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Women in Business

  • Career
  • 6 minutes (1133 words)

Doing an engineering related study is becoming more and more popular. This because engineering studies often promise more job security than other non-engineering study programs. The increase in people who start such a study can be primarily seen in the amount of women. This amount has increased with 26.8% over the past 5 years, according to the Central Statistical Office. Even at the IEM program in Groningen it has become evident; since 2010 the number of women that start the IEM program has increased with 116.7%.  However, still quite a lot of women with a technical background leave this field of expertise, to get a non-engineering related job. Only 30% of all high technically educated women will end up working in an engineering function. This loss is twice as high as that of technically educated men. Nevertheless, technical universities and companies recently made progress with respect to improving the attractiveness of getting job in a technical environment for women, for example with joining the charter; “Talent naar de Top”. This charter sets goals to obtain more diversity with respect to gender, within technical companies and organizations. But why isn’t this working, and why will women leave the engineering work area even though they appear to have affinity with technology?

Perhaps you are wondering now, why this gender diversity is that important for companies and organizations? Although, the charter “Talent naar de Top” is not well known among most people, the goal at which the charter is aiming is quite well known. As stated before, the charter sets goals to achieve an improved diversity of women and men in engineering related working environments. This because diversity seems to ensure that decisions are thought out more thoroughly and that alterations regarding decisions will be taken more seriously. This can subsequently lead to better financial results. Some research, for example a research conducted by McKinsey & Company, have proved that companies with men and women in top functions perform better, considering the average performance of companies from the same sector. So, diversity proves to make companies more efficient and profitable, and achieving this diversity is what the charter is aiming to do.

The charter focuses on the realization of this diversity by setting certain goals and measures. Besides this, it provides a certain type of commitment for those who join the charter. It is a public commitment, in which participating parties commit to clear and measurable goals, and allow the charter to monitor the achieved results. Participation is voluntary, but surely not non-committal. One of the most well known goals of this charter is to achieve a rate of 30% of top jobs fulfilled by women. Unfortunately, this rate has not yet been achieved in almost all participating parties since the charter was first founded.

The question that will arise is, how is it possible that women choose for the right education, but do not end up at a top function? Especially since women are already scarce in technical companies, it is very important to implement diversity concerning technical top functions. The report “Vrouwen weg van techniek” shows some insight into why there is such a high number of women leaving the engineering field: technical companies would not be well adjusted to women, women would have less opportunities to develop themselves and the needs and expectations of women do not connect with the actual work situation.

According to the same report it appears that companies are indeed consistent with the charter and set the right goals for themselves, but the culture within the company remains unchanged. This means that relatively many technical functions are a full-time job, while many women indicate that they would prefer a flexible work schedule. Unfortunately, the average division factor within technical areas is significantly higher than in non-technical areas, which means that it is harder for women to work part-time jobs.

In addition, the decision to exit the engineering world can be a result of the small number of women working in engineering; it is a self-reinforcing process. This is because women might feel like they receive less recognition from colleagues when they are working in a team with few women. Besides that, in such teams women often get less challenging tasks and less recognition for achievements. This has a negative impact on the satisfaction level of the women working in technical companies. This lack of satisfaction may turn into an incentive to apply for another job in a non-engineering area.

Although, doing an engineering study does not mean that someone has enough affinity with engineering to work in that area for the rest of her life. According to the research “Vrouwen Weg van Techniek”, it turns out that women who wanted to have a certain function or job, and choose an engineering study to achieve that function or job, have more chance to remain in the engineering field. Women who chose for an engineering study simply because they were good at beta courses, or women who were stimulated by campaigns which were aiming at getting more women in technical jobs, will more likely drop out of the engineering area. The number of participants in the above mentioned research was too small to draw any conclusions, but it seems that women who do not end up in a technical area did not have a good overall view of what they wanted to achieve with their engineering study.

In addition, another reason for the lack of women in technical areas might be that when women chose for scientific education, the probability of choosing a study such as biology or biomedical sciences is more convenient than choosing a more specific engineering study such as civil- or mechanical engineering. If women do chose for a more specific engineering study, they are more likely to choose architecture or industrial design, which are considered to be less hard than other full blown engineering studies. However, in these kind of areas there is just less work to find, and therefore women might choose for the safety of a job in a non-technical field.

What it comes down to is that we have started taking steps toward achieving a better men/women ratio within companies and organizations. More women are beginning an engineering related study, and they dare to express their affinity with technology more than ever before. Through working with goals, for instance by the charter “Talent naar de Top”, companies or organizations can commit more to changing the culture within their organization, to a culture in which women feel more at home, have more opportunities to develop themselves and where they receive the recognition they deserve. Until this is achieved, the technically educated women will have to study and work in a man’s world.






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