Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

women vs. the culture in engineering: I just don't see the issue

A few months ago I wrote an entry asking are STEM fields too mean for women? in response to a research project that asked women why they'd left engineering, and basically concluded that it was a "culture of engineering" issue.

Then this week this link came to my attention: Women Engineers: A National Study of Attrition and Persistence.

Those who left:
  • Nearly half said they left because of working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary.
  • One-in-three women left because they did not like the workplace climate, their boss or the culture.

Here's my problem. I worked with a woman who left the field to stay home with her kids because she didn't find it supportive enough. And she's also telling her daughters not to be engineers, based on her experiences. But she did not have a great response for me when I said, "So what exactly are you telling them to be?"

After my first baby I wrote an entry about why engineering is an awesome job for a working mom, mostly because I was in these birth clubs hearing the teacher-moms discuss how to pump breastmilk in a janitor closet while eating lunch because they lost their plan periods to educational budget cuts. Nothing against teachers, I love them. They just don't get time to pump. I think teaching should lose the contest for "best working mom job" when you put it up against engineering... yet for some reason, so many women go into it.

And so many women leave it too, just like so many women, and men, leave every job. Every year, millions of people determine that the career they're in is not for them.

You know what I'd like to see? A study that asks everyone why they leave any job, and compare that to the reasons women leave engineering... I think it will be a boring study. In fact, most surveys about job satisfaction report that people leave when their boss is a jerk, pay is too low, or there's a "lack of advancement". That's not a women in engineering problem, that's life. You have to move around and find something that works for you.

I hate these articles that come out about women in engineering because they make it sound like we've got some unique issue. I worry that it will build a self-defeating perception that will scare girls away. I think the real problem is our cultural biases that are preventing girls from going into engineering. And for no reason. We don't need engineering to be less scary, we just need more girls to go into engineering, so it'll be like other careers that can afford to lose people to the normal human shifts in interest.

I write about this stuff all the time... how we need more female role models, we need to shift perceptions about what engineering is, and how we really need to bridge the divide between feminism & engineering so us women engineers get the lenses we need to ask the right questions about our own field.

And yes, every field needs to be more tolerant & supportive. But don't make engineering look unusually scary, okay? We're shooting ourselves in the foot there.
Tags: engineering, women engineers
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