SOURCE: Society of Women Engineers

Society of Women Engineers

February 15, 2016 10:00 ET

Culture Study Reveals Gender Differences in Company Culture as Root Cause of Female Attrition

The Society of Women Engineers Releases Findings That Reveal Why Female Leaders Leave STEM

CHICAGO, IL--(Marketwired - February 15, 2016) - The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) announced today the results of the first gender-based study of its kind conducted in the STEM space in the U.S. The study was launched because engineering companies are meeting their female hiring goals but are unable to retain women with the same success, resulting in a gender gap in STEM. The new data illuminates the differences between male and female personal and workplace priorities, including the gaps that are driving female attrition.

"The purpose of the culture study was to explore company culture as a root cause of female attrition which is a particular concern within the leadership pipeline," said Karen Horting, executive director and CEO of SWE. "It's not news that there is a gender gap within leadership roles and that female leaders are leaving engineering. If we can get to the root cause of their dissatisfaction, maybe we can inspire real change."

Over 3,200 U.S. based professional men and women in various roles from four multinational STEM organizations responded to an anonymous web-based values survey. The participants identified their personal values, the values that describe their current culture and the values that would best support their department's work or their desired values. The ratio of positive to negative current culture descriptors was analyzed with special attention to the female age group 31-50, given female attrition is more likely to occur five to eight years after hiring.

The data shows that men and women have more similarities than differences across their personal, current culture and desired culture values. However, females report much more misalignment across their personal, current and desired values than their male colleagues, with particular volatility among female leaders. 

Female leaders report that their top ranked personal and desired values are missing from their current culture. These include Accountability, Balance, Continuous Improvement, Coaching/Mentoring, Empowerment and Quality. Instead, female leaders describe their current culture with negative descriptors such as exaggerated focus on Cost Reduction, Bureaucracy, Hierarchy, Resource Constraints/Long Hours and Short Term Focus.

This contrast between what women want and what they experience demonstrates a major misalignment between their values and what their organizations endorse. Accordingly, female leaders' number one personal and desired value is Accountability. Given their attrition rate, the data links women's current culture experiences with prior research that indicates they have less tolerance than their male colleagues for values-based inconsistencies.

"Women are frustrated and leaving engineering related jobs, but not for the reasons you think," Horting said. "The reported disparities indicate a lack of confidence in company direction, which is vital to employee engagement and retention. Employers are claiming some of these values to be at the core of their culture, like Quality and Excellence. However, the data reveals that participants, both male and female, aren't affirming the companies' core values in their daily experience."

The data also revealed a surprising finding as it relates to respondents' views of diversity as an issue within their respective organizations. Female leaders navigate an environment fraught with pitfalls related to their gender. However, the data shows that diversity has completely disappeared as a factor in company culture. Neither Diversity nor Inclusion were selected by either gender as a personal, current or desired value.

"It appears as though gender has gone underground as a diversity issue," Horting said.

This type of bias is known in research as Second Generation Bias -- a subtle almost imperceptible bias inherent in structures and processes that inadvertently benefit men.

"Many generations may not recognize that gender is an issue as it relates to diversity, and some just deny gender is a factor -- they don't want gender discussed lest they be pigeon-holed," Horting said. "With gender impact absent from corporate consciousness and resisted as a workplace reality, men and women have no foundational understandings from which to recognize consequences and to build solutions to gender-based disparities."

Horting adds that the Society of Women Engineers conducted the study in an effort to spur action among company leaders in response to the gender gap in STEM. "With our new data to inform senior leaders' understanding of why their high potential women leave, we believe we can inspire an evolution of measurable culture change initiatives that will help to attract and retain more women in STEM."

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About SWE

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), founded in 1950, is the world's largest advocate and catalyst for change for women in engineering and technology. The not-for-profit educational and service organization is the driving force that establishes engineering as a highly desirable career aspiration for women. To ensure SWE members reach their full potential as engineers and leaders, the Society offers unique opportunities to network, provides professional development, shapes public policy and provides recognition for the life-changing contributions and achievements of women engineers. As a champion of diversity, SWE empowers women to succeed and advance in their personal and professional lives. For more information about the Society, please visit or call 312.596.5223.

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