Academia vs. Industry
Both male and female interviewees expressed similar reasons for wanting to choose either academia or industry. Some liked the flexibility and intellectual atmosphere of academia. Some mentioned the financial incentive of going into industry. One very noticeable difference, however, was that almost every woman we interviewed mentioned the possibility of having a family as an important factor in her decision between industry and academia. Industry may also be seen as more friendly towards women, and an easier place to establish oneself than academia.
When we asked our interviewees what percentage of engineers in industry were women, we received a wide variety of answers, ranging from 2% to 30%. While there are still much fewer women in industry than men, many female studens faced with the choice between academia and industry feel that they would be more welcome in industry.
According to one professor, industry can seem much more overtly eager to hire women than academia, and more willing to support them once theyre there: industry is a very attractive proposition. Women who go off to summer internships discover that companies are desperate to have them and will constantly reassure them, which won't happen in academia where it will be challenging and frustrating.
One male masters student stated it more simply: Its a lot easier to find jobs in industry than academia, if youre going into academia and youre competing for scarce teaching jobs, especially for tenure. There is certainly the perception (which may well be true) that it is easier to get hired and become successful in industry than it is in academia. This factor can potentially influence both male and female students to choose not to go into careers in academia.
However, academia is not without advantages. Professors and lecturers we interviewed said that they enjoyed teaching, and they enjoyed the freedom to choose their own research topics, and the excitement of being on the cutting edge of technological innovation. Academia tends to be more theoretically inclined than industry, which appeals to some people. Others are more attracted by the possibility of making software that many people will use.
One female lecturer had a very different take on her experience working in industry: She did consulting work before teaching at Stanford and thought The general tone in these companies was programming and system design were for men. Testing and admin, and non-tech duties were for women. I had to go to great lengths to prove myself
.The most difficult situations were when we were brought in to bail out a late project. These were stressful projects where some group of programmers just could not get everything together on time. I felt resentment and skepticism as we started on these projects. These guys did not want a woman to do something they could not do. She mentioned, however, that peoples attitudes in industry are probably improving and starting to put more of an emphasis on communication and team-oriented skills.
Another important factor, which will be addressed more thoroughly in the section on Personal Life, Family and Academia, was that many women felt that they would have more flexibility to raise families with careers in industry. Said one female masters student, who is currently applying for PhD programs but intends to ultimately go into industry: I think becoming a faculty person or an academic, theres not as much room to leave for a couple years, as there is in industry. Theyd be reluctant to hire someone behind on research in their field, but industry wont care. Theres not that many women who are never going to have kids. A few interviewees thought that it would be easier to have a family with a career in academia, but most believed that industry would provide more support and flexibility.
On the other hand, women who were already in academia seemed satisfied with the accommodations available. One female professor said that women SHOULD choose academia but they just dont know it. Academia is better if you have kids because it is more flexible. She mentioned that she can bring her kids to work with her.
There are many gender-neutral factors that would influence someone to choose either academia or industry. Specific to women, industry might seem more supportive and eager to hire women than academia. In general, it is seen as easier to establish oneself and become successful in industry than in academia. That might be appealing to both men and women, but when a woman has the additional concern of balancing a family and a career, that difference becomes much more important. While some women who are already in academia think the flexibility make the balancing act easier, that perception is not present so much among graduate students who have yet to make that choice.