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Women in Engineering

According to the National Science Foundation, women represent approximately one out of every five engineering college graduates, however only 11% of engineers in the field are women. Certainly the field of engineering has come a long way in recognizing the competency and unique strengths women in engineering can bring to the workplace. Yet, there are still challenges for women in navigating a career through a professional field comprised of mostly men. The following information provides an overview of resources and job search considerations specifically tailored for women in engineering.

Special Considerations

As a woman seeking employment in engineering, there are two common obstacles that you should be aware of: The Wage Gap and Implicit Bias.

The Wage Gap 

In 2012, Women working full-time positions in the Unites States were being paid about 77% of the amount that men were paid. Although some claim that this gap in pay can be explained away by choice of study or career path, studies have shown that even after factoring in these variables a significant and unexplained difference still exists in the average salaries of women and men. This wage gap also increases as women continue in their career, likely due to the fact that raises are based on a percentage of starting salary. As a woman beginning a job search, be prepared to negotiate a fair salary if needed. For more information about the wage gap and salary negotiation visit the ECS Job Blog or attend a $tart $mart workshop on campus.

Implicit Bias

Recent research has indicated that many people, including women, hold certain implicit biases against women working in traditionally “male” fields. These biases are considered implicit because they exist subconsciously under the surface. A 2010 study revealed that participants unknowingly judged women to be less competent in “masculine” jobs than equally qualified men. The only exception was when a woman was defined to be clearly successful in her job. However, the same study revealed that when a woman is identified as clearly successful in a predominantly-male position, she is usually considered to be less likable. This is considered the double-bind for women in STEM fields: you are either likeable or successful, but it is hard to be both.

However, when women are aware of these potential biases they are able to interrupt the thought processes that lead people toward this kind of thinking. Women in STEM fields should first focus on their job competence, and strive to produce explicitly recognizable success. Studies have shown that women in engineering fields who did more to make their achievements known advanced further and were more satisfied with their career. Although this may generate social disapproval from some, this “likeability” bias is much easier to counteract than the “competence” bias.         

Job Search

When searching for potential companies to send your resume, pay attention to company culture and the social climate for women. Explore the company website and consider the following questions:

  • Does the company list their demographic information by gender?
  • What about the board members and top-level administrators, are there any women present?
  • Is there information about women in the workplace, or a women’s affinity group within the company?
  • Certain organizations, such as Catalyst and NAFE, recognize companies who lead the way for women in the workplace. Do the companies you are interested in have any recognitions of this kind?

Remember that during the recruitment process it is absolutely illegal for an employer to ask you any questions regarding marital status, childcare, pregnancy, or family plans. You should plan on avoiding these topics within an interview as well. If you feel an employer is asking you an inappropriate or illegal question during an interview, you can choose to answer the question or politely say, “I am unclear on how this particular topic relates to the job description.” Remember, if illegal or uncomfortable questions are asked of you, we at ECS want to know about this as well!

 

If work/life balance is a high priority for you (due to family or otherwise) there are safe ways to go about finding this information. First, think about what matters to you when it comes to flexibility and balance. Are you willing to work overtime? Would you prefer the freedom to shift your workday up or back a few hours if necessary? Work-life balance can sometimes be a vague concept so it is good to have a clear personal definition in mind. Next, do your research using company reviews on Glassdoor and keyword searching “work life.” Many organizations also post lists of companies with the best work/life balance. Also reach out to anyone you may know who works / worked for the company of interest. During an interview, you can always ask questions about the company culture and the work atmosphere of the office.

Workplace

When beginning your career with a new company, one of the most important things you can do is to establish purposeful relationships in your organization and in your industry. Some relationships that are important to seek out include:

  • Other Women – Many companies have a women’s group that exists within the organization to offer support, networking, and professional development for the women employees. This group can be a valuable asset for transitioning into a company and moving forward as well.
  • Mentorship – Finding a mentor within an organization is a best practice for any new hire, but this can be especially true for anyone in an underrepresented demographic. Many companies have mentorship programs through the human resources department, but you can also find a mentor through your office or a professional association. A mentor does not have to work in your office or even be a woman. The key is to find someone further along in their career that can offer you support, advice, and professional development.
  • Influential Networking – Catalyst, a non-profit organization focused on women and business, published a study revealing that proactively networking with influential people within a company/industry was one of the most effective workplace strategies women can employ to advance further in their careers.

The key takeaway is – women need to be building intentional relationships within their organizations and their industries.