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Gender gaps in engineering: Are women’s workplace experiences a key factor

If women earn 1/5 of all engineering degrees; why are only 11 percent of engineers in the workplace women?

Gender gaps in engineering: Are women’s workplace experiences a key factor

It could have something to do with their day-to-day workplace experiences. Most recent research (Miller and Wai, 2015) shows that although the gender gap in STEM education has narrowed, a disparity may still exist between the number of men and women engineers in the workforce. In addition, there is research (Center for Talent Innovation, 2014) suggesting that women who enter STEM occupations may be more likely than men to leave the field despite enthusiasm for their disciplines.

Funded by the ORAU-Directed Research and Development program, ORAU and Univ. of Mississippi researchers have partnered to try to explain why this gap exists, using the framework of Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT proposes that people thrive in situations that allow them to do more activities they personally value and find enjoyable; this is called intrinsic motivation. Workplaces can support or thwart employees’ needs and intrinsic motivation by either providing or restricting individual opportunities to demonstrate one’s competence, autonomy, and relatedness. These experiences explain occupational outcomes, such as job satisfaction and work engagement.

ORAU and Univ. of Mississippi researchers will conduct surveys to measure SDT variables in STEM and non-STEM workforces, assess the impact of SDT in workforce persistence for STEM workers, and inform STEM workforce development initiatives through an enhanced understanding of gender differences and similarities.

In addition, much of the literature on the STEM workforce has focused on academia and faculty while not including many other types of workplaces, such as manufacturing facilities, independent research and development labs or engineering firms. This study will include participants outside of academia and also explore whether the experiences of highly technical and sciencebased manufacturing and research positions that do not require a four-year college degree in a STEM field differ in their daily workplace experiences from those in more traditional STEM positions.

The results of this study will be released in 2020 at https://www.orau.org/universitypartnerships/member-grant-programs/odrd.html.