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Women and Engineering no longer
March 11, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Women More Likely To Leave Engineering Over Work Environment, Study Finds

(thanks to SME.org's Daily Executive Briefing for the following summary)

McClatchy (3/11) reports, "Women who left engineering jobs after getting the necessary college degree were more likely to quit the field because of an uncomfortable work environment than because of family reasons," a survey from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found. "Nearly half of the women surveyed said they left the engineering field because of negative working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/11, Barrett) reports that the study surveyed "more than 3,700 women, with degrees from 230 universities" so far, although the survey work is ongoing. "Women engineers who were treated in a condescending, patronizing manner, and were belittled and undermined by their supervisors and co-workers, were most likely to want to leave their organizations, according to the study." Other significant factors were "long working hours, unclear work objectives and a lack of company planning," factors that experts noted could also be significant for men. Women "who stay in the field differ in that they have supportive supervisors and co-workers, and they have very clear perceptions of their jobs and how they can advance in the field," said Nadya Fouad, a UW-Milwaukee professor and one of the study's authors.

The International Business Times (3/11) reports that the Project on Women Engineers' Retention (POWER) study "could have important implications in terms of finding ways to encourage more women to participate in and contribute to the advancement of engineering practice, as the authors found that women's decisions to stay in engineering can be influenced by key supportive people in the organization, such as supervisors and co-workers."
posted by jillithd (134 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I didn't see much in the article about problems specific to women (sexism, misogyny, etc). I've been in engineering for 23 years, and have worked with many awesomely talented female engineers. The only sexism I've seen has been a tendency for non-engineer managers to treat the women differently (one MBA manager asked a female engineer to cover the phones when the receptionist was away!!!), and a few people with poor eye control when talking to females. In peer-to-peer settings, the workplace has seemed (to this sometimes-clueless male) mostly respectful.
posted by rocket88 at 9:55 AM on March 11, 2011


That said, I agree that engineering in general has not been what it was promised to be. Among educated professionals (Doctors, Lawyers, etc) we are among the lowest paid and have fewer opportunities for self-employment. Unpaid overtime is a fact of life.
posted by rocket88 at 9:58 AM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


OK, so I think this is an important issue and I personally do what I can to make a positive work environment as I work in software which is typically has a pretty low proportion of female engineers. However...

Nearly half of the women surveyed said they left the engineering field because of negative working conditions, too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary

OK, one of these things is not like another. Negative working conditions are bad. Let us all work towards creating a work environment where people feel comfortable being themselves, whether it's based on gender, ethnic or sexuality differences.

Too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary are a) not really gender-specific and b) normal and c) year, sucky.

Other significant factors were "long working hours, unclear work objectives and a lack of company planning," factors that experts noted could also be significant for men.

These are again pretty normal although by no means desirable and yes, let me state first-hand that it gets us too.

Honestly, my take away here is that most engineering organizations are shitty places to work.

My personal anecdotal experience is that women are pretty well supported organizationally - I have certainly worked with some high-performing women. But the numbers don't lie - women are a distinct minority from the first year of school on.

Having said all that, I wonder if it varies by industry. Software is fairly notorious for being a sausage-party but IIRC some eng departments like chemical run at over 50% female students these days.
posted by GuyZero at 10:00 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pleased that my fellow men haven't observed any of the sexism against women engineers. However, somebody is pissing them off. This study suggests co-workers and managers are factors. My gut feeling suggests this is reasonable. So unless someone can come up with a better argument than "I'm a man, and I don't see this anti-woman culture!" I'm going to assume there are some problems in engineering that it has to work out.
posted by alasdair at 10:05 AM on March 11, 2011 [39 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not really seeing the takeaway other than "Engineering jobs suck." I'm perfectly willing to believe that women are subject to pressures and stress in these jobs that men are not, but this article doesn't offer any evidence in support of that.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:05 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


It may not be overt sexism, rocket88, but rather the general culture of aggressiveness, and lack of ability to communicate disagreements in a constructive way, and required penis-wagging that sometimes happens in engineering environments. I would agree that the sexism as I've seen it in person, is more subtle (a need to constantly prove oneself to feel taken seriously, for example). But the environment can be really brutally hard to deal with even without the expectation of long hours. One of the reasons I'm glad I do tech for a company that is not a tech company is the culture is a little more productive for me to work in. You get tired of feeling like you're never allowed to have an off day or the vultures will get you.

And BTW, GuyZero, I know very much what the organizational support for women is like, and it has served me decently, but it is less helpful when your boss decides to mommy track you despite continuing to out-perform your male colleagues. I've heard too many stories like that from fellow high performers to ever get too comfortable.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


colour this engineer extremely surprised
posted by molecicco at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm not really seeing the takeaway other than "Engineering jobs suck." I'm perfectly willing to believe that women are subject to pressures and stress in these jobs that men are not, but this article doesn't offer any evidence in support of that.

Well then, given that engineering jobs suck, why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave?
posted by muddgirl at 10:08 AM on March 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Women in Science.

From the stories I'm familiar with and some of my own observations, I don't doubt sexism is an active problem in both educational paths that lead to engineering as well as many engineering workplace environments, but given its prevalence elsewhere, I think it's fair to at least speculate the relative rewards may be as big an incentive for women to look elsewhere as the obstacles.
posted by weston at 10:08 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well then, given that engineering jobs suck, why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave?

That's an excellent question, and one to which I would dearly like to know the answer, but this article doesn't provide it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Too much travel, lack of advancement or low salary are a) not really gender-specific and b) normal and c) year, sucky.

For a lot of respondents, "lack of advancement" and "low salary" might mean "apparently gender-biased lack of advancement and low salary." Unfortunately, the study does not make that distinction.

Here's a link to the paper itself [pdf], by the way.
posted by jedicus at 10:09 AM on March 11, 2011


why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave?

Greenspun's speculation in the article I linked to above rings true to me.
posted by weston at 10:11 AM on March 11, 2011


but this article doesn't provide it.

Of course it doesn't. That's not the question that the study was trying to answer, which was "Why Women Leave Engineering".
posted by muddgirl at 10:11 AM on March 11, 2011


Ok, I just let that fly because my experiences both in school and the workplace is that lots, and lots, and lots of male engineers are still firmly entrenched in old school boy culture.

But reading the post more carefully, and the comments, I also have to agree that it seems to me like the biggest chunk of engineering jobs out there are in pretty dismal companies that are plagued by "unclear work objectives, and good company planning".
posted by molecicco at 10:14 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well then, given that engineering jobs suck, why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave?

Very interesting question. Is it possible that men in engineering are more willing to tolerate substandard conditions for long term gain? Or the illusion of long term gain?

McClatchy's summary contradicts itself, saying women left because of work conditions more than family reasons, but then describing one of the problems with work conditions as:

"Engineering firms aren't respectful of the work-home boundary," one respondent wrote. "At the firm I worked for, engineers were expected to take work home, work late, or travel often with little warning."
posted by msalt at 10:16 AM on March 11, 2011


Speaking as an engineer, engineering as a profession does suck. All the reasons listed in the article (too much travel, lack of advancement, low salary, long working hours, unclear work objectives, lack of company planning (my personal favorite)) are SOP, and should be expected at the workplace.

This bears repeating: this crap should be EXPECTED at the workplace.

With that in mind, I don't have a clue as to why anyone, male or female, would want to do engineering as a profession.

Why do I stay in? I don't know. I've been contemplating leaving engineering for my whole career -- even before I got out of school.
posted by smcdow at 10:16 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I worked at an engineering firm in LA - one of ENR's top 500 firms at one point. Women comprised a significant number of the top positions in the firm. Women engineers who were not in management enjoyed great reputations as competent and hard working.

I can't speak for the women, but I can say with certainty that I never saw any of those cringe inducing moments that comes with gender discrimination or harassment.
posted by Xoebe at 10:17 AM on March 11, 2011


On further review of the study, I'm very frustrated with it. Many of the anecdotes and pull quotes in the study specifically mention a sexist culture, advancement limited by male domination of the field, etc. But the study design didn't capture any of that quantitatively. Respondents were only given choices like "didn't like boss" or "didn't like culture." The boss or culture could have sucked for any number of reasons, some of which would be particularly problematic for women and some of which would not.

That's not the question that the study was trying to answer, which was "Why Women Leave Engineering".

Then it was poorly designed to answer that question. It's long been hypothesized that at least part of the reason is that the culture, co-workers, bosses, etc are sexist, yet the study did little to address that question.

So, for example, maybe life as engineer sucks equally for men and women, and women are more likely to leave because they're less likely to be the sole breadwinner. Or maybe life as an engineer is much worse for women because the stresses and problems are more specific to women (e.g. sexism). The study doesn't tell us much about that, and I find that disappointing.
posted by jedicus at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


McClatchy's summary contradicts itself, saying women left because of work conditions more than family reasons, but then describing one of the problems with work conditions as:

"Engineering firms aren't respectful of the work-home boundary," one respondent wrote. "At the firm I worked for, engineers were expected to take work home, work late, or travel often with little warning."


Not wanting to work absurd hours does not necessarily imply "family reasons". I have no family but my SO and my cats, and I would not work in an environment that regularly required extreme hours. It just means that I respect myself and my time, and I'm not going to just give it to you, my employer, for the price of asking.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


but this article doesn't provide it.

Of course it doesn't. That's not the question that the study was trying to answer, which was "Why Women Leave Engineering".


And to answer that question, we would need to identify the difference set between "Why Women Leave Engineering" and "Why Engineers Leave Engineering". This article doesn't do that.
posted by rocket88 at 10:19 AM on March 11, 2011


And BTW, GuyZero, I know very much what the organizational support for women is like, and it has served me decently, but it is less helpful when your boss decides to mommy track you despite continuing to out-perform your male colleagues. I've heard too many stories like that from fellow high performers to ever get too comfortable.

