I’ve read many comments and posts in response to our results on “Stemming the Tide”, and I want to address some of these over the next few weeks. Today I want to discuss the number of posts from both men and women who insist that women leave to raise a family, or to care for family members. Of course, this is true for some women, and about a quarter of the nearly 790 women in our survey who left engineering said this was a reason for leaving. For some women, this is a great choice, and we all need to respect their decision.
However, 3 out of 4 left for other-or additional- reasons. Because we did not ask participants to choose just one reason, but had a list of many options, it could be that raising a family was one of many reasons that women chose to leave the field. We heard from women who said that leaving to raise a family was not their first choice, and if the work environment had been more welcoming or flexible, and if supervisors and coworkers had been more supportive of employees’ balancing multiple roles, they might not have made that choice.
I am concerned about the women who felt that the environment was so unfriendly that leaving the organization and career of engineering was preferable to staying. In short, they chose to leave a paycheck and their training and identity as engineers. Many women commented in the survey and also have sent us personal emails attesting to how wrenching it is to make the decision to leave a career for which they were prepared. And many of the women who left engineering for other fields moved to be in more supportive and family-friendly organizations and fields.
Bottom line- it’s not all about family for most of the women who left engineering. We think a key implication of our study is that employers of engineers can take steps to keep women in engineering careers—like becoming more flexible about work schedules. We also think that this is probably helpful to ALL engineers, men and women. We hope to learn about best practices for engaging and retaining women engineers through this exchange of information on www.studyofwork.com
What do you think?
Do men leave engineering careers for more flexible/supportive work environments?
How does your company handle work-life balance and need for flexibility?