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Strategies to encourage and retain women in engineering: A case study approach Strategies to encourage and retain women in engineering: A case study approach HOT

Structured Abstract 

BACKGROUND  

It  has  long  been  identified  in  Australia  that  the  number  of  women  enrolled  in  engineering  degree courses is far below that of their male counterparts. Many studies have endeavoured to address this frustrating,  ongoing  imbalance.  Studies  show  that  there  is  a  significant  lack  of  awareness  among female  secondary  students  of  what  engineers  actually  do.  Therefore,  it  is  not  surprising  that  many students entering the tertiary sector have little appreciation of what is involved in studying engineering. Furthermore, factors such as the identification of engineering as a male pursuit, poor academic self-confidence and feelings of intimidation continue to contribute to the inequality of female participation and retention in engineering studies. 

PURPOSE 

Our  aim  in  this  study  was  to  gain  a  deeper  understanding  of  the  influential  factors  that  could  be addressed within a university’s engineering school to encourage and improve the retention of women in engineering pathways. 

DESIGN  

We followed a two-staged case study approach. During stage one, we investigated quantitatively the extent of the perceived problem using student profiles. The statistical data collected over a period of four  years  (2008  –  2011)  revealed  a  low  progression  rate  of  female  students  to  the  Masters  of Engineering  from  a  Bachelor  of  Science.  In  order  to  understand  the  reasons  for  such  a  low progression rate, in stage two, qualitative data were drawn from focus group interviews with twenty-three (23) female students from differing year and course stages. Participants were asked about their thoughts  and  expectations  prior  to  entering  university  and  their  subsequent  study  experiences including, likes and dislikes of their engineering subjects.  

RESULTS  

Based on our findings, we propose various strategies for encouraging and retaining female students in engineering  pathways  broadly  classified  under  two  categories:  (1)  Teaching  approaches  and  (2) Engagement.  Key  factors  related  to  teaching  approaches  included  attitude,  language  and approachability of teaching staff, awareness of gender composition and workload balance in teams as well as the importance of explaining the usefulness of content in the real-world. Other pertinent factors related to engagement included networking with industry professionals, female role models both within the university and in industry and fostering peer-support events. 

CONCLUSIONS  

Based on this study we have proposed a framework with recommendations that address the factors voiced by the experiences of our participants. While we have limited capability to change uninformed perceptions before students, female and male, enter university studies, this proposed framework may well be a guide to impact on the way we engage our teaching and learning practices in engineering.  

 

KEYWORDS  

Student retention, teaching approaches, engagement

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Created 2016-11-13
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