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Why women take a detour from engineering


New York: Women who go to college intending to become engineers stay in the profession less often than men, as a result of gender disparities faced by them during their assignments, finds a new study.

Overall, about 20 per cent of under-graduate engineering degrees are awarded to women, but only 13 per cent of the engineering workforce is female, the study said.

The findings showed that women often feel marginalised, especially during internships, other summer work opportunities, or team-based educational activities.

“Gender makes a big difference. Informal interactions with peers and everyday sexism in teams and internships are particularly salient building blocks of [gender] segregation,” said Susan Silbey, Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Women are more likely than men to enter the field of engineering with the explicit notion that it will be a “socially responsible” profession that will “make a difference in people’s lives.”

But, gender dynamics seem to generate more opportunities for men to work on the most challenging problems, while women tend to be assigned routine tasks or simple managerial duties.

“For many women, their first encounter with collaboration is to be treated in gender stereotypical ways,” the researchers rued.

“As a result of their experiences at these moments, women who have developed high expectations for their profession — expecting to make a positive social impact as engineers — can become disillusioned with their career prospects,” Silbey added.

For the study, the team asked more than 40 undergraduate engineering students to keep twice-monthly diaries that generated more than 3,000 individual diary entries that the scholars systematically examined.

The diary entries frequently mentioned the everyday gender disparities these women faced.

Thus, such gender disparities leads women to question whether other professions could be a better vehicle for affecting positive change in the society — their key motivator — and thus prompt them to leave engineering, said the paper published in the journal Work and Occupations.


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