So I realize this and my comment was not meant to be dismissive of what are very real problems. I would like to hope that things are changing and that maybe I've managed to see a few of the better situations. But I fully admit my perspective is extremely narrow - I've worked primarily in urban, Canadian software companies which are probably more equitable than average. I couch my comments as anecdotal because that's what they are.
posted by GuyZero at 10:21 AM on March 11, 2011


"Well then, given that engineering jobs suck, why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave?" - Perhaps because as men they are stuck in their gender assigned roles as breadwinners while the women have the socially acceptable option of not working or at least assuming a role that focuses less on career and more on 'fulfillment'.
posted by zeoslap at 10:21 AM on March 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


I'm not going to just give it to you, my employer, for the price of asking.

Sadly, many people will, so the expectation is there.
posted by GuyZero at 10:22 AM on March 11, 2011


"Well then, given that engineering jobs suck, why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave?" - Perhaps because as men they are stuck in their gender assigned roles as breadwinners while the women have the socially acceptable option of not working or at least assuming a role that focuses less on career and more on 'fulfillment'.

Great, we can fix that.

This article doesn't do that.

Why should it? Are you denying that engineering has more women than men than drop out at every level from first year college all the way to CEO?

Frankly, I have issues with this study, but "WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ????" is not one of them.
posted by muddgirl at 10:24 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I recently came across an interesting study suggesting that receiving work-related communication at home takes a greater toll on women. In an "always on" engineering culture, that could certainly have an impact on the proportion of who left engineering.
posted by adipocere at 10:24 AM on March 11, 2011


Those descriptions of negative factors for why women leave engineering apply to pretty much every well-paid professional job. Hey, guess what, they're not paying you cuz it's fun and easy, otherwise you'd do it for free.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:24 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, for example, maybe life as engineer sucks equally for men and women, and women are more likely to leave because they're less likely to be the sole breadwinner.

I think it's because they have more self-respect.
posted by smcdow at 10:24 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


My daughter was recruited by a well-respected engineering school. She did a weekend on-campus sponsored by some Women in Engineering organization. That weekend scared her completely away from engineering. Even from the cocoon of the W-in-E event, she said the whole atmosphere there was overbearingly boys-club-ish.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:26 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the point is that women are not leaving the industry because they're getting all preggers and squirting out babies, which many would have us believe is the real reason for the gender gap. I don't think having realistic expectations about work-life balance falls into the same category.

Historically, men are accustomed to ridiculous expectations of work. They have been expected to support their families, to have a good salary and provide benefits, etc. No, I don't think this is fair either. Now that women are entering the professional workforce (well, have been for the last 50 years) this can start to change. This is a good thing.

What I think is odd is that it doesn't seem to be changing. Men in the industry aren't stepping up and saying "Yeah, I think this is unfair. If this doesn't change we're all going to step down." Instead, we have these dumb conversations about how women must be different because they don't want to live their jobs and put in 12-hour days all the time.

Software engineers need a union.
posted by annekate at 10:27 AM on March 11, 2011 [15 favorites]


muddgirl: "Frankly, I have issues with this study, but "WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ????" is not one of them."

Who is making this argument, besides zeoslap? I think the tone of the discussion has been "WHAT ABOUT THE ENGINEERS" more than "WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ."
posted by grammar corrections at 10:27 AM on March 11, 2011


Also, because I think some people here are forgetting about their invisible knapsacks, a reminder:

http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/
posted by annekate at 10:32 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


My daughter was recruited by a well-respected engineering school. She did a weekend on-campus sponsored by some Women in Engineering organization. That weekend scared her completely away from engineering. Even from the cocoon of the W-in-E event, she said the whole atmosphere there was overbearingly boys-club-ish.

Yeah, there's an engineering school culture that's sort of not like the rest of society and having been through it, I don't know exactly what to say about it. It's not like there are no women there and from my limited experience women in engineering aren't subject to more sexism than any other women on campus but again, the numbers don't lie.
posted by GuyZero at 10:33 AM on March 11, 2011


McClatchy's summary contradicts itself, saying women left because of work conditions more than family reasons, but then [...]

That's because "family reasons" is code for "got preggers". Reread the article with that in phrase in mind, and it becomes a very different article.
posted by mhoye at 10:33 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


While "family reasons" is most likely pregnancy, it could also very well mean tending for a ill parent which is something that women tend to do more often than men. I don't think they use the phrase solely because they don't want to mention pregnancy.
posted by GuyZero at 10:35 AM on March 11, 2011


Those descriptions of negative factors for why women leave engineering apply to pretty much every well-paid professional job. Hey, guess what, they're not paying you cuz it's fun and easy, otherwise you'd do it for free.

Way to be dismissive of real concerns that people are having (and not just women, judging from the responses on this thread). We hear constantly about the lack of people in the engineering field. I know first-hand the difficulty of hiring good software developers. Things that keep 50% of your potential talent pool from developing are worth addressing, because unlike your glib assertion that professional jobs are all about taking shit and working insane hours, in fact the key hallmark of professional jobs is supposed to be hard-earned skill-based expertise. And by the by, many of us do "do it for free", contributing to the larger world of things like open source software. But that doesn't mean I'm going to write what you dictate for free, just because I enjoy coding.
posted by ch1x0r at 10:40 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's another invisible knapsack you have neglected, annekate — the fact that it is far more socially accepted in the United States for women to have a "fallback position" of becoming married and selecting from options such as not working, taking a part-time job, or taking a low-stress full-time job than it is for men here to do the same. Should a man attempt to do so, he is looked down upon.

Knapsacks everywhere.
posted by adipocere at 10:40 AM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't think they use the phrase solely because they don't want to mention pregnancy.

And see, that's another problem with the study. It would've been better if it teased apart the various things that "family reasons" can encompass. Anecdotally, many employers seem to discount women workers because they may get pregnant, take leave, then never return. It would be good to nail down how often that really happens compared to, for example, tending for an ill parent, which is presumably less likely to lead to leaving permanently. It would also help give people a sense of how often pregnancy is the actual reason for leaving and how often it's just the excuse or the last straw (e.g. when the real reason was the sexist culture that the woman was loathe to return to).
posted by jedicus at 10:40 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are we talking about software or actual engineering?
posted by electroboy at 10:41 AM on March 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


Can someone clarify what this old-school boy's culture means? I am a too-young-for-full-time-work-woman from a family of non-working women, so I honestly don't know, and everyone seems to be tiptoeing around defining it.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 10:41 AM on March 11, 2011


I've been reading this thread and thinking. I mean, I can't help it can I, being a woman with a first class degree in industrial & production engineering. I have never regretted my choice of degree and those were some of the best years (and worst years). As for working as an engineer, what does that mean?

That's the question I'm still pondering over - my first job was a sales engineer for a company selling CAD/CAM workstations - we were marketing executives but the job specified an engineering degree. After that I moved in advertising, design, marketing, even administration in a graduate school - have I ever really stopped using the skills of problem framing, solving, process improvement, quality assurance and value analysis? Where do I seperate the MBA Manager from the Engineer and the Industrial Designer inside my head? How do I explain the extensive writing I do online? Or conceptual service design or new market strategy for low income demographics with irregular incomes in rural boondocks of the developing world?

Perhaps, in these intervening twenty one years since I got my first paid job, the old narrow descriptions adn disciplines are what needs to be changed rather than talking about "jobs in engineering"? Perhaps those ladies got out of the box and went off to do something far more creative and flexible? I don't know.

Last fall, two of the coolest women I met at a womens forum in France were engineers in the Elf refinery - they were chic, fun and didn't think they had any trouble with sexism. (Because I asked). What gives?

Are the surveys themselves still perpetuating thinking that's far out of date if nobody in this thread and in the real world even believes this anymore?

Oh, I'm not denying there's sexism out there but its everywhere. And personally I've found the old boys club to be a nice place to hang out, tbh.

/end beanses
posted by infini at 10:44 AM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, because I think some people here are forgetting about their invisible knapsacks...
I try to be always aware of that possibility, but where in this discussion do you see that happening? I don't doubt for a second that women have a harder time than men in such a male-dominated field. I think if we can identify specifically why that is then we can work on solutions (but that may just be the engineer in me).
This article focuses too much on issues that affect all engineers. Maybe they affect women more than men, and that wouldn't surprise me, but the article doesn't go down that path, and it's a shame.
posted by rocket88 at 10:45 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are we talking about software or actual engineering?

Heh. I think this is selection bias on the part of MetaFilter members. Hard to comment every 5 minutes if you're in the field doing sonograms looking for oil. Software is probably a million times better in terms of on-the-job gender equality than most mechanical or civil engineering jobs though, yes. Women are still way under 20% of software eng students though, so I'd say there are still problems.
posted by GuyZero at 10:47 AM on March 11, 2011


Can someone clarify what this old-school boy's culture means?

It means looking to the pre-existing social and professional network of men when considering a new hire, promotion, or consulting contract rather than realizing that turning to that network perpetuates the exclusion of women.

It means not investing in women employees through training, advancement, and leadership positions because you think (consciously or unconsciously) that they will leave or that they aren't the primary breadwinner.

It means expecting women employees to plan social events, man the phone when the receptionist is out, keep the office clean, and generally do a lot of menial work or jobs that were traditionally "women's work."

It means not caring about sexist language and behavior (e.g. inappropriate language, ogling).

