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Career Transitions as a Woman Engineer

Today’s blog is written by Renee Desing, current PhD Candidate in Engineering Education with a B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering.

Throughout my career, I have worked in a variety of roles and industries and experienced many career transitions. These transitions include changing roles within a company, switching companies, and returning to graduate school. However, the toughest transition for me was my first transition from college to the workplace. Even though I attended a university that was 28% women, it was not until after I graduated that I realized what it really meant to be a woman in engineering. I found that while my undergraduate degree prepared me for the engineering responsibilities of my role, I was unprepared to deal with gender-based challenges. I have experienced discrimination and harassment because I was a woman engineer. While I worked hard on my job, there were times when I was still treated as if I were not good enough because I was a woman in a male-dominated field. As an early career engineer, I was unprepared and not expecting to handle these types of situations and it affected my motivation to continue in my career. I had to learn on my own how to overcome these situations and, in some ways, I am still learning how to address specific situations that I encounter.

Because of my experiences, I became passionate about supporting women engineers throughout their careers. I am particularly interested in women engineers in their early career, their transition from college to the workplace, and how they are adapting to a male-dominated work environment. This is important because the first 10 years of an engineering career are vital for future career motivation and retention of women engineers. Within 10-15 years after graduation, 54% of women who obtained engineering bachelor’s degrees either left or never entered the field as opposed to 45% of men. My goal is to support women engineers throughout their careers and develop strategies or programs that promote their motivation to stay in engineering careers.

These experiences and passion are also driving my dissertation research as a PhD Candidate in Engineering Education. My dissertation is focused on supporting women engineers in the first ten years of their career who may feel underprepared to face gender-based challenges. I am looking at how counterfactual thinking, thoughts about what might have been or alternatives to reality, may be used as a mechanism to overcome these challenges and help women remain motivated in their careers. I am researching what impacts these women’s career decisions about whether they want to stay in their career and the types of gender-based challenges that they faced, such as discrimination and harassment. Based on how women experience and react to these challenges, their motivation to persist in their careers may be impacted.

I believe women engineers should be equipped with strategies for adjusting to the culture of a male-dominated workplace, overcoming obstacles, and being motivated in their careers. In my future career after I graduate, I plan to develop programs for working women engineers, such as diversity and inclusion programs for women and their allies in the office, that is supported by and leverages my dissertation research results. It is important that women engineers feel motivated, excited, and supported to advance in their careers. I want to provide this support to women engineers so that they do not have to navigate the college-to-work transition on their own like I did.

As an engineering student, you have access via Handshake to the Women in Engineering Job Guide. Check out the "Employer Insights for Navigating the Job Search as a Woman in Engineering" blog and the Stanford Voice & Influence Series resources for additional tools.

“Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life.” – Mae Jemison

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