The Variable for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing

The United States is projected to need an additional 1.7 million engineers and computing professionals in the next ten years. As the demand for more professionals in these occupations rises, the expertise and experience of the women competing within these male dominated careers cannot be ignored.

Consider the following facts:

  • Women constitute 26% of computing professionals
  • Women make up 12% of working engineers
  • Black women make up 1% of the engineering profession and 3% of the computing workforce
  • Hispanic women occupy 1% of the jobs in both the engineering and computing fields

The issue of gender disparity in the computing and engineering fields is glaring. This is despite the fact that more than ever, before girls are studying and excelling in science and mathematics equal to boys.  The question, therefore, arises about the ability of women to excel in the engineering and computing fields.

Must Women Succeed in Engineering and Computing Occupations?

Proper representation and success of women in the engineering and computing fields matters. Diversity is beneficial to any workforce:

  • Diversity brings creativity
  • Diversity boosts productivity
  • Diversity encourages innovation

To understand the reasons for gender disparity in engineering and computing the following facts are crucial.

–    In the early years of school, girls study and excel in science and math just as well as boys

–     By high school, boys are more likely to take standardized exams associated with computing and engineering as compared to girls

–    In the first year of college, boys are more likely than girls to declare a major in engineering and computing

–    More men graduate with engineering and computing-related majors as compared to women

Reasons Women Struggle to Excel in Computing and Engineering:

Stereotypes and Gender Biases

Every society holds its gender biases which are informed, shaped and advanced by the wider culture. These gender biases affect how the people in the society evaluate and treat one another. Many studies have been carried out to demonstrate gender bias, especially in the workplace.

  • One study asked science faculty to evaluate resumes that were identical apart from the candidates’ names. The study showed that scientists were more likely to select a male candidate over a female candidate.
  • Another study showed that potential employers consistently underestimated the performance of women in mathematics as compared to that of a man’s. As a result, lower performing men were hired over higher performing women.
  • Research shows that girls have their own implicit biases that have been instilled by society. As a result, they underestimate their own abilities in science and math’s since they associate them with boys. The girls spend less time studying sciences, and they were less likely to pursue a career in the engineering field.

The first step in boosting women’s success in computing and engineering is countering harmful gender norms.

The Work Environment

Consider the following facts:

  • Ten years into the engineering career, only half the women who take up engineering jobs are still working
  • In computing, ten years into the profession, only 28% of the women who take up the jobs are still working

The discrepancies are in the work place environment. Women who ventured into the career and left:

  • Were less likely to have received opportunities for training and advancement
  • Were less likely to have received any support from co-workers and supervisors
  • Were likely to have been in an environment that did not offer support to balance work and domestic roles

Research conducted by the American Association of University Women showed that women who were satisfied with their jobs:

  • Worked for organizations that had clear paths for growth and advancement
  • Worked for organizations that gave women employees challenging tasks to engage and grow their skills
  • Worked for organizations that demonstrated their appreciation for their female employees and their contributions

Ultimately, an organization’s management practices determine the degree of success of female engineers and computing professionals. Every organization can, therefore, encourage women to succeed in these fields by changing the work environment to make them more hospitable to women.

Gender Gap Pay

Like in all occupations, research shows that women are paid less than men in engineering and computing. In engineering, women are paid 90 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts for full-time work. The gap is narrow among early career engineers, a slightly bigger gap for mid-career and a larger gap for late career engineers. In computing, the situation is the same. This explicit discrimination and lack of recognition for female employee contributions push women out of the engineering and computing occupations.

Other factors include:

  • Feeling of isolation: Many women in computing and engineering feel that they have no support and rarely feel that it is safe for them to speak out
  • Work-life balances: Many women indicate that they are struggling to fulfill the responsibilities associated with home and family and could therefore not maintain work-life balance
  • Biased evaluations: Many women working in engineering and computing fields feel that they receive lower ratings on performance reviews than their male counterparts. Also, the women indicated that they are held to higher standards and need better performance ratings to be promoted as compared to their male colleagues.

Everyone can encourage women to enter engineering and computing and help transform these fields into places where both male and female engineers and computer experts want to be. What are your thoughts on this subject? We would like to know your take.

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