands-on” tasks. The women reported feeling inadequate to do hands-on work, and often doubted their ability to

Seat, E. (1998, June), Women Engineers: Preparing Them For The Workplace Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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