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Why they stay: women persisting in US engineering careers

Kathleen Buse (Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)
Diana Bilimoria (Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)
Sheri Perelli (Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 17 May 2013




Women remain dramatically underrepresented in the engineering profession and far fewer women than men persist in the field. This study aims to identify individual and contextual factors that distinguish women who persist in engineering careers in the US.


Qualitative research was conducted based on semi‐structured interviews with 31 women engineers, ten of whom had left an engineering career and 21 persisting for on average 21 years. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, coded and analyzed.


Women who persisted in engineering careers articulated high levels of self efficacy, described themselves in terms of their identity as an engineer, and were motivated by the challenges and novelty of the profession. Women engineers' ability to adapt enabled them to persist and thrive despite working in a male‐dominated culture characterized by difficulties associated with the workplace, including discrimination. Women who opted out of engineering were less likely to recognize options in navigating the workplace and some felt as if they were pushed into engineering. Persistent engineers were less likely to be married and had fewer children.

Research limitations/implications

Although appropriate for an inductive study using a grounded theory approach the sample was small and the data was self reported.

Practical implications

A model is developed that integrates individual and contextual factors explaining a woman's persistence in an engineering career and has potential to explain persistence in other professions. To retain more women in engineering careers, organizations and managers should provide opportunities to develop identified skills within the professional domain and should provide opportunities for women engineers that provide continuous learning, on‐going challenges and novel work.


Although numerous studies have addressed the retention of women in academic engineering programs and several recent studies have described why women leave engineering careers, the novelty of this study is that it addresses why women stay.



Buse, K., Bilimoria, D. and Perelli, S. (2013), "Why they stay: women persisting in US engineering careers", Career Development International, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 139-154.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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