Impact of social supports on persistent women engineers perspectives from the United States and India
Lower representation of women in the engineering and computer science workforce is a global problem. In the United States, women in engineering drop out at a rate higher than their male counterparts. The male/female ratio in the engineering workforce has remained stagnant despite growing percentages of graduates. Women dropout due to familial responsibilities and they leave to take positions in other industries. In India, women are also employed at a lower rate than men. Many studies address the reasons why women leave, but few studies address why they stay. Those that do, address the personal and organizational characteristics that enable women to persist. Little research was found regarding the social supports that further women's ability to persist in the male-dominated field of engineering. This study surveyed 173 men and women engineers in the United States and India as well as collected qualitative data. The research focused on the social supports of family, friends, a special person, supervisors, coworkers, and professional networking, to determine how they support engineering persistence in the four demographics. The participants were scored on their level of persistence and the impact of social supports was evaluated against it. All supports were significant, although not for all demographics. Social supports of family, friends and a special person were more important to the sample of engineers from India, a collectivist culture. The importance of the supervisor relationship to women in the United States was reaffirmed. Professional networking, informal or formal, was the only support significantly related to persistence across all demographics. In the qualitative data there was a strong theme; coworkers are their friends and they support them in their engineering life. As companies re-think their organizational environment and attempt to change engineering culture and long-standing attitudes, women can engage in creating strong social supports and assist in building quality professional networking opportunities. A strong web of support strengthens a woman engineer’s ability to persist during difficult times and provides them opportunities for personal and career growth. It can also be a vehicle for furthering diversity and inclusion in their organizations.