Study Looks At Muslim Countries With More Women Engineers

Sept. 7, 2016
A Washington State University study aims to understand why significantly more women study engineering in some predominantly Muslim countries than in the United States.

A new study co-led by researchers at Washington State University aims to understand why significantly more women study engineering in some predominantly Muslim countries than in the United States. Funded by a two-year, $589,200 National Science Foundation grant, the study seeks to identify the mechanisms that motivate women to pursue engineering in Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, where participation rates by women are reportedly as high as 50%. In the U.S., approximately 15-20% of engineering students are women, according to WSU.

“The U.S. government, industry and professional societies have allotted tremendous resources to increase women’s participation in engineering – with minimal impact,” says Julie Kmec, professor of sociology and Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts at WSU and one of the study’s two principal investigators. “Although women in the U.S. earn more undergraduate degrees than men, they receive fewer engineering degrees and hold fewer engineering faculty positions and fewer private sector engineering jobs than men.”

The WSU and Purdue researchers are collaborating with a colleague at Western Washington University to identify the “micro- and macro-level facilitating conditions” behind the relative numbers of women engineers in Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. They will conduct focus groups with three distinct sets of women: engineering students, engineering faculty and engineers in industry.

“Women’s engineering participation in predominantly Muslim countries is surprising for reasons beyond just the absence of collective national STEM-focused (science, technology, engineering, math) programmatic efforts to increase representation,” Kmec says. “Women in PMCs typically experience social, political and economic restrictions. In contrast, certain indicators suggest women’s status in the United States is among the highest in the world.”

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