Women in Engineering, Part III:  Leaving the Profession

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    Part I and Part II of the Women in Engineering series outlined several statistics that showed just how underrepresented women are in the engineering profession and in higher education engineer positions.

     

    Recent statistics point to several factors that likely contribute to why women engineers are underrepresented. Women engineers, for example, are more likely to have much lower median salaries than men and are less likely to hold leadership positions.

     

    Women engineers overwhelmingly outnumber men in just one finding. According to the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System, women engineers are much more likely to leave the profession due to family responsibilities. Of the 992,000 engineers who left work for family responsibilities in 2013, 855,000 (86 percent) were women.

     

    STEM fields, which are primarily male, don’t always exhibit the most family-friendly practices, says Dianne Kibbey, Global Head of Community at element14. This makes it very challenging to remain in the workforce and balance the demands of caring for a family. Re-entering the engineering workforce after time off can also prove challenging. Fortunately, there are some promising new programs being put in place specifically designed to address these barriers, such as re-entry programs for scientists who have taken time off from lab research.

     

    In addition to work/life balance, women engineers might choose family over their careers or switch career paths because, much like in other industries, they are not on a level playing field with men when it comes to salary and leadership roles:

     

    • According to the National Science Foundation, the median full-time salary of male engineers is $92,000, while the average for women – with all other factors being equal – is $82,000.
    • The National Center for Science Engineering statistics reports that of 237,000 managers in engineering, only 21,000 (9 percent) are women.

     

    The high percentage of male engineers and concerns surrounding unequal pay and limited promotion opportunities lead to high women engineer exit rates. Businesses across engineering disciplines must do a better job of setting up women for successful long-term engineering careers. This can include providing equal pay, offering management training and mentor programs and encouraging networking with other women engineers.

     

    Since women are underrepresented in the engineering field to begin with, it’s important to ensure those who choose this career path stick with it in the long run. If every effort isn’t made to retain women engineers, the industry will suffer by missing out on untapped talent. The next Mary T. Barra, Marissa Meyer or Ellen Ochoa could just be starting her engineering career, struggling to overcome obstacles associated with unequal pay and lack of a clear management path.