Ghanaian women and the engineering profession

E. A. BARYEH*, R. Y. OBU, D. L. LAMPTEY, University of Cape Coast, Cape Coast, Ghana, and N. Y. BARYEH, Department of Biological Sciences, UST, Kumasi, Ghana. 〈〉
Received 19th October 1998 Revised 25th May 1999 The number of Ghanaian women in the engineering profession is very low compared to that of men, although current government policies on education promote equal educational opportunities for both sexes. A study has been conducted on some Ghanaian women engineers and women engineering students, with some input from some male engineering student counterparts, and male and female engineering lecturers. It was found, amongst other reasons, that the absence of counselling in secondary schools, difficulties in understanding mathematical concepts, criticism and discouragement from people and the low number of female lecturers are some of the causes of low female participation in engineering. Cultural and social stereotyping of male and female roles in jobs did not worry the female engineers and engineering students. The major motivating factors were natural curiosity, mathematics and science ability, and influence from family and non-family members. They had high career aspirations of rising to management, executive positions and setting up engineering firms. The engineering lecturers and male engineering students were all in favour of increasing the participation of females in engineering. Some suggestions have been made on what to do to increase female participation in engineering. Key words: female, engineering, career, natural curiosity.

INTRODUCTION Before independence and some years after, most families in Ghana laid more emphasis on the education of males than females. This discrepancy in the education of men and women was inherited from colonialism. Colonial governments trained girls to go into nursing, teaching, home science or trading, while boys were trained to go into engineering, medicine and science. Women are therefore often under represented in jobs requiring high levels of education, especially in science and engineering. Women constitute over 50% of the total population in Ghana. Economically, women contribute 75% towards food production, 60% towards domestic food storage and food processing, 75% towards marketing and about 90% towards all household activities in

Address for correspondence: E. A. Baryeh, Botswana College of Agriculture, Private Bag 0027, Gaborone, Botswana.

International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4

school community. 3:1.Ghanaian women and the engineering profession 335 Ghana. etc. The high female demographic size. 5:1 and 5:1 respectively. engineering lecturers and female engineers to find out motivations. tend to settle for low and middle level jobs. parents and family. as in other parts of the world.. hairdressers. while only 10% of lawyers and judges and 12% of medical doctors are women even in an industrialized nation like the USA. the above militating activities must be terminated. socio-economic class. the importance women play in the economic development in Ghana. 5:1. Most African countries have a shortage of all kinds of qualified personnel in higher education. Thus. including non-traditional women’s programmes like engineering. environment. Most Ghanaian teachers feel their female students will be nurses. homemakers. The ratio is often worse in the engineering and technological fields. male chauvinism of employers. traditional and social prejudices. the female workforce is on the increase. METHODOLOGY Two types of designs are involved in data gathering in research: quantitative and qualitative International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 . perceptions. This is because factors such as inadequate formal education and occupational skills. librarians and social workers are 1. This agrees with findings by Prytz [2] and Kane [7]. where the ratio is 8:1. Most of the female workforce is therefore classified as semi-skilled or unskilled. with the shortages being worse in the natural sciences. As a result. women to men ratios in service occupations. It is obvious that in order to allow women freedom in their career choice and encourage them into male dominated careers. Nonetheless. and the low participation of women in engineering make it imperative to promote and encourage women’s participation in the non-traditional women’s disciplines like engineering. church community. clerical jobs.7:1. clerks. Women. This study interviews engineering students. 3]. teachers. the Ghana Bureau of Statistics [4] has indicated that the universities in Ghana still display higher numbers of enrolment for men than women in most disciplines. the largest universities in the country. social workers and midwives [6]. are 4:1. Culture. limited occupational horizon. however. Women’s lack of education and training as well as stereotypes about their ability to master mechanical and technical skills have been the major barriers to their upward mobility. elementary school teaching. The ratio of men to women at the University of Ghana. yet their training in modern technologies still lags far behind that of men [1]. Present educational policy in Ghana allows for female enrolment in all programs. CAREER CHOICE Working to earn a good living in the modern world is as important to women as it is to men. professional engineering courses in Ghana. aspirations and problems of females in the engineering profession in Ghana. The disparity between men and women is even more pronounced in the School of Engineering at UST. 4:1 and 6:1 respectively. sex discrimination and concomitant sex role expectations affect women’s career choice [5]. University of Science and Technology (UST) and University of Cape Coast. that in spite of the gains in sex equalization efforts. and often in occupations which are vulnerable to budget cuts and retrenchments [2. medicine and engineering. although the entry requirements for females are lower than those for males. also have direct and significant impact on the vocational choice of women. This gives women equal access to education and training as men. have always been male dominated.

including some relatives thought that studying engineering makes women peculiar and makes them not get married. in a study on women in technical education training in Africa. Twenty per cent FPE were between 20 and 25 years. 9]. face-to-face basis. International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 . This supports Odugbesan’s [3] finding. Ten per cent FES were below 20 years. Obu. Eighty per cent of the unmarried FES wanted to complete their programmes before getting married. They claim we are scaring away potential marriage partners by acquiring higher education in such a unique field. One student respondent remarked: People. ‘respondents’ refer to female engineering student respondents (FES) and female practising engineer respondents (FPE). RESULTS AND DISCUSSION Age and marital status of respondents In the discussion below.336 E. The ages of the respondents ranged from 18 to 37 years. based on common ideas and/or statements. twenty male engineering students and fifteen lecturers. R. The interviews for the study were conducted on fifty female engineering students. D. in which 90% of the respondents were married with children. Four per cent FES were married without children. Eighty per cent FPE were married with one child each and they all hoped to have more children. open-ended interview is that the information from various respondents is comparable enough to determine the simple frequency of responses. Casley and Kumar [8] indicated that one of the strengths of a semistructured. A. and twenty women practising engineers furnished by the office of the Ghana Institution of Engineers in Accra. accountants. All the married respondents were married to professionals like doctors. business executives. I am glