Compared to their male counterparts, women who attend college to become engineers leave their engineering career at a much higher rate. Recent MIT research indicates that negative group dynamics, which women tend to experience during team-based work projects, make the profession less appealing.
According to the study, women often feel marginalized, especially during internships, other summer work opportunities, or team-based educational activities, when gender dynamics seem to generate more opportunities for men to work on the most challenging problems, while women tend to be assigned routine tasks or simple managerial duties.
In such settings, “It turns out gender makes a big difference,” says Susan Silbey, the Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology, and Anthropology at MIT, and co-author of a newly-published paper detailing the study. As a result of their experiences at these moments, women who have developed high expectations for their profession — expecting to make a positive social impact as engineers — can become disillusioned with their career prospects. “It’s a cultural phenomenon,” adds Silbey, regarding the way this group-dynamics problem crops up at a variety of key points during students’ training.