Factors Contributing to the Success of Women Working in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) Careers

Factors Contributing to the Success of Women Working in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) Careers

David J.F. Maree (University of Pretoria, South Africa) and Marinda Maree (University of Pretoria, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-657-5.ch009


Women’s under-representation in Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) careers is a problem in South Africa. This chapter discusses structural and individual barriers responsible for the under- representation of women in SET. Self-efficacy as a requirement for success in SET is discussed. The results are illustrated with a report on a study done with a sample of 29 women in successful SET careers. These women experienced some form of gender discrimination at some stages of their development from school to career. They also struggle with family and work balance and similar issues. However, the sample ascribed their success or the fact that they stay in a SET career mostly to personal characteristics and strong self-efficacy beliefs. Aspects such as a drive for achievement, strong goal orientation, passion for their work, determination and perseverance were identified. Strong self-efficacy beliefs which can be associated with resilience and cognitive hardiness came to the fore. These women believe that they can achieve their goals and they do to a large extent.
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A metaphor frequently used to describe the under-representation of women in SET is the “leaky pipeline” (Pell, 1996). Women are lost for SET fields along the development of their careers from school and at various other crucial life milestone phases (cf. the funnel model of Cronin & Roger, 1999). In the remainder of this section we will give a brief overview of the usual reasons for leakage and also indicate what we think is responsible for success in a SET career.

Blickenstaff (2005) gave an overview of factors he found in literature for the under representation of women in SET (see also Cronin & Roger, 1999). He found that some factors provided good reasons why women are leaving SET fields whilst others did not stand up to scrutiny. He cited the following reasons from research why women leave SET: (a) biological differences between men and women, (b) girls are not well prepared for a science career, (c) girls have a negative attitude towards science and did not have positive experiences with science at school, (d) there are no role models in science for girls, (e) science curricula do not apply to girls, (f) pedagogical styles of science classes fit boys better than girls, (g) there is what Blickenstaff (2005, p. 372) calls a “chilly climate” in science classes towards girls, (h) it is expected that girls conform to traditional gender roles and (i) the worldview imbedded in scie4nce is masculine. These nine categories can be divided into individual factors and institutional or structural factors which are in principle external to the individual and are briefly discussed below (Fox, 1998; Sonnert, Fox, & Adkins, 2007).

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