Women in PMCs typically experience social, political, and economic restrictions and have more circumscribed areas within which they function publically. Despite these restrictions, women in some PMCs are participating in engineering in very high proportions compared to the United States. One example of a PMC with high participation of women in engineering is Malaysia. Malaysia Government promises equal and fair treatment for all employees irrespective of gender and religious affiliations, yet women still face challenges at work . Even then Malaysia boasts about 30 – 40% of women engineering graduates . Moreover, there is a near gender parity in enrollment in certain sub-fields of engineering in Malaysia (e.g., chemical, industrial, and computer engineering), in some cases, with more women enrolled in these fields compared to men, which makes Malaysia an interesting case to study. Given this scenario, what can be learned from female engineers in Malaysia—those in training as students and in practice as professionals in academia and in industry? Specifically, our research question is: What motivates women in Malaysia to choose and persist in engineering as a curricular and/or career path?
In this paper, we present emergent themes from a case study of women in Malaysia. We use a case study research design , employing focus group interviews for data collection and the constant comparative method for data analysis . We purposively sampled a partner institution (University Teknologi Malaysia – UTM) because of its status as a major engineering flagship public university. We consider three embedded units of analysis: undergraduate students, faculty, and practicing engineers. We collected data from 19 undergraduate students, 22 faculty, and 16 practicing engineers. The focus group interviews were conducted in English, took place at the UTM campus, and were led by one member of the US research team along with a local faculty member or research assistant, who was present to help interpret or translate questions in Malay if necessary. The focus group interviews were audio recorded and transcribed and/or translated into English.
Some preliminary themes have emerged, which suggest that women generally pursue engineering education and careers because engineering is considered a prestigious career in Malaysia and because it is financially lucrative. In terms of support, women generally find support to pursue engineering from male members of their family. On the other hand, women face challenges in engineering training and work, especially in navigating work-life balance and their dual roles in their families and at their workplace. Our research findings from the Malaysian case can help researchers understand the landscape of engineering for women in Malaysia, with potential implications for women in other PMCs and the USA. Our work may also subsequently inform institutional and national programs to help sustain and augment women’s participation in engineering.
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