4 min. read

Why Women Are Leaving Your Engineering Team?

And what you can do about it

Let’s have an uncomfortable conversation. Have you noticed a trend of women leaving your engineering team? If you have, it’s not just you. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, female engineers are more likely to quit the profession than men, with as much as 57% of women dropping off the roster of professional engineers by the time they reach age 45, as opposed to only 17% of men. 

Maybe women just don’t like engineering? 

If that was the case, women wouldn’t make up 41% (or 6.6 million) of scientists and engineers across the EU in 2020. This is a big achievement considering that back in 2008 this percentage was 32%. Yet, this value is still lower than ideal and mostly it does not represent the totality of countries.

So if the rate of women engineers is increasing, why are so many still leaving the profession? 

Women must leave engineering to stay at home and start a family. At least, that’s the common wisdom. Those who subscribe to that belief will be surprised to find out that most women who leave engineering will not be found sitting at home. 

So what is the real reason women are leaving your engineering teams?

1. Women are paid less than men

As per a study of 4,000 women who had recently switched from engineering, 43% of those surveyed believe that female workers are paid less than men. When it comes to the salary of female engineers, statistics in 2020 show that they earn 11% less than their male counterparts on average. Why? Because it’s rare for women to hold senior and, therefore, high-paying roles. 

Three things you can do right now to close this gap at your company:

➔ Conduct a pay audit

➔ Ensure that hirings and promotions are fair

➔ Make sure women have equal opportunities for advancement


2.Lack of advancement opportunities 

Following on from the first point, lack of advancement opportunities was stated as the top reason for women leaving the profession in one study. Women, and especially women of colour, can often feel invisible at work and your company will suffer for it. 

In order to build a stronger culture, managers, co-workers and executives must give credit where credit’s due. An easy way to show praise and bring unnoticed work to light is to send out frequent emails or internal messages to your group highlighting ideas and projects brought about by women.

3.Lack of role models

Of course, a common advocation is that women in STEM need more role models. Engineering has traditionally been male and as a woman it can be hard to imagine yourself in such a male-dominated environment. Even when performing equally, women may feel less confident in their abilities.

Female students are more likely to choose a major in STEM when they are assigned a female professor instead of a male one. Retention of junior-level female employees is highly correlated with the number of female supervisors. Regardless of how many scientific studies are cited, it’s hard for men to imagine women would be good CEO’s if they don’t see many of them. It’s that simple. When men see women do it, they know it’s possible. When women see other women do it, they know it’s achievable.

As Caroline Spillane, Director General of Engineers Ireland, says:

“Breaking down barriers and encouraging girls to enter the profession and young women to remain in the sector is crucial, as is showcasing the many varied, exciting career opportunities that are on offer in this respect.”

4. Harassment

There is the big pink elephant in every room, that includes engineering. According to the Schimmel and Parks attorneys website, half of all women in engineering schools experience some form of sexual harassment. Whether it be an unwelcome touch, a comment about her appearance or unwanted attention. 

Harassment can also include discriminatory harassment, abuse of power, psychological harassment and bullying. While there are numerous ways to combat this, some places to start are setting the right tone from the top, ensuring employees know how to recognize harassment and raising awareness of unconscious bias and microaggressions.

5. Stereotyping

Teamwork is a huge part of engineering. Unfortunately, women often report being given menial tasks in group projects and often relegated to outdated, stereotypically female roles. Tech companies often put women at client facing positions, thanks to the stereotype that women have better soft skills, with the core tech positions going to the men on the team. Women in the team are also usually given the IT infra roles when the role requires dealing with IT equipment, with the stereotype that women are physically weak to perform those tasks.

According to MIT professor Susan S. Silbey, engineering needs to tackle its stereotyping and gendered expectations, to start. In short, she says, “The culture has to learn to take women seriously.”

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