By: Karen Korabik, Andrea Brown, Valerie Davidson and Serge Desmarais
The under-representation of women in science and engineering programs has often been attributed to the "chilly" climates that they encounter (Ferriera, 2003; McIlwee & Robinson, 1992; Pascarella, et al., 1997; Sorensen, 1992). There has been little previous research, however, on how women experience the cultures that exist in science and engineering graduate programs in Canada (Dryburgh, 1999). As part of a larger collaborative effort by social scientists, scientists and engineers, we conducted an online survey of 199 men and 188 women graduate students to examine this issue.
More men than women were in engineering disciplines and Ph.D. programs, whereas more women than men were in life science disciplines and Master's programs. Both men and women rated their "Overall Department Climate" and the "Congeniality of the Environment to Women" as fairly positive. However, women in engineering perceived their environments to be significantly less congenial to women than men in engineering. Moreover, men and women Ph.D. students perceived the overall department climate to be significantly more negative and less congenial to women than men and women Master's students.
On average, respondents perceived a moderately high degree of "Collaboration between Men and Women" in their departments. However, women and those in the life sciences perceived a significantly greater degree of collaboration than did men and those in engineering. Respondents also perceived a moderate degree of "Person-Discipline Fit", with no differences between men and women. However, among engineering students, women reported significantly lower person-discipline fit than men, whereas among life science students, men reported significantly lower fit than women. Overall, "Perceived Social Support" and "Feelings of Inclusion" were slightly positive, with women's scores similar to men's. However, life science students reported significantly higher feelings of inclusion than engineering students and among students in the life sciences, men reported significantly higher social support than women.
These results indicate that men and women graduate students in Canada agree that the climates in Ph.D. programs are less congenial to women than those in Master's programs and that those in engineering programs are less congenial than those in the life sciences. This may help to explain why women gravitate away from engineering and Ph.D. programs.