Women's Engineering Career Stories_Perspectives on Leaving
Despite recruitment and retention efforts, women remain underrepresented in the engineering profession. More than two-thirds of women leave engineering within 15 years of graduation, double the rate of men. Women leave or feel psychologically pushed out of the engineering profession because of harassment, discrimination, work-life balance, an initial mismatch between their personal and workplace characteristics, or other reasons.
While previous studies have identified the reasons why women leave engineering careers, a limited number of studies have described how they leave engineering - the processes and pathways that they follow. Furthermore, few empirical studies have examined women's career decisions over their lives. While researchers have investigated how and why women pursue and persist in engineering academic programs, fewer studies have examined women's engineering career decisions after entering the workplace. In this study, I develop a greater understanding of women's engineering career journeys, including their departure from the profession, by addressing: What are the career stories of women who have left engineering after having worked in industry?
I explored women's engineering career decisions using narrative inquiry and a novel, boundary-spanning framework encompassing aspects of the Unfolding Model of Turnover and Career Construction Theory. My participants were three women who had practiced engineering in industry for five to seven years before they left the profession. I conducted three ninety-minute interviews with each participant and used a background questionnaire, a workplace artifact, and a life experience timeline to further elicit their narratives. Incorporating a timeline activity increased the quality of participants' narratives. I used a two-part approach to handling and making meaning of my data. First, the participants and I collaborated to construct first-person narratives, which showed the complexity and nuances of women's engineering career pathways. Then, I created interpreted narratives, which described participants' stories of leaving engineering through the shocks (jarring events), scripts (plans of action), and image violations (violations of goals and values) of the Unfolding Model of Turnover.
All participants left engineering according to a newly identified pathway, whereby a shock, in the presence of image violations, caused them to leave the profession to pursue previously identified scripts. The participants experienced similar shocks and enacted similar scripts. For example, all participants enacted a script to stay home with their children, and two participants experienced the same shock, trouble conceiving children. Another key finding is that participants didn't realize they were leaving the profession when they resigned from their last engineering job: two participants sought ongoing part-time engineering work but were unsuccessful.
Knowledge gained in this study expands our understanding of women's engineering career decisions, informs women's engineering career planning, facilitates the program planning of career service providers, and contributes toward broadening the participation of women in engineering. In addition, findings suggest that if employers provide flexible work options and create pathways for returning engineers, then more women will remain in or return to the engineering profession, thereby improving the representation of women in the engineering workplace.
- Doctor of Philosophy
- Engineering Education
- West Lafayette