Why American Women Graduates are Quitting Engineering

Rani Bokar at Intel

Rani Bokar leads the team at Intel

So I dug into another "women in engineering" report, trying to see if anyone had cracked the code on why women tend to leave engineering 2-3x more often, despite being just as qualified. It's a 64-page review of graduates all over the United States: Stemming the Tide Why Women Leave Engineering (PDF). This is more about keeping women in the field, not getting them to consider it as an option in the first place.

Some quick hits on the findings, I am mashing up those who leave before and shortly after entering the workforce here:

  • No difference in demographics, confidence, attitude, GPA, major/discipline of those who stay and leave. It's mostly the specifics of the jobs they find and the climate they find
  • 60-80% who leave field are still working, but elsewhere
  • Setting aside the people who don't find engineering interesting, and main issues are roughly:
    1. 50%: Working conditions -poor training, too much travel
    2. 30%: Work "climate" -  a "work 60 hours a week paid 40" sweatshop or a sexist attitude among the office
    3. 25%: Family reasons and just general work/life balance
  • Recommendations start page 57: Better organizational path, training, positive climate, mentors, reasonable work-life balance. Mostly of it's pretty obvious stuff

I notice that once again, the vast majority of graduates and employees are in chemical, civil, and mechanical engineering. As I've mentioned, this is a highly consistent and statistically huge trend (at least in North America) and I cannot find any discussion of why those disciplines appeal so much more to women. Leave a note in the comments if you have any info!

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Mastering B2B (Business to Business) Sales

Are they ordering widgets out of a catalog, or can you show them a burning need for change?

Are they ordering widgets out of a catalog, or can you show them a burning need for change? (Credit Jim Larrison)

B2B is where one company tries to a product, service, software, or system to a different company. Equipment vendors, consultants, and software developers will all want to check out this article I found. The End of Solution Sales, in the 2012 July/August issue of Harvard Business Review.

I will try to summarize briefly. The authors basically argue that the old way of making B2B sales is inefficient, and that their research suggests a new style called “insight selling” that the top 10% of salespeople are using.

The “old style” of sales is basically:

  • First find prospect companies to sell to. The best organizations are large/moneyed, have a clear vision or business plan, have identified problems that are related to your company’s area of business, and have a stable procurement process so they are used to purchases and contracts
  • Find contacts in the client company who are accessible, talkative, honest, good listeners and speakers, and stand to benefit personally if your sale succeeds
  • Talk to them about their problems, and fish for places where you can “hook” your services or solutions into their problems
  • Once you’ve got an area you can help solve their problem, win over your contact, and then help them make the sale. Ask questions and try to find out about the client’s procurement practices, then help your contact steer your solution through the process. (By giving them info to answers questions, showing up to meetings, meeting the various people who need to sign off on it, etc.)

This is certainly not bad advice and with the right personalities makes for a decent sales force. The problem is that with the proliferation of easier information (Internet) and globalization, customers are savvier than ever. Instead of having a problem and needing a salesperson to come riding in with a solution, established customers probably have a solution clearly in mind and have researched 3-5 firms that can do it. You end up coming into a “request for proposal” (RFP) situation, where the client basically has a contract already in mind and is asking you to bid against your rivals. Now you’re fighting price wars to win small, pre-defined slices of work.

Instead, the article proposes insight selling, where you: Continue reading

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Carbon Capture and Storage Cost Comparison

So I was doing some digging and found some old notes I had made while reading about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) techniques. These are schemes that seek to trap Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and store it somewhere, usually underground, rather than emit it to the atmosphere. CCS is largely sold as a solution to reduce climate change, but it can also provide a source of CO2 for end users like oil fields using enhanced oil recovery.

There are literally dozens of different schemes out there, and I wanted to compare the cost of each when it came to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Trying to do an apples-to-apples comparison of is extremely difficult, but what I did was go through three sources:

  •  IPCC, 2006. “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage Chapter 3: Capture of CO2” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England.
  •  EcoBusinessLinks, Feb. 14 2010. “Carbon Emissions Offset Directory - Price study of offsetting emissions of carbon.” http://www.ecobusinesslinks.com/carbon_offset_wind_credits_carbon_reduction.htm
  •  MacKay, David. 2009. “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air.” UIT Cambridge Ltd., Cambridge, England. http://www.withouthotair.com/ (Relevant old post here)

…and then I tried to put everything in the form of $US per metric ton of CO2 release avoided. All prices are from 2000-2010, for the U.S. lower 48, and I did not make any adjustments for inflation or location. Prices are averaged over the lifetime of the plant or service, so something with high upfront costs but a long lifetime can have a lower cost than a cheap but short-lived solution. None of the prices include compression and storage, because that price varies very heavily based on how close the storage location is.

Continue reading

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Convert Units Easily with Factor-Label Unit Conversion

Converting units is a very common work task, and trying not to get tripped up by it is a real pain at times. I'm sure you've already read the Mars Rover and other trite examples, so what can we do?

We have already discussed some methods to help convert units (like the Google Search Tricks and unit conversion program articles), but today we go beyond programs into what you might call a technique, or a frame of reference. It's a way to think through and record your unit conversions that I find clear remarkably and error-resistant, whether you are working by hand, by computer, or both: the factor-label method.

The factor-label method begins by observing that anything multiplied by itself is one. For example, consider arbitrary variable “x.” We know that x * 1 = x, therefore x * 2/2 = x, x * 325235/325235 = x, etc. So mathematically, we can multiply any value by "one" without changing it. Next, we realize that equivalent amounts of a unit are equal, so they can be considered “one.” For example, 100 cm = 1 m, therefore 100 cm / 1 m = 1, in a sense. 16 ounces / 1 pound = 1, etc. Continue reading

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Sorry for the service hiccup, we are back.

I may have some posts about project economics and Net Present Value, materials handling, pressure/vent calculations, or other items in the future.

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