That kind of stuff.
posted by jedicus at 10:48 AM on March 11, 2011 [11 favorites]


A slightly different take than jedicus' --
Some hallmarks of old-school boy's culture might include demeaning jokes about sex and women, going out to strip clubs after work, harsh teasing or even physical jostling and rough-housing, hyper-competitiveness and shit-giving, flaunting poor hygiene or borderline disgusting habits, "joking" sexual harassment of women in the office, long discussions of sports, fishing and hunting, and general macho posturing.

(That's general od-school boy's culture, not specific to engineering).
posted by msalt at 10:49 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm a girl in engineering school right now, and I've been passing this article around to my friends next to me (mefi during class, tsk tsk). I think we all vaguely knew what we were getting into when we picked engineering, but there definitely is a bit of a boys-club vibe at times. Kinda disappointing that it continues (for some, at least) on past school. I know quite a few people who have switched or are planning to switch out. Oh well...
posted by btfreek at 10:51 AM on March 11, 2011


To add to jedicus's list, It means not being able to go out for lunch with a colleague without triggering suspicion of a romantic or sexual affair.
posted by rocket88 at 10:51 AM on March 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


Thanks for the insights peeps.
I'm also curious as to what the "engineering school culture" GuyZero mentioned really means. I went to an engineering school with a nearly 50/50 ratio of men/women, but since I wasn't an engineering major I guess I don't know what engineering school culture means in the context of this discussion.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 10:53 AM on March 11, 2011


I wonder if I need my consciousness raised or to chase you kids off my lawn?
posted by infini at 10:55 AM on March 11, 2011


Can someone clarify what this old-school boy's culture means?

It's what they call the clique of like-minded individuals who work together. Imagine a group of 30-50 year-old guys who all* went to the same sort of school, all* like roughly the same sort of things, all* are dealing with the same sorts of social issues, all* have the same sorts of mental frameworks. These are the guys who cluster around the barbeque at yard parties, swapping work and sports stories.

They may not be bad guys, but they all share the same culture, the same referents and understand how everyone fits into the social network. They help each other find jobs, they do favours for each other at work.

Someone who does not share that culture, be they female or a recent immigrant or simply a social misfit, will find many doors closed. This is less intentional than a by-product of the clique preferentially looking out for its own members. When choosing who to put on a project, it will be an insider rather than an outsider. When awards are given out, it will be to the insiders all* of the time. When promotions are discussed... you get the idea. The group supports and mentors its new members, while outsiders get to have the scraps.

*all means the super-majority, say three quarters or more
posted by bonehead at 10:56 AM on March 11, 2011 [18 favorites]


The Biggest Dreamer: "Can someone clarify what this old-school boy's culture means?"

I'm in college, but here some indicators:
* silence or even hostility when feminism is mentioned (this is a big one, in my experience)
* 'that's what she said,' 'because she's a woman,' or 'I'd hit that' jokes get laughs
* enter a party, hear 'wow, this is a sausage fest' and then cheer when the first woman joins
* sometimes these things are done 'ironically' but the joke has been dead for a long time now.

I've never experienced the strip clubs or sports talks myself (because we are, at the end of the day, nerds) but I can imagine that's a part of old-boys culture more generally.

I haven't really worked yet, but I hope it's better than this. As a guy, this still icks me out and I tend not to spend time with other engineers as a result.
posted by grammar corrections at 10:56 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


Frankly, I have issues with this study, but "WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ????" is not one of them.

This wasn't a "what about the menz" question the way you think it was. It's more like this:

"This study shows that women leave engineering more than men do."
"But the questions are pretty damn vague. The reasons women give for leaving aren't questions about things specific to being women -- like they'll say people 'don't like the long hours' or 'hate their boss' rather than saying people 'disliked a misogynist environment' or 'couldn't get maternity leave. Both men AND women hate bosses and hate long hours, so how do we know this is just about women?"
"Okay, well, if these issues affect both men AND women, then why aren't an equal number of men AND women leaving?"

That's where that came from; it wasn't a "what about the menz" thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:01 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


In my whole career, I have only been able to talk sports with four engineering coworkers. Three of them were women.
posted by rocket88 at 11:02 AM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm just going to throw in my little bit of anecdata:
My boyfriend works for an engineering firm. They do a lot of oil field work. They used to have a few female engineering employees (they still have a female receptionist!), but they quit within a year of being hired. Female employees cannot be sent to sites overnight without female bathrooms and separate sleeping quarters. Most rigs and work sites don't have them. My bf has also mentioned (he was trying to cut down on his porn consumption) the pervasiveness of porn offshore. It's on most desktops (background and screensaver!) and you can always find a calendar or two. Not to mention the magazines in the bathroom.

Engineering does not always mean an office environment.
posted by domo at 11:03 AM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


rocket88: There have been a number of comments of the form of "I don't see/do/hear this, so it must not be that bad."

Just because you didn't see your boss groping a coworker doesn't mean that there are not tons of very subtle forces at work that any female professional will have to face every single day. It's not just about individual actions, it's a system that too many people choose not to think about.

adipocere: It sucks that men are expected to be breadwinners. The myth of masculinity is just as horrible as the myth of femininity. But imagine that you choose to be a stay-at-home dad. Society would applaud you and hail you as the best father since Cliff Huxtable.

Women who choose to be working mothers are criticized and judged by men and women alike. "How can you let your children be raised by a nanny?" or "You know, it's so much better for a child to have their mother at home."

So no, I'm not grateful that I have a socially acceptable "Plan B" because Plan B sucks. I want to be able to make the same choices that men can make with regard to my career and parenthood.
posted by annekate at 11:05 AM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm also curious as to what the "engineering school culture" GuyZero mentioned really means.

Here's one example: in my experience at two different schools it was a common part of the culture to spend late nights working in the lab, which means going home late at night, which is obviously particularly problematic for women. The alternative, not spending late nights at the lab, means depriving yourself of social bonding and the assistance of classmates.

Beyond that, there's a lot of the same general misogyny as well as nerd culture-specific misogyny that pervades working environments.
posted by jedicus at 11:05 AM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]


grammar corrections, I work in IT and I've been taken to the strip club by a vendor before. I know, anecdotes are not data, but still. It happens. I'm a girl, btw.
posted by domo at 11:06 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's worth remembering that the number of women in computer science and engineering programs has substantially declined over the last 30 years, while women in other science majors has increased. So the question isn't just "Why are there fewer women in engineering?" but "Why is it getting worse?" It's highly plausible to me that engineering culture is becoming more sexist, a reactionary response to increasing women's rights in society as a whole.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:07 AM on March 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


One statistic that I learned somewhat recently that struck me hard was how much more common it was for mid and high-level men in technology to have a partner that works part time or not at all, as compared to women. Here's one of the studies (forgive the pdf format, search for "partner works" if you're interested). I mean, shit. Men in tech are twice as likely to have a partner that has full responsibility for the household/children (and the fact that it is twice as likely indicates that this study was done of senior women, if you look at mid-career women it is more like 4X as likely cite). Man, that one hit hard. Those senior women you meet in your companies? The few you know, especially the ones that have kids? They are probably fucking extreme time management rockstars.

Anyway, you think that doesn't color the expectations of people in the workplace in a way that makes it very difficult for women? This one's in the sometimes-invisible backpack.
posted by ch1x0r at 11:08 AM on March 11, 2011 [20 favorites]


IANAE but I work in a company with a lot of them, obviously mostly male. The upside: the women's room is almost always empty. The downside: they exclusively show ESPN on the TV in the cafeteria.
posted by desjardins at 11:08 AM on March 11, 2011


"This study shows that women leave engineering more than men do."
"But the questions are pretty damn vague. The reasons women give for leaving aren't questions about things specific to being women -- like they'll say people 'don't like the long hours' or 'hate their boss' rather than saying people 'disliked a misogynist environment' or 'couldn't get maternity leave. Both men AND women hate bosses and hate long hours, so how do we know this is just about women?"
"Okay, well, if these issues affect both men AND women, then why aren't an equal number of men AND women leaving?"


"Good question! Someone should do a study on that."
posted by kafziel at 11:09 AM on March 11, 2011


When people talk about lousy work/life balance, they're not joking. During the big snowstorm here in Chicago, one of the largest engineering firms on the planet told their local staff that they were expected to work until the usual hour that day (ie., late), and to be in the office next morning at the usual time.

...if anyone thought they couldn't make it, they were told to go stay in a nearby hotel. The cost of the hotel was not going to be reimbursed, but hey, they did wrangle a $120/night rate as a lovely lovely gesture of their concern.

By the time they sent that message, the Drive was about a half hour away from being closed by the police.

Did you have kids to pick up from school? Tough luck, the Principal will probably take care of them somehow, work late you bastard.
posted by aramaic at 11:09 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm also curious as to what the "engineering school culture" GuyZero mentioned really means.

So I don't know if I can really define it, but one thing that's been missing from most of these descriptions is the drinking. Like, all the time. So if you're not comfortable with being an alcoholic, you may find engineering school isn;t your thing.

On the other hand, if we compare msalt's list to my personal experiences...

Some hallmarks of old-school boy's culture might include demeaning jokes about sex and women, going out to strip clubs after work,

Nope - ok, there was a term where there were a lot of "your mother" jokes. I'll chalk that up more to immaturity than sexism, but you're free to take it as you want.

harsh teasing or even physical jostling and rough-housing

Nope

hyper-competitiveness and shit-giving

Ok, sure. But I'm a little wary of saying that this is somehow anti-woman. I have known some hyper-competitive, shit-giving women in my time and I say that with a great deal of respect for them. Again, I'm not trying to speak for anyone here, just IMO.

flaunting poor hygiene or borderline disgusting habits,

Well, most of us weren't very stylish, but we didn't outright stink

"joking" sexual harassment of women in the office,

Even 20 years ago engineering students knew this wasn't cool.

long discussions of sports, fishing and hunting, and general macho posturing.

