The Lack of Role Models & A Negative Perception

The retention of female engineers has been a recurring problem, both in college and in their profession, even after completing their degree and landing a job as an engineer, women leave the field at much higher rates than men. A primary reason for this is the stress caused by the lack of role models and peers along with the negative perceptions and experiences they have.  Researches at Harvard Business review looked further into these experiences and surveyed more than 330 engineers (43%  were female) along with interviewing 20 female engineers at professional conferences in order to provide insight into these issues [1].  From their research, they found that many female engineers are often forced into performing gendered tasks in the office (often viewed as feminine and lower status) such as communication, organization, relationship building, and running simple calculations at a desk job.  These are often the non-technical tasks that are assigned to most interns at the office.  Even some of the male co-workers that were interviewed by the researchers stated that "Women do better at managerial roles…a lot of them display the traits to be a good manager, they care about their people, they care about how they communicate, how they develop products…If you have 10 engineers in a room, from our company, they’re all going to be smart, but it’s the one who can communicate well, the one that can get people behind them…they’re stereotypically female." [1]. This starts to make many female engineers feel as if they aren't "real" engineers as they often feel like their skills as engineers are not being tested, while further reinforcing the stereotype that female engineers are less skilled than their male counterparts, resulting in many of them leaving the workforce believing that their career would not have meaningful growth as shown in research conducted by the Royal Academy of Engineering showing that 57% of female engineers drop off the register of professional engineering before the age of 45 while only 17% of male engineers do the same. [2]

Also influencing this is the negative perceptions many women have on the field of engineering.  Take a moment to think of the word engineer, whats the first image that comes to mind? Just like the photo above of the NASA engineers at work, many people immediatly imagine large groups of men in professional outfits drawing up blueprints, soldering complex circuits, or guy toiling away at a construction site working around heavy equipment. None of this seems very welcoming to many people, and even if they do enjoy this type of atmosphere many of them are pushed away about the negative experiences they have as an engineering student. Many female students often reported being treated differetly by not just their peers, but also their professors [2].Even from a very young age women were gently turned away from the idea of engineering, in an interview with Liz Hofer, a female engineer, she stated that in elementary school during the health education class, the girls were sent off with female teachers to talk about mensturation and other stuff, while the boys got to design and race mousetrap cards, and even when the girls petionted to join them, the school deined their offer.  Hofer was only able to thrive in the field due to the support of her parents who "were really good at encouraging me to be curious and creative"[4].  But many girls are not as lucky as Hofer to have such support early on and they often feel left out as girls which carries on as they age.  One female engineer said that "It does feel uncomfortable when you go to a site and realise everyone is starting at you, simply beavuse your gender makes you seem out of place". [2]

The poor initial image, a negative workplace enviornment[3], and a lack of support ends up creating a self-perpetuating issue with many women who work in the engineering field feeling as if they are always part of the unincluded minority, this often leads to many female engineers leaving the work force. This creates a negative image of the that discourages young professionals and young aspiring engineers to enter the field creating a negative feedback loop that suppresses the influx of women into the field. 

This is why women have to be consistently inspired and advanced in engineering fields, in order to break the cage of negative perceptions that has been fencing passionate and aspiring female engineers from pursuing and entering the profession.    



  1. Cardador, M. Teresa, and Brianna Barker Caza. 2018. “The Subtle Stressors Making Women Want to Leave Engineering.” Harvard Business Review, November 23, 2018.

  2. “Why Aren’t There More Women in Engineering?” 2021. Buro Happold (blog). June 29, 2021.

  3. Margheri, Laura. 2015. “Raise the Visibility of Women in Engineering [Women in Engineering].” IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine 22 (1): 143–46.

  4. “The Engineering Gender Gap: It’s More than a Numbers Game.” n.d. University Affairs (blog). Accessed November 11, 2021.

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