The Impact of Changing Engineering Perceptions on Women's Behavioral Intentions to Pursue and Remain in Engineering Fields

2019-08-02T13:42:59Z (GMT) by Cassondra L Batz-Barbarich
In recent decades women have continued to move towards, and even reach, equality with men in terms of educational and professional representation and success in numerous fields. Yet women consistently are underrepresented in the field of engineering in both settings. The present study sought to develop and test interventions in both academic and employment settings aimed at promoting women’s behavioral intentions to pursue and remain within engineering. Grounded in Social Role Theory and the Theory of Planned Behavior, I proposed that an intervention involving a shift of emphasis in the perceptions of engineering toward the communal and people-oriented aspects of engineering roles – increasing engineering’s alignment to women’s gender identity.
To empirically test the effectiveness of the intervention, I conducted two studies using two populations of women. The first study involved women who had not yet declared a major and the second study involved women who were presently working as an engineer. The aim was to examine the effectiveness of the intervention to increase women’s intention to pursue an engineering major and women’s intention to remain versus leave an engineering career, in Study One and Study Two, respectively. I predicted that women in the condition emphasizing the communal and people-oriented aspects of engineering would experience more positive outcomes as compared to women in the condition emphasizing the agentic and thing-oriented aspects of engineering.
Collectively, the results were mixed in terms of supporting the effectiveness of the intervention on the outcomes of interest for the study populations. For Study One, there was substantial support for the intervention’s positive impact on women’s attitudes and behavioral intentions, particularly for women who had not previously considered engineering. However, for Study Two, there was no support for the intervention’s effectiveness. While helping to improve women’s intention to pursue engineering is important, future work must continue to seek theoretically and empirically founded ways to improve women’s state in engineering across all stages of the academic and employment cycle.