Why Do Women Leave?

A new working paper by Jennifer Hunt examines the exodus of women from the science and engineering fields, and upends some popularly accepted wisdom. Hunt finds that the gap is primarily driven by the engineering field, and that “60% of the gap can be explained by the relatively greater exit rate from engineering of women dissatisfied with pay and promotion opportunities.” Family-related explanations, which are often blamed for the gap, play a much smaller role. Hunt finds a strong positive relationship between share of male workers and excess female exits, which suggests a need for policies aimed at improving female mentoring and networks, and reducing discrimination, across male-dominated fields.[%comments]

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  1. Christophe says:

    If Hunt feels that companies need to be forced to implement certain policies, let her set the example and start a company of her own according to her own preachings and see how far it gets her before telling others how to run their business from the sidelines.

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  2. Doug says:

    I’m a male Senior Electronics Engineer. I’m also very liberal politically and socially, and I’d personally love to see a much more even balance of men to women in my field. In 25+ years in this biz I’ve only worked with a handful of women, and have taken every opportunity to be supportive and encouraging when I can to those women. Out of that handful of female engineers I’ve known, only one or two were what I’d consider really competent, and I have yet to run across a Grace Hopper in my own career. I’ve known a few that were very intelligent, but only mediocre engineers, and I think a lot of it comes down to approach rather than sheer intelligence or even skillset. This is a dog-eat-dog field, populated with extreme individualists and some gargantuan egos, and I think women just don’t tend to thrive in these kinds of environments. I think women approach their jobs/careers with a more social, team-oriented approach than men, and that approach just isn’t very effective in the “let me TELL you how this works” environment that is modern Engineering. A more forceful, aggressive approach is most effective in this business, and I just don’t think too many women operate that way.

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    • JWG says:

      My daughter was accepted as an engineering undergrad at a top school, but her second month at the university she made the mistake of going to a seminar on engineering education. They made it sound so grueling and unappealing she switched majors the next day. (And yes, she was graduated Phi Beta Kappa.)

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  3. mccn says:

    If you’re a woman and you operate on a “”let me TELL you how this works” . . . more forceful, aggressive approach”, or if you even, in a businesslike way, attempt to negotiate your starting salary (see: promotion and pay opportunities), you get branded as “not nice to work with”, “bitchy” or “too aggressive.” And we don’t get hired compared with the “nicer” more pleasant women.

    Men and women aren’t inherently so different.

    But women learn that we don’t benefit from operating aggressively – we get punished for it. We lose pay, we lose job opportunities, we’re not given the opportunities to network.

    So it’s disingenuous to argue we should change our behavior to act more like men, and that this will fix the disparities. We can’t act like men and expect a reward – we won’t get one. Doug fails to understand the complexity of the social issues here, and his solution places the blame on women for engaging in logical behavior – behavior that is most likely to lead to financial rewards for us.

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  4. Josey Wales says:

    I have worked as an engineer for 22 years split between government and private sector. There was a lot of hiring in the 90s of female engineers in the government relative to their complete absence when I started. They all got quickly promoted(in relative terms) to management which paid more and provided more prestige and advancement. That is not turnover, that is the fast track escalator. In general terms the work engineers are assigned becomes tedious and repetitive with little social contact required to complete it. The engineers are treated with poorly veiled contempt by managers up the food chain. Why would a female want to remain in that profession?

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  5. Andromeda says:

    @Doug: Perhaps if there were more women in your field the culture would change, as would the skills required to succeed in it.

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  6. Stan says:

    Perhaps there is another way to look at it. The opportunites for anyone in engineering are poor in terms of pay and promotion, regardless of gender. More women feel they have other options and leave, more men feel stuck and stay.

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  7. Egon says:

    I went to an university that featured an engineering collage (late 90s). There were many women there that were serious about becoming engineers, but that where also many that seemed more interested in getting their Mrs. then getting their BS. Bachelor hunting is not a completely dead sport. Ask a Navy Sailor, they are also prime targets.

    As far as dissatisfaction with pay and promotion, engineering is a field you go in to because it is what you want to do, not quick pay raises and promotion. Yes you may be the one who really makes the 6 million dollar project work, but the credit and the money is going to be taken by the smarmy MBA guy managing the project finances. Yes you may be doing a great job but the promotion is still going to go to the person that has been there 4 years longer then you. Engineering is a seniority based profession. When you build things that need to work for years and years consistency is more important.

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  8. Doug says:

    mccn, why did you interpret my view as blaming anyone, let alone an entire gender? I’m simply saying that men and women TEND to have different modus operandi (what’s the plural of that?), and the one women more often adopt doesn’t lend itself to a successful career in the field that I happen to be in. I myself get sick of the huge egos and opinionated, pushy natures of many of the men in my field. I also find it very annoying that those are the kind of men who get ahead, whereas mellower, non-self-promoting types like myself tend to stagnate.

    Of course there are more similarities between men and women than there are differences, but I do believe nature (testosterone) AND nurture (upbringing) both make for some fairly significant differences. Women tend (again, it’s not a rule, it’s a generality) to be more supportive, more nurturing and pay more attention to the social aspect of situations than men do. I’ve had better experiences with female health care givers than with men, because I really feel women are every bit as good technically in that field, and better at being supportive and compassionate when I’ve needed health care. I think women are often better teachers than men, at every level from preschool to postgraduate, because their generally better social skills tend to help them relate to their students better and guide them through mastering difficult concepts more successfully.

    But I think their lack of aggression makes them less successful in my field, and perhaps in some others such as law, where a highly-honed ‘killer instinct’ can be an asset. It makes me sad, actually, that my field is one of those, but it is.

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    • Twin Mom says:

      I spent 11 years as a (female) R&D engineer at HP. In a conflict with an aggressive male engineer, my mentor commented that I’m a shepherd (no sheep get lost on my watch) and he’s a cowboy (we’re going to Dodge and some cows will die along the way.) This was really helpful advice. My mentor also noted that even other GUYS thought he was a prick, so I wasn’t alone in my opinion.

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