June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
Women in Engineering
12.1614.1 - 12.1614.25
Women: Support Factors and Persistence in Engineering Abstract
Limited information is available regarding the factors that promote persistence by women in engineering programs. Stated simply, the problem is that the number of women engineers continues to fall short in comparison to the gender ratio of women to men in the population in the U.S.1 and worldwide2. More women engineers are needed in general and in proportion to male engineers. This study addressed two questions. (1) What are the factors that support women in engineering? and (2) What are the factors that attract women to and help them to persist in a career in engineering? The methods consisted of a search of related research to identify probably factors followed by qualitative interviews with program persisters and switchers. The most frequently cited factors were selected for inclusion in the interview protocol for the qualitative portion of this study. They were: (a) faculty support, (b) class environment, (c) department environment, (d) attraction to another discipline, (e) parental encouragement, and (f) self- confidence. The result was an evaluation of the relative merits of the factors for persisters and switchers. Additionally a new metaphor relating to force field analysis is proposed. This metaphor was supported by the findings of the study whereby persisters reported fewer restraining forces while switchers reported fewer driving forces. The two driving forces that are common among persisters and switchers are formal support programs and peer support programs. Strengthening these two programs would increase the driving forces for all students. These findings will assist faculty, advisers, and program planners to better meet the needs of women in engineering programs and likely help to reduce the attrition rates of women in engineering.
Keywords: women engineering persistence environment motivation force-field
While there is a general shortage of engineers, the need is acute in the under-represented areas such as women and minorities. According to the Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST)1 report, the U.S. is not developing an appropriate scientific and technical workforce for the future and calls for greater efforts to increase the representation of women and minorities. This shortage isn’t limited to the United States. Hersh2, in longitudinal research conducted at 130 institutions in 55 countries on the changing position of women engineers worldwide, found that while conditions for women in engineering are improving, “there are still so few women engineers as to make them seem unusual or even abnormal” (p. 357). Attracting qualified women into engineering programs is only the beginning; it is also essential to retain the women in the pipeline through completion and successful entry into the workforce.
The under-representation of women in engineering is widely reported and many marketing and mentoring programs have been developed by various engineering groups. However, attraction of more women is not enough. It is both inefficient and ineffective to push more women into the so called education “pipeline” without consideration of the probability of their completion and long term service to the engineering community. “Direct or vicarious encouragement (academic
Zeng, Y., & Duncan, J. R. (2007, June), Women: Support Factors And Persistence In Engineering Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2771
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