Engineering Job Satisfaction and Women in Engineering

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Got a couple of interesting links today, one on the levels of job satisfaction (happiness at work) of engineers, and another on women in science technology engineering and math (STEM) careers.

First off: the Engineering Job Satisfaction Article by Mechanical Engineering Magazine. I read this article for one thing, and it sent me off on another tangent.

The survey questions asked about general workplace experiences, such as the size and industry of employer, impressions about the connections between work and engineering school, post-graduation educational experiences, and satisfaction with workplace.

...For instance, within three years of graduation, 71 percent of men and 61 percent of women who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering were still in engineering jobs. But among those who graduated in 1985-1987, only 35 percent of women and 53 percent of men who had engineering bachelor’s degrees reported that they were in engineering jobs.

The article then seeks to find out why people who leave are leaving.

The top reason, though, for both women and men was that they were pursuing more interesting work with 33 percent of men and 47 percent of women reporting this reason.

We have learned many things from this survey. For instance, many engineers are not profoundly satisfied with their jobs. This may be because they are unhappy with their work, or because turmoil in the economy and larger changes in the workplace result in anxiety about job security.

The data also show that, yes, engineers do tend to leave the field, but we see few important gender differences in this attrition. Contrary to popular stories, it is not the case that women are more likely than men to leave the field. Instead, there are larger differences in attrition across engineering disciplines. In addition, the data show that those who leave are not necessarily less satisfied with their jobs than those who stay.

Check the article out for more details, including breakdowns by engineering discipline.

I started reading the article just curious about job satisfaction in general. But the article was obviously written with an interest in the rather large lack of women in engineering. Quite a bit of ink has been spilled on this subject, but very little of what I read is really useful. Everyone always seems to have the same ideas, vaguely articulated and endlessly repeated:

  • Outreach programs to educate young girls
  • Female role models in and out of the school
  • More focus on the "human impact" of engineering in school

Which are all quite sensible, but this strategy is just not working. In some jurisdictions female enrollment in engineering programs has been declining in the 2000's.

One very important point that I have never seen properly studied: the gender breakdown by engineering discipline is enormously important. All the surveys of North American schools seem to say the same thing: in Chemical Engineering you get almost 50/50 men/women. Civil engineering, environmental, and teaching are also relatively high in women. Mechanical is "average." Electrical and computer engineering tends to have by far the most male-skewed enrollment.

Why is that? It is almost never touched on. Some articles have vaguely suggested chemical and civil "have more focus on the environment and the impact of technology" but it's never made clear why that is and it's never explored how other disciplines might replicate the results. The impact is huge, and I've never found a good study of why there is such a strong difference among the engineering disciplines. Readers, I ask: have any of you?

In the meantime though, check out this really interesting link on gender and engineering: Edge Debate: The Science of Gender and Science. It's a debate between two Harvard psychology professors on the "gender gap" in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) enrolment.

Basically, their debate is: "is the gap partly societal and partly stemming from genuine differences in the brain, or is it almost entirely societal?" It seems it's not clear. If it is partly from genuine gender differences, then we might expect engineering to never reach 50/50. (Although better than 85/15 should surely be possible!).

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2 Responses to Engineering Job Satisfaction and Women in Engineering

  1. i like this blog it is having very interesting things to see & share

  2. Pingback: Why American Women Graduates are Quitting Engineering | Smart Process Design

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