I had a few friends who were oddly into fishing, but honestly the electrical & computer engineering department had to have the least macho bunch of guys on campus.

And yet... it still had the lowest proportion of women.

Perhaps they were put off by our love of science fiction.

Now, again, this is not to be dismissive of real problems. But when it comes to computer engineering, I suspect there's a certain amount of reverse sexism going on. We were one ugly bunch of guys. Fat. Badly dressed. Socially awkward. Totally strange interests and hobbies.

I think the issue is that if you looked at the students at all, any "normal" person would have been put off by the student body in electrical & computer eng. All of us were there because we were fascinated by the subject matter and it never dawned on us until much later that we were a pretty freaky bunch.

And, having said all that, other areas like mechanical, civil & chemical were like alternate universes. Their cultures were utterly different. I had more in common culturally with english majors than I did with students in other engineering departments. Maybe my school was just weird.

As others have noted, "engineering" is a pretty broad field and it's probably easier to make blanket statements about women than about engineering workplaces.
posted by GuyZero at 11:12 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm also curious as to what the "engineering school culture" GuyZero mentioned really means.

My experience: it was kind of gauntlet attitude and a certain amount of arrogance among the faculty. Lots and lots of lectures that were more or less "look, kids, this is hard stuff, it's not for everyone, maybe it's not even for you." It was easy for me to brush this off and maybe even look forward to getting into this exclusive club when I was still doing the pre-reqs (which I all but aced). But it didn't stop after I got in, and a year inside, I was still getting those "you might want to consider something else" lectures from upperclassmen or faculty when I'd ask for help or advice, and I realized it was part of the culture.

I was already a little bit unsure about EE as a path. This kindof pushed me over the edge. I switched to math, arguably not any less demanding, but the faculty seemed more patient and helpful.

Interestingly, more women there.

On preview:

in my experience at two different schools it was a common part of the culture to spend late nights working in the lab

Oh, yeah. In fact, I think the engineering building might have been the only one on campus where students had all-hours access. Staying late -- even all night -- to study or work on projects was considered entirely standard. Safety issues and social issues.
posted by weston at 11:16 AM on March 11, 2011


muddgirl: "Well then, given that engineering jobs suck, why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave"

Because men have we (men) often have a perverse, masochistic streak manifested in *pride* in being beat down.
posted by notsnot at 11:16 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Add to that the influence of culture and countries, after all they have engineering schools on most continents, as well as women, its getting pretty fragmented.

As for bonehead's description, how does taht network differ from racism or xenophobia?
posted by infini at 11:16 AM on March 11, 2011


In fact, I think the engineering building might have been the only one on campus where students had all-hours access.

At our school it was the architects that were practically chained to their desks. Our structures professor claimed that it was their punishment for not being good at math.
posted by electroboy at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Engineering firms aren't respectful of the work-home boundary," one respondent wrote. "At the firm I worked for, engineers were expected to take work home, work late, or travel often with little warning."

Men could have the same complaints, but they haven't left the field as often.


I notice there's one comment in this thread characterizing this as being about "family reasons" and another comment saying it's not about "family reasons." Actually, we don't know. And we should admit how little we know about the underlying truth. A study just gives a partial view of the truth. Someone might tell a researcher "I didn't like taking work home" while they're really thinking "Taking work home isn't compatible with raising a family." Or, of course, they might just hate taking work home because that's an inherently unpleasant thing to have to do.

But either way, let's be clear: the finding that women are less likely to want to take work home or work late or travel with little warning is not the same thing as a finding that there's usually an anti-woman environment in the field of engineering. Those could be just rough things to deal with, for a man or a woman. Women are free to have different preferences than men, but this fact itself isn't evidence that they're victimized by sexism at every turn. It could just show that ... women have different preferences than men!

Furthermore, I don't see why we should expect a given field to cater to women's preferences rather than men's preferences. Some fields simply require long hours. I don't know anything about engineering, but I know about law. If you're the lead lawyer on a case for your law firm, and your client has an urgent need to seek some kind of court order (for instance, a restraining order), the court might need you to work late nights or weekends, or even fly out of town at a moment's notice. And that's going to be less apealing to some men and women than to other men and women. That isn't misogyny; that's just life.

Notably, the study says that family reasons are one fourth (which is actually a lot!) of why women leave engineering; it didn't say that the other three fourths are all about an environment that has a gender-based hostility against women. The article at the first link fudges the actual findings with a paragraph like this:

One third of the women who did not enter engineering after graduation said it was because of their perceptions of the field as being inflexible, or of the workplace culture as being non-supportive of women.

I don't know how much of that "one third" is about actual sexism, such as condescending commenters from male students/employees that are consistently directed at their female classmates/colleagues. To the extent that it's about, for instance, women disliking inflexible hours even more than men dislike inflexible hours, that, again, is not the same thing as sexism.
posted by John Cohen at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2011 [7 favorites]


Granted it's been a while, but my Engineering school experience was definitely sexist and misogynist. And I'm not happy to say I participated and contributed to that, mostly because of a desire to fit in and because I simply didn't know better. I hope it's improved since then.
posted by rocket88 at 11:22 AM on March 11, 2011


The myth of masculinity is just as horrible as the myth of femininity. But imagine that you choose to be a stay-at-home dad. Society would applaud you and hail you as the best father since Cliff Huxtable.

I think you underestimate the degree to which men who are not in high flying careers are considered to be failures at life who aren't worthy of sex, let alone marriage.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 11:22 AM on March 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


On post-view, I should have written "appealing," with two Ps.
posted by John Cohen at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2011


John Cohen, I can't believe you actually think that the reason women don't like working all hours of the day is "preference". I would prefer to get overtime. I like my job. But the fact of the matter is, Robert makes more than three times what I do. So who is going to stay home on sick days? Who is going to leave early to pick up the kids? Robert would love to do that, and I would love to let him. But we both know that isn't what is going to happen. If we have children, I will have to give up on advancement in my chosen field. Simple as that. There are needs that must be met. And I am not even the one who wants kids.
posted by domo at 11:27 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The myth of masculinity is just as horrible as the myth of femininity. But imagine that you choose to be a stay-at-home dad. Society would applaud you and hail you as the best father since Cliff Huxtable.

Really? Do you have any evidence for that? That's not my impression.

Look at how we raise kids. It's the norm for girls to pretend they're loving, caring mommies. What kind of reaction does a boy get if he goes around pretending to be a doting stay-at-home dad? I'm pretty sure he'll be teased more than if he pretends to murder or torture people. Society raises boys to be violent and aggressive and uninterested in raising children, and then we turn around and criticizen men (rightly) for being too violent and aggressive and uninterested in raising children. Men have to take responsibility for this, since they're adults with free will, but I'm not nearly as sanguine as you seem to be about how we "applaud" stay-at-home dads. I only wish we did.

My dad recently wrote this comment on my blog (which I'm not linking to so as not to self-link; you can Google it if you want):
I was a stay-home father for six years, writing books at the same time, and I think I did a good job, and it was very rewarding for me, but I can't say I was always comfortable in the role. I wish I'd been more so -- my discomfort was completely unnecessary, the result of culturally based insecurities.
posted by John Cohen at 11:31 AM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Here's an outsider perspective on the "guy culture." First, the disclaimers: my anecdata is from a "welding engineering" program, which is only barely engineering -- it's likely to yield more technicians with some engineering expertise than full-on engineers. These students are largely drawn from the local region, which is very blue-collar working-class rural, so regardless of major, they tend to lack the veneer of bourgeois polish that you'd find in the general college student population.

I'm a woman teaching a 300-level technical writing course section with 20 of these welding engineering students in it (3 from other techie majors). Two of the WE students are women. I have worked with many of this program's students before -- in ones and twos -- and have found them and still do find them as individuals bright, capable, motivated, etc. The two women in this cohort are, as far as I can tell, treated respectfully as peers in direct interactions.

Here are some things that have occurred IN MY CLASSROOM during the past eight weeks:

1. The first day we worked in our computer lab, a woman from another class came in before class started and asked to use a stapler. I overheard a couple of my male students make remarks about "licking chops" and "maybe we should lock the door."

2. About the second week of class, I popped around the room asking students to tell me the websites they were using for a professional website analysis project. One said, "Hustler.com."

3. My favorite -- To introduce the class to Google Docs to use for their team projects, I created a Doc file and shared it with the class, then told them each (at separate computers) to type in a few lines and save to see what happened. The file was also projected on the screen; I had already told them that this was a communal document everyone would see. Someone immediately typed, "[Name] is a cock-juggling thundercunt." So we had to have a conversation about professional demeanor, Google Doc's permanent revision history, etc., etc.

4. During a small-group activity on usability testing instructions, one male class member made a wing-flapping origami bird on his own and then proclaimed loudly to the entire room, "And I did it without any fucking instructions, bitches!"

5. Constant conversation before, during, and after class about only these topics: welding, snowmobiling, fishing, hunting, motorcycles/trucks and repairing them. Again, to be fair, those are pretty popular topics even among some women in the area, but come on, every damn minute?

6. Also constant jockeying for position, scoring points off one another, belittling, etc. in a really juvenile petty competition mode.

None of this stuff personally offends me, except to the extent that it can make it hard to do my job sometimes. But Jesus, if I had to work in a culture saturated in this stuff and in which these were the people calling the shots about my day-to-day working conditions, it'd get old really fast. It's astonishing to see the difference between the individual personalities of these students, which are almost 100% nice, and the way they behave in a pack.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:31 AM on March 11, 2011 [32 favorites]


The myth of masculinity is just as horrible as the myth of femininity. But imagine that you choose to be a stay-at-home dad. Society would applaud you and hail you as the best father since Cliff Huxtable.

