Tech culture still pushing out women, study finds

Social dynamics and “culture fit” are a big reason that female engineers leave

discrimination women
Stephen Sauer

Social dynamics and “culture fit” are a big reason that female engineers tend to stay in the profession at a lower rate than their male counterparts, according to a study released today by authors at MIT, University of California – Irvine, Michigan, and McGill.

The research was conducted by having more than 40 undergraduate engineering students keep bi-monthly diaries, providing the study with more than 3,000 entries to analyze. The results were published in a paper titled "Persistence is cultural: Professional socialization and the persistence of sex segregation," in the May issue of Work and Occupations.

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Particularly in the case of internships, summer work, and team-building exercises, the study found women feel excluded and marginalized with their male counterparts receiving better opportunities.

“It turns out gender makes a big difference,” said MIT professor Susan Silbey, one of the study’s authors. “It’s a cultural phenomenon.”

This phenomenon, the authors say, is why women account for 20% of engineering degrees awarded, but just 13% of the engineering workforce. Outside of formal instruction and classwork, the less-formal atmosphere of these activities can be unwelcoming.

“For many women, their first encounter with collaboration is to be treated in gender stereotypical ways,” the paper reads.

The tech world has engaged in several public bouts of soul-searching over its general lack of diversity, particularly along the axis of gender. Major players like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and so on have publicly released some of their employment numbers, which demonstrate that they’re substantially more male – roughly 68%, averaged across 12 large companies compiled by GigaOm in 2014.

Yet there have been few concrete steps taken to reduce the gender gap, particularly in the engineering ranks. The tech sector’s idealized vision of itself as a meritocracy has been counterproductive in realizing those changes, since many refuse to admit that there is a problem at all.


Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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