RESEARCH REPORT 2012
What’s happening to women
Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology Nadya Fouad (left) and Romila Singh, associate professor of business
he good news: More women are obtaining engineering degrees. The bad news: Female retention in the engineering industry is a lingering problem. Now, a UWM study has determined why—and it’s not what you might expect. An uncomfortable work climate topped the reasons female engineers decided to leave the field—not child-rearing or other family issues—according to a new study by Nadya Fouad and Romila Singh. It’s the first systematic study of the engineering field’s retention of women. In fact, of the women in the study who had left engineering, most were not staying at home. More than two-thirds said they were working in other fields—half of them in executive positions. Women who stay in engineering do so for the same reasons men do, says Singh. “Women were most likely to stay in their jobs and in the engineering profession when their companies invested in their training and professional
development, when they recognized their contributions, and when they offered them opportunities and clear paths to advancement.” The study allowed respondents to list more than one reason for leaving, and the data break down like this: Nearly half of the respondents said they left engineering because they were discouraged by working conditions, such as too much travel or lack of advancement, or low salary. One in three respondents disliked the inflexible and nonsupportive climates, or their bosses. One in four left to spend more time with family. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the study includes input from more than 3,700 women with degrees from 230 universities.
“A key implication of our study is that employers of engineers can take steps to keep women in these careers,” says Fouad.