Totally OT, but my dad was a stay at home dad for a while and woudn't even take me to the park because he thought people looked at him funny. Yes this was a long time ago and anecdotes are not data but I don't think pressure for men to be the provider has decreased.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:41 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


John Cohen, I think that the way our society treats stay-at-home dads is horrible. Hell, it's hard to just be a father. And it is rooted in the patriarchy. This is really two sides of the same argument. More men would like to spend time with their kids and more women want to be able to work and succeed in their careers. When you are put on the "mommy track" against your will, it is hard to argue that you can bring home the bacon while your mister takes care of family things. And when you can't take your kids to the park without people looking at you like you are a serial killer, it's easier to let your wife do it. We choose the path of least resistance, and everyone is worse off for it.
posted by domo at 11:42 AM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


But imagine that you choose to be a stay-at-home dad. Society would applaud you and hail you as the best father since Cliff Huxtable.

I think there's a big regional split here.

In central Toronto I knew lots of stay-at-home dads or dads who had very flexible careers, like writers, musicians or people who worked in the film industry where the work is irregular.

Outside of these very yuppie areas, the level of support for being a dad at home drops off a lot to the point where people assume you're mentally ill or something.
posted by GuyZero at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


But either way, let's be clear: the finding that women are less likely to want to take work home or work late or travel with little warning is not the same thing as a finding that there's usually an anti-woman environment in the field of engineering. Those could be just rough things to deal with, for a man or a woman. Women are free to have different preferences than men, but this fact itself isn't evidence that they're victimized by sexism at every turn. It could just show that ... women have different preferences than men!

Well, it does if it means that you've set up a culture where people without a stay-at-home spouse will find it hard to succeed no matter how talented they are at the job, because that just isn't likely to happen for most women. And you're not an engineer, so let me speak as one in that area: there is nothing inherent about software engineering that should lead to extremely irregular work hours. And yet software engineers are regularly faced with jobs that expect extreme hours due to, mostly, mis-management (by both managers and the engineers themselves). There is no bloody reason that most people in tech should need to work extreme hours most of the time. I can't speak for all women, but as a woman who knows that she will occasionally work very long hours, and the daughter of a woman that had a schedule of extreme hours a couple months every year, we can take it if it is relatively predictable and not all the time (at the end of a product release cycle, during tax season, whatever). But constantly is not what I killed myself for many years in school to sign up for. It's not necessary, it's not ultimately very productive, and it is a great way to lose talent.

And that's the thing: we are LOSING TALENT. People can keep saying "suck it up, I guess this isn't for you", but we're losing talent left and right in these fields. Women are the canary in the coal mine in this. If women are dropping out, you'd best believe that native-born workers of both genders are dropping out, or not entering in the first place. Which is a problem if you want to ensure jobs for the people that live in your country right now. Tech is a growth industry, do you want to choke it off from lack of talent because you think people should suck it up and deal with extreme working hours?

So yes, we should care about this stuff, and not dismiss it as just part of the job. Because it doesn't have to be, it affects everyone negatively, and it can be fixed if enough people care to pay attention to it.
posted by ch1x0r at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2011 [16 favorites]


"Speaking as an engineer, engineering as a profession does suck. All the reasons listed in the article (too much travel, lack of advancement, low salary, long working hours, unclear work objectives, lack of company planning (my personal favorite)) are SOP, and should be expected at the workplace. "

But frankly, they shouldn't be. That's a shitty expectation for any workplace, and one that workers should bristle against (*cough* unions).
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Down with engineering!
posted by mmrtnt at 11:48 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chiming in as a programmer, another male dominated career.

Yes, vendors will take you to strip clubs. Not rank and file programmers though. If you are in a position to purchase goods or services they will take you to strip clubs. This is true of all professions though, if you are buying 10000 widgets and a trip to the strip club will influence what vendor you go with, they will take you to a strip club. FWIW we now have female sales people that take female executives to spas and what have you. This is not to minimize the problems presented by taking people to strip clubs but it is certainly a reflection on who control the budgets.

I am more likely to be able to have a conversation about Stargate SG1 than sports with my fellow developers, I'm not sure if this is not equally problematic.

There are *a lot* of forces preventing women and minorities from getting hired and getting promotions. Most people hire, socialize with , and promote people like them, so even if sexism and racism is not entirely overt, women and minorites are certainly negatively affected.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:59 AM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


i found this ask.me question and responses to be very interesting when talking about how to draw women to a software engineering firm.
posted by nadawi at 12:00 PM on March 11, 2011


Just a wild-ass theory with no facts to back it up, but I wouldn't rule out the effect gender differences in the rates of having high-functioning autism. Males for whatever reason tend to end up having the sorts of quirks/symptoms that make things like working long hours on technical things with little or no social contact more satisfying.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:05 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but that's just software. If you're talking oil refineries or upstream stuff like drilling rigs, the sexism is very blatant and the work is totally different. Then we have auto design firms, civil eng firms, etc, etc. It's only us keyboard jocks that get the autism rap.
posted by GuyZero at 12:07 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


one MBA manager asked a female engineer to cover the phones when the receptionist was away!!!

This was an AskMe question from a few months ago, yes? (Although I'm sure it's happened to more than one person.) But I'm pretty sure I remember a female engineer asking either here or on the straight dope how she should interpret being asked to watch the phones while the receptionist went to lunch.
posted by frobozz at 12:09 PM on March 11, 2011


In an "always on" engineering culture ...

I have a very good friend who works in civil engineering and yeah, the job kinda blows. Lots of travel to podunk airports, long hours, minimal vacation, and not great pay.

But I would never describe the culture as "always on" - it took his firm like 15 years to build one freeway on-ramp.

Because men have we (men) often have a perverse, masochistic streak manifested in *pride* in being beat down.

Women like to sub (professionally and personally) just as much as men do ...

The myth of masculinity is just as horrible as the myth of femininity. But imagine that you choose to be a stay-at-home dad. Society would applaud you and hail you as the best father since Cliff Huxtable.

...

I think there's a big regional split here.


Hm, I'm gonna nix the regional split. I live in one of the most (rigidly) tolerant places in the country (Berkeley, CA), and even here, the stay-at-home Dad is considered a comical figure. (I'd still do it if we could afford it. We still might!) I don't think perceptions are much different than in my hometown, Louisville, KY.

Anyone who thinks that stay-at-home dads are lionized watches too much reality television or something.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:11 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, here it is. Slightly misremembered details.
posted by frobozz at 12:12 PM on March 11, 2011


Not to thread-sit, but I believe the study is more about how to *retain* women in the engineering field - well, finding out why they are leaving can help you understand what to do to keep them. The video in the study link mentions some of the efforts currently being done to increase the number of women entering engineering fields, and I can see how firms want to know how best to retain these valuable assets after putting so much effort into developing them in the first place.
posted by jillithd at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2011


Like several others upthread I'm on the IT side of 'engineering' (aka the people real engineers hate for self-labeling as engineers). My own observations have been that the higher up I've progressed the fewer women there were, but the ones that are there are pretty badass at their jobs. Whether they are also properly respected by their peers or management is another matter. I suppose it's an extreme case of corporate Darwinism, where the rampant sexism is an unfortunate artificial selector that takes with it many more competent, moderate or even lackluster female candidates, leaving only (some) of the best.

Come to think of it, I sort of wish that happened to the male population as well. In any case, I'm never quite sure what to do or say when this topic comes up. Beyond my own behavior in the workplace, what can be done to foster a more equitable balance? Until we have a good answer threads like this will remain all too common. Sigh.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 12:15 PM on March 11, 2011


one MBA manager asked a female engineer to cover the phones when the receptionist was away!!!

Meh. I've worked in a few different civil engineering offices. Answering the phones usually gets relegated to the most junior engineer (a man, in my current office) or whoever the receptionist sits closest to/is most friendly with. At our branch office, one of the CAD guys answers when the recptionist is away.
posted by electroboy at 12:17 PM on March 11, 2011


But imagine that you choose to be a stay-at-home dad. Society would applaud you and hail you as the best father since Cliff Huxtable.

Just to continue this offshoot topic slightly - I (the dad) took 3 months of parental leave with my son last year - I'm out in Oakville (for those of you not in the Toronto area, it's a pretty "real housewives" kind of suburb outside Toronto). There are a MILLION programs and during-the-day events for stay at home moms, but if you show up to one of these as a stay at home dad? You are, at best, looked at as a curiosity. It's basically impossible to integrate into these groups as a male, and my wife couldn't figure out why I didn't want to try more of them.

And the number of comments I got along the lines of "Oh, are you off from work to babysit the little guy today?" was astounding. When I explained to people that I was actually on leave, the vast majority of responses was of a "Really? Your wife let you do that?" tone as opposed to a "That's awesome, you're such a great dad!" tone. So I don't think that it's quite reached majority opinion yet, that stay-at-home dads are considered the most amazing thing ever.
posted by antifuse at 12:17 PM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've been in engineering my whole life, and it's my opinion that there is a cultural hurdle that seems to be higher for women than men. I can't recall witnessing a single incident of inappropriate behavior towards women, and if you'd have asked me 10 years ago I would have said that I had been lucky to work in such non-discriminatory places. Oh, I'm male by the way. However, the truth is that, in hindsight, I think these environments dissuaded women proportionally much more than men. I wouldn't call them a hostile work environment, but I would definitely categorize them as unfair in a non-obvious way. Fellinibank captured a piece of it with:

"really juvenile petty competition mode."

I would add the following to describe some of the cultures I've seen:

I can invent better than you
Leave me alone I'm busy
Prove it (by this I mean having to withstand hyper-critical peer analysis)

These environments typically had a fairly rigid hierarchy (whether formal or informal), with a "this is the way you do things here" culture.

I know about 10x as many men than women who would have tolerated (if not enjoyed) working in such environments, whether that's true or not in general I don't know. Personally, I'm lucky that I don't have to work in those types of environments anymore. The one's I've seen have always imploded after a period of time, the energy gets so focused on the internal that the big picture gets lost. Don't get me wrong, they may produce great technical stuff, but it tends to be driven by the technical requirements, rather than market, customer, or general business requirements.
posted by forforf at 12:33 PM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


So, for example, maybe life as engineer sucks equally for men and women, and women are more likely to leave because they're less likely to be the sole breadwinner.
smcdow: I think it's because they have more self-respect.
Really, we're going to let that slide? "Reverse" sexism isn't okay. I think the gender roles that strongly imply a man is a failure if he's not working and/or the breadwinner are more to blame, but y'know, sure, let's suggest men just have less self-respect. That's useful...

There was a thread some months ago, maybe a year or so, about sexual harassment where a female Metafilterean (who apparently was in her 20's and working at Microsoft) said, point blank, she had no idea what people were talking about: that her workplace was unbelievably respectful, that co-workers were nothing but professional, and that these things literally did not exist. Her experiences were ignored or dismissed by those with an axe to grind, but it's worth noting that while sexism is no doubt alive and well in many areas, including many engineering jobs, not all engineering jobs are the same, not all workplaces are the same. I suspect those working in software engineering jobs in Silicon Valley or Seattle technology companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Expedia, et al are not seeing sexual harassment on any meaningful scale.

However, those jobs can still suck if you as an employee are not adamant about maintaining those work/life boundaries and time management. That's not a gender thing, it's a "the software industry will happily work you every waking moment if you let them" thing. And it's not inconceivable that if we're seeing actual gender disparities in leaving the software engineering field, it's as likely much the acceptability of leaving a job/career line if you don't have the social pressure to stay the principal breadwinner.

Then again, one of my good friends still works at MS and has for more than a decade. She just got another promotion, and her husband (who was let go during layoffs a year and change ago) has spent all of his time recently in a Pixar-run computer animation school to change careers while she supports the household expenses.
posted by hincandenza at 12:38 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


.. let's suggest men just have less self-respect ...

Jeeze, this isn't about sexism nor sexual harassment. Anyone, male or female, who continues to work in a job that makes them miserable (for any reason whatsoever) is demonstrating that they have little self-respect. In my nearly 30 years as an engineer, I have see many more men than women continue to put up with a job they hate.

... those jobs can still suck if you as an employee are not adamant about maintaining those work/life boundaries and time management ...

How very disingenuous of you. There plenty of engineering jobs out there (nay, the entire profession, even) where management expectations and/or working conditions WILL NOT LET YOU maintain those those work/life boundaries, no matter how adamant you are. Trying to pretend otherwise is just naive. Trust me on this one. I used to be an engineering manager. Engineers are replaceable. They're just cogs. Really. If your work/life balance is more important to you than finishing the job and meeting the deadline, then you can be easily replaced with someone who "has their priorities straight".

So, if you hate your engineering job, and you can't get the snickering management to respect your precious work/life boundaries, then your only solution is to go out and find another engineering job (which will likely land you right back with the same work/life boundary issues). Loop on this for a while, and one begins to realize that maybe a different profession might be better for one's self-respect.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't even think about engineering as a profession.
posted by smcdow at 1:03 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well then, given that engineering jobs suck, why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave?

Its the men who are making them leave...muddgirl.

I was dating someone who worked in this environment. Lots of young engineers...lots of geeks. She told me about the shitty conditions all the time. I told her to document everything and put it in a file.

She stopped talking to me about that altogether, so I figured everything was ok.

A year later, she told me she had compiled a file full of all sorts of documentation. She wasn't being harassed or anything...she said they were kind of scared of her because she was female. But what surprising was how they used the term "rape" in everyday conversation.

The term "rape" was used like "Pwn" as in "I raped that project so hard". Over the course of 11 months, she documented 1300+ uses of that word. I immediately said "Why didn't you tell HR or your manager". She did. She talked to the HR person who talked to her manager. She didn't notice any changes, but then started realizing that the older manager started using the term to make friends with the young engineers.

She quit later on because she claims "she didn't like it". But hell...thats a fucking hostile environment if I've ever heard of one.

So yeah...men not leaving...its because they create the environment.

Come on guys...sometimes you make me embarassed to have a dick. I know you're nerds and all...but you know about respect, right?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:08 PM on March 11, 2011 [14 favorites]


The term "rape" was used like "Pwn" as in "I raped that project so hard".

This.

I heard this all the time at school. Everyone was constantly raping exams, or being raped by them. I didn't even enter into conversations about gaming.

Engineers are replaceable. They're just cogs.

There's a lot of companies out there that operate under this mentality, and they suck. However, there are others out there that will actually treat their employees like human beings (and that realize they can actually get higher quality work out of their employees if they are treated like humans). Those places are golden, and they do exist.
posted by molecicco at 1:16 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone was constantly raping exams, or being raped by them. I didn't even enter into conversations about gaming.

And... I'm lost. Privilege, backpacks, etc, etc but I seriously don't even understand how this exists. Who are these people? Actually... I don't even want to know.
posted by GuyZero at 1:33 PM on March 11, 2011


I've never heard the term used like that. Must be a regional thing.
posted by rocket88 at 1:45 PM on March 11, 2011


You stop noticing the sexism once you've been so overworked that only caffeine pills keep your head from dropping into a deep sleep on the keyboard. Then you realize that you can't live like this and you quit. Many women are just more quick to realize this. When I told my father how little sleep I was getting (2-3 hours a night) he just said it was normal.
posted by melissam at 1:49 PM on March 11, 2011


Who are these people?

People who don't understand the barrier between the gaming world and the real world, who also don't understand the gaming world is somewhat messed up.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 1:50 PM on March 11, 2011


Yeah, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't last more than a few weeks at my job if I started "raping" memos.
posted by gagglezoomer at 1:50 PM on March 11, 2011


Everyone was constantly raping exams, or being raped by them. I didn't even enter into conversations about gaming.

And... I'm lost. Privilege, backpacks, etc, etc but I seriously don't even understand how this exists. Who are these people? Actually... I don't even want to know.


Me neither. I have an engineering degree and did several internships at engineering companies, and this is definitely not a common thing, nor would it have been remotely acceptable at the places that I interned at.
posted by gyc at 1:52 PM on March 11, 2011


That language would get you diciplined, frog-marched out the door, and perhaps sued personally in my workplace.
posted by bonehead at 1:57 PM on March 11, 2011


Yeah, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't last more than a few weeks at my job if I started "raping" memos.

I don't doubt people talk like this but I don't even say "that server is getting pounded". I do say "hammered" though. I'm strangely tempted to throw out a "I raped that iteration" during a meeting to see what happnes but doing it ironically is just as bad

I've seen someone get reprimanded for saying he "went all queer eye" on a UI element after he redesigned it.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:00 PM on March 11, 2011


One thing's for certain, at my job, about 100-200 times a day, something is either getting fucked, fucking something, about to get fucked or about to fuck something.
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:09 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, in all seriousness here, there's swearing and then there's using the word "rape" casually. If you don't like swearing that's OK but I don't know if it moves out of being generally negative into sexual harassment territory. Because I sure as hell have some business contacts who, when I am asked about them, I generally describe as being "totally fucked". Mostly because it's true.

But if other people honestly feel that using the term "fucked" is workplace sexual harassment I guess you'll let me know.
posted by GuyZero at 2:16 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the first day of my first job as a programmer, my boss told a "funny story" about a former computer science professor of his who couldn't keep his eyes off of a female graduate student's erect nipples. There were two older female managers in the room, and I thought, "I can't believe he's telling this story. This guy is going to get in serious trouble."

Sometime after the meeting I approached one of the women present and sort of hinted that the story might have been inappropriate. She laughed it off and said "That's just Bob being Bob." (Names changed to protect the guilty.)

Later I learned that both of these women were good friends of Bob's and that Bob wasn't a bad guy (a really good manager, actually).

Apparently laughing off these kinds of things is what leads to women becoming technical managers. They are comfortable inside a boys club, maybe even prefer it. But if you aren't the kind of woman who laughs them off? Maybe you don't reach that level of advancement.

But more than this kind of overt caddishness, as time's gone on I've found again and again that male programmers are often highly ineffective because of ego-politics and lack of communication skills. Effective female programmers, I've noticed, not only do their technical work well but also often play the role of broker between men who otherwise could not or would not communicate, either because of inability or mutual dislike.

The teams women are on are almost always more effective, in my personal experience, because of it. But contrary to any expectation that they might receive credit for playing this role, it is typically ignored, denigrated, or resented, even as it is relied upon for making a team effective. Male programmers are often mystified why projects with women on them are so much more successful, chalk it up to luck, and go on about their day. In the meantime, they often interpret women's willingness to communicate, share knowledge, etc, as weakness.

The men in these situations aren't evil. They are just accustomed to a certain style of working. If you don't communicate well, you probably don't notice it, and you probably don't appreciate those who do. Not only that, you denigrate those who do even as you benefit from their abilities, because you consciously or unconsciously realize that you CAN'T do what they do.

From my admittedly anecdotal experience, I would guess women feel unwelcome on engineering teams because engineering protects a culture of competitive masculine bravado, poor social skills, and general brattiness, while failing to see how those things limit that culture.

For the Darwinian, "RTFM" culture of software development, cooperation and communication are anathema. Women who are also relatively lacking in social skills, or who also find cooperation and communication irrelevant or annoying, are often at home there.

But at the risk of stereotyping, women tend in general to be less deficient in men in these areas, even when they are relatively less deficient than other women.
posted by macross city flaneur at 2:31 PM on March 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


sorry, end of last line should read "...relatively more deficient than other women."
posted by macross city flaneur at 2:33 PM on March 11, 2011


Just some anecdata, not trying to prove or disprove any claims about engineers or engineering. I work for a civil engineering firm, about 1/3 of our engineers are women and the project managers on my last two projects have both been women. One generates a huge volume of business for the firm (so much so that her bad behavior is often ignored by management), the other is on-track to run our branch office when our current VP retires.

I don't think any of it is coincidence. We're a fairly progressive, employee-owned firm that makes reasonable accomodations for people with kids and allows women to work part-time after maternity leave. We're probably the exception though, as engineering tends to be a pretty conservative profession. We have one principal who came from one of the old school firms that had some serious problems when he first started.
posted by electroboy at 2:37 PM on March 11, 2011


Anecdata from my point of view:

I work in a very "ivory tower" company, but my day-to-day is embedded with military folks, mostly civilians. My company - engineers all, from the CEO down, is very big on Doing Things Right, I feel. Lots of talk about diversity, work/life balance, the whole nine yards. We do satisfaction surveys annually and the results are shared with the employee base; I've never seen anyone complain of sexism or unfair working conditions in these. Notices of awards handed out, highlights on high performing programs, all seem equally split between men and women.

The military establishment is quite a bit different, but most of those people are not engineers. A lot of machismo, a lot of one-upmanship, dirty/racist jokes... You really need a thick skin to survive. Luckily I have a cubicle in a far corner and I don't have to hear most of this shit. Business trips that involve groups of people are tough, because there's a lot of drinking and figurative dick-swinging.

Where I see "discrimination" if you want to call it that is in education level (at my company) and ageism (with the military folks). If you don't have a doctorate, the general feeling is you get passed up for a lot of the independent R&D dollars, the really high profile programs, things like that. In the trenches, no one listens to me because I'm younger than a lot of their kids. I actually had someone (unfortunately, a fellow employee of my company) tell me TO MY FACE that I "look too young" and the bullshit "I never would, but other people might" think less of me for it.
posted by backseatpilot at 2:38 PM on March 11, 2011


Apparently laughing off these kinds of things is what leads to women becoming technical managers. They are comfortable inside a boys club, maybe even prefer it. But if you aren't the kind of woman who laughs them off? Maybe you don't reach that level of advancement.

This. I agree with you 100%...but the fact remains that THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH THAT TYPE OF BULLSHIT IN ORDER TO EXCEL IN THE WORKPLACE!

I've never heard the term used like that. Must be a regional thing.
If by region, you mean "United States", then yes. I have only heard it in that ONE region. Within that region, I have heard it used by a pretty specific demographic...and its the kind of demographic that goes into technical jobs.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:44 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually had someone (unfortunately, a fellow employee of my company) tell me TO MY FACE that I "look too young" and the bullshit "I never would, but other people might" think less of me for it.

If you're complaining about lack of opportunity and promotion because you are TOO YOUNG, that's what we call a GOOD PROBLEM
posted by gagglezoomer at 2:45 PM on March 11, 2011


"THEY SHOULD NOT HAVE TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH THAT TYPE OF BULLSHIT IN ORDER TO EXCEL IN THE WORKPLACE"

hal_c_on, I completely agree. Hope that was implicit in my post.
posted by macross city flaneur at 2:46 PM on March 11, 2011


I heard this all the time at school. Everyone was constantly raping exams, or being raped by them. I didn't even enter into conversations about gaming.

Same, I definitely heard this a lot back in my high school physics class (and most of the people there were on track to getting engineering degrees). It's been a lot less common now that I'm in college, but it's unfortunate that this still continues in some workplaces.
posted by movicont at 2:58 PM on March 11, 2011


Well, it was funny at a faculty meeting when the CIO informed a faculty member that she, being a woman, just could not understand his pile of technical information. She smiled and said, "Oh, I don't know, I may be able to since I am the chair of the Computer Science Department." Yeah, that was just a few years ago. Where is this enlightened fellow now? I believe he is in the Chancellor's IT group now. So, the sexism thing can be real overt, even in the ivory tower.
posted by jadepearl at 2:58 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


But imagine that you choose to be a stay-at-home dad. Society would applaud you and hail you as the best father since Cliff Huxtable.

I've been the stay-at-home dad and I can tell you that reality is almost 180-degrees away from that. You need to see the stares from other women as you, a middle-aged man, browse through the grocery in the middle of the morning with your 8-year-old girl. Those stares are not "What a great Dad" stares. There were no smiles. No communal parental nods. They were harsh frowns. Sneers. They were the stares of women working through their heads whether or not they should call-in an Amber alert.

Scared the crap out of me.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:30 PM on March 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


Man, you want to talk invisible backpacks, apparently I've managed to live my entire adult life in places where people are mostly nice. Who are all these crazy people?
posted by GuyZero at 4:48 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well then, given that engineering jobs suck, why do proportionally fewer men realize this fact and leave?

There is a thread of feminist thought that goes like this: part of the expression of sexism is in the narrow and harmful ways we require men to be "tough", "self-sufficient" and "uncomplaining." It actually hurts men, in that professions that cater to this stereotype (engineering, it seems, but there are certainly others) use it to exploit them. If you've read Animal Farm, you can think of it as Boxer syndrome; the belief that you prove your worth as a superior person/a man by just working harder, till the day you collapse and they take you off to the glue farm.

"That's just the way engineering is" is, ironically, a profoundly non-engineering-type answer. If a system has significant problems, you don't just shrug about them; you try to fix them. In this case, you could hire enough people, enforce time off, etc. etc. in order to prevent burnout and avoid running off talented people. Including women.

Women have not been raised with this particular brand of masochism (ours is more based around unpaid professions like childrearing and caretaking, but that's another post). Not being taught from an early age that it is essential to their identity to be tough, strong, and uncomplaining even if it means they can have no personal life, perhaps more of them recoil and go looking for better setups.
posted by emjaybee at 5:47 PM on March 11, 2011 [13 favorites]


Not being taught from an early age that it is essential to their identity to be tough, strong, and uncomplaining even if it means they can have no personal life, perhaps more of them recoil and go looking for better setups.

It also means that in those environments where it is valued, choices like that mean that women, in general, are perceived as unserious about the job, and the vicious cycle perpetuates itself. I've seen it in grad school (the whole lab being expected to be at work at midnight on a Friday night), I've seen it in private and public organizations.
posted by bonehead at 6:30 PM on March 11, 2011


For over a decade, I've been good friends with someone who is an engineer at Very Big Military Contractor. As a result, I've seen a few things over the years that raised my eyebrows.

-An expectation that you learned some of the formative engineering information in childhood (often through a supportive father, perhaps an engineer himself). For women of my generation (I'm on the cusp of Millennial/Gen-X), this wasn't necessarily the case.

-An expectation that yes, you will travel anywhere, at any time, interrupting your vacation and even your sick leave to go off to the subcontractor's site and break heads (or whatever). This simply doesn't work as people enter their 30s and start settling down with a family; you've got to have a supportive spouse for this to work at all (and even today, supportive spouses are often still women).

-An expectation that you can and will suddenly alter your schedule from 9-5s to third shift (midnight-8am, though in reality it seems to be midnight-as long as possible) for several months at a time. Again, typically not possible to raise a family without a supportive spouse making sure that all the kiddos are getting to school and doing homework and getting tucked into bed.

-An expectation that you will look, act, and speak a certain familiar way (foreign-born engineers in Engineer Friend's department were not well-regarded and were specifically given scut work, and I have yet to hear Engineer Friend speak of women as equally competent in engineering. Admittedly, he is a genius engineer. But never ever, in ten years?).

Given all of that, especially after a certain amount of time in the profession, I can see why engineering women say 'Fuck it.' That's a lot to ask, and a lot to overcome and it surely gets wearying.

Why don't men do the same thing? For one thing, I'd say they have different, perhaps fewer pressures than women. Women battle a sometimes hostile ('I raped that fucker!'), sometimes merely indifferent (lacking mentors and/or supportive bosses) workplace for respect, acknowledgment, and ultimately promotion.

What does that mean?

-That means sidelining into 'Mommy Track' jobs such as sales (That's an outsider's perspective; from dealing with Engineering Friend, it seems like engineers hold more respect for those who stick with the pure engineering track).
-That means taking a flex-time job at a smaller firm or the federal government or anywhere with hours more friendly towards a family (again, women still absorb more of the burden in this realm; think of all those studies showing women do six hours of childrearing and housecleaning to men's two hours or whatever).
-That means turning a blind eye to blatant sexism because acknowledging it has the potential to kick you out of the 'club' (because women who do make it into the club can often feel on precarious ground).
-That means that being held to a standard that men don't face--crappy male engineers being just a bad hire but crappy female engineers being the proof that women can't hack engineering.
-That means leaving engineering because work-life balance is not a myth and if engineering firms are stuck in the 1950s, then there's only so many years (remember, too, the huge issue that women have with rapidly declining fertility in their 30s) you can spend within that system while planning for a family.
-Etc.

Note that I have no doubt that there are supportive engineering firms out there, men and women alike who don't fit their stereotypes, and so on. I am merely stating what this outsider's perspective is on the issue.
posted by librarylis at 7:01 PM on March 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


One statistic that I learned somewhat recently that struck me hard was how much more common it was for mid and high-level men in technology to have a partner that works part time or not at all, as compared to women.

Yes, thank you. There's an assumption that the default worker has a full-time unpaid nanny, cook and housekeeper. We say, "Ellen makes less than John because she took off time to take care of her children." We don't say, "John makes more than Ellen because he had someone at home full time to take care of his children and do his housework."

But we say, "Pete makes more than John because he works Provigil-fueled 20-hour days." Not, "John makes less than Pete because he spends so much time sleeping."
posted by Ralston McTodd at 7:20 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


This thread is kind of great.
I've been working 6-7 days a week, 12 hour days for quite a while now.
I'm supposed to fly out for some meeting on monday not really sure of the details for some unspecified amount of time.

I'm going to smack the next person who asks me what the eta on some fix is or if i can just get this little feature ASAP because some suit changed their mind or all of these items are a priority or this thing i have no control over that some other team wrote has regressed or ... or ... or ...

The reason women leave is because they know they have other options, and that this crap is stupid.
posted by captaincrouton at 7:26 PM on March 11, 2011


Why do I stay in? I don't know. I've been contemplating leaving engineering for my whole career -- even before I got out of school.
You're not alone. I've been looking for a way out since I was a sophomore. Engineering doesn't pay enough to be worthwhile but it does pay just enough to keep me from doing something less soul-crushing. A person's got to retire someday and that isn't cheap.
posted by blockhead at 9:52 PM on March 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reason women leave is because they know they have other options, and that this crap is stupid.

This whole tired debate over, men make more than women, women have more choices than men, keeps repeating because we never examine one fundamental assumption -- that the person who makes more money is "winning."

Obviously, it's easier to measure (82 cents on the dollar, or whatever). But so is life expectancy, and women live longer than men.
posted by msalt at 12:33 AM on March 12, 2011


I'm out in Oakville (for those of you not in the Toronto area, it's a pretty "real housewives" kind of suburb outside Toronto). There are a MILLION programs and during-the-day events for stay at home moms, but if you show up to one of these as a stay at home dad? You are, at best, looked at as a curiosity. It's basically impossible to integrate into these groups as a male, and my wife couldn't figure out why I didn't want to try more of them.

And the number of comments I got along the lines of "Oh, are you off from work to babysit the little guy today?" was astounding.


Nthing this. Same experience for me, in San Francisco. It's not even regional. The real life experience is 7-0 against the idea of support for stay-at-home dads.
posted by msalt at 12:37 AM on March 12, 2011


The teams women are on are almost always more effective, in my personal experience, because of it. But contrary to any expectation that they might receive credit for playing this role, it is typically ignored, denigrated, or resented, even as it is relied upon for making a team effective. Male programmers are often mystified why projects with women on them are so much more successful, chalk it up to luck, and go on about their day. In the meantime, they often interpret women's willingness to communicate, share knowledge, etc, as weakness.

This.

And yes, this thread has been raising my consciousness, making me aware and giving me a lot of food for thought. My exposure to engineering was not in the first world.
posted by infini at 2:21 AM on March 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was educated as an engineer, and as a software consultant, I've worked with IT departments the world over. I believe there's definitely a strong cultural bias against women choosing such careers in some parts of the world.

For example, in my limited experience, IT/MIS especially is a popular career choice for women in Northern and Central Europe (less so in the UK I think). I've worked with IT departments in Scandinavia where the only male ppl were outside consultants. In my part of the world (Greece), MIS is a very popular choice for women; mech/electrical engineering less so but definitely not to the extent of US engineering schools.

I wont judge the causes, but I think there's also a negative feedback loop at play here; just like a guy doesn't wanna show up in an education class and be one of the 10% or so, I am sure women mind the reverse as well. As soon as the population tips one way or the other consistently, it's pretty much guaranteed to go to the extreme.
posted by costas at 4:22 AM on March 12, 2011


Another (male) engineer weighing in here...

As someone active in recruiting for my company, as well as someone active in advisory boards for both my alma maters, there is a real pyramid problem. We don't get a lot of women engineers since we don't get a lot of women applicants (and those we do get have a lot of very competitive offers). The major reason we don't get a lot of applicants is that there aren't a huge number of women getting graduate degrees. And that's because women are also less likely to enter graduate studies. And enter engineering in the first place.

Even with good retention and advancement (women do well in both of these at my company), the deck is stacked against us from the beginning. Add in the other issues that can make engineering a tough job (especially when it comes to work-life balance), and I'm not surprised at the results.
posted by kaszeta at 7:18 AM on March 12, 2011


For those saying that they have never come across this kind of stuff (like the "rape" comments I mentioned above) it may have to do with which kind of engineering you are involved with. I mean, chemical engineering was, at my school, majority women. And civil engineering was roughly half and half. I was in mechanical engineering (maybe 85% men or more) and there was a sort of nerdy-jock thing going on in overdrive.
posted by molecicco at 10:07 AM on March 12, 2011


One statistic that I learned somewhat recently that struck me hard was how much more common it was for mid and high-level men in technology to have a partner that works part time or not at all, as compared to women.

Yeah, I remember at my old job being kind of jealous of the mostly immigrant men eating homemade lunchs made by their wives while I ate from the vending machines.
posted by melissam at 1:06 PM on March 12, 2011


there is a real pyramid problem.

Indeed, part of the problem may be that the workplace & culture isn't as accumulative to women because there's few women to accommodate. If half of the graduating class was women, I think problem would be easier solved long term.

I regularly meet with people from the CS dept at my alma mater, and the problem they face is the funnel starts out too small. Places like CMU can make gender parity quickly, but Random State University has problems getting women to apply for the program, let alone admit them. From what I've noticed, the problem is more pronounced in undergraduates, who are dramatically more US born and cultured. Apparently, high school girls don't identify as nerds.

I blame Big Bang Theory.
posted by pwnguin at 5:12 PM on March 12, 2011


I finally finished reading that Phillip Greenspun link. Ay ay ay ay ay ay ay. That guy not only sees fit to boast about how he graduated from high school at age 14 and MIT at age 18, but considers himself qualified to judge everybody in the sciences in the United States who is not an immigrant, tenured professor, or corporate manager as a loser. That set of people includes millions. Includes me.

What a dick.
posted by bukvich at 11:22 AM on March 13, 2011


considers himself qualified to judge everybody in the sciences in the United States who is not an immigrant, tenured professor, or corporate manager as a loser.

Speaking as someone who would also be considered a loser by these standards, I don't think that's his point.

But I've noticed that a couple of people I've directed towards this article have also come away with a related reading and/or taken offense at a number of Greenspun's admittedly sharp statements ("looking for job with a 'second rate has-been' label on his forehead", "men tend to lack perspective", talk of "society's economic winners"). I might agree that some of these statements are over-the-top and perhaps needlessly incendiary... but it's a mistake to focus on them and come away with "anybody who doesn't succeed like I did or make it in this way is a failure."

His point is pretty much these things:

1) making even a bid for a place in academic science requires a huge upfront investment, arguably bigger than just about any other career. And the competition is stiff; getting a place (let alone a high status place) is far from guaranteed.

2) the socioeconomic rewards are actually not very great... certainly relative to other professional options

3) the demands of job itself can turn out to be much higher than you might imagine.

4) many women seem to have better awareness about socioeconomic status/rewards than many men

His comments like "second rate has been" aren't meant to imply you're a loser, they're meant to point out that if your goal is to work in academic science, the obstacles to career success are higher than you might think, and there are higher rewards elsewhere. His comments about immigrants are to highlight that if you're a bright person who comes from a place where the economic rewards available are lower than those in academic science, well then, clearly it's a pretty good opportunity, particularly considering the ease of getting an academic visiting/immigration status vs a work visa. His comments about corporate managers are there to highlight the rewards available in that profession.

Now, there are a lot of varying personal standards for success. Greenspun acknowledges this when he talks about the scientists he knows that "are like kids who never grow up... love what they do... wear a big smile both days." I'm certainly down with the idea that it may not be all about the money; I've turned down some fantastic opportunities because some non-financial values (relationships, freedom to focus on what I'm most interested in, ability to spend my limited number of spring days outside). Anybody who can make th calculation to their satisfaction can probably safely ignore the problems with investment vs likely rewards Greenspun highlights.

I also know people for whom coming through academic science hasn't seemed horribly traumatic or catastrophic. An old friend of mine got a PhD in toxicology years back, had the potential to be paid quite handsomely by big pharma, though he's happily working for a state government, has a good wife and has adopted two kids. Not a loser. Might have done better as a doctor or a vet, but he's fine. Lots of other people are. I doubt Greenspun would disagree.

But I think his basic points about investment vs likely rewards are sound, and his point about women's general awareness of socioeconomic status/rewards seems plausible.
posted by weston at 1:23 PM on March 13, 2011


O.K. weston fair enough. I shall retreat a little to maybe he's a dick.
posted by bukvich at 8:52 AM on March 14, 2011


The Greenspun perspective is interesting in that that's the perspective you have if your major motivator is money. He's a dick because he dismisses non-monetary motivators as childish.

I, and lots of other practicing science and engineering types I know, want a comfortable living wage, but aren't terribly fussed about being "rich". If my neighbour makes more than I do, more power to her. What I want is a job I got to each day where I can "wear a big smile". That's the reward for me that drives much of my work-life balance and I'm the happier for that. In effect, I've chosen happiness over money. I consider myself both very lucky and priviledged to be able to do so. I'd personally hate to be in a boring job that paid twice as much (and I could be; I've had offers).
posted by bonehead at 9:49 AM on March 14, 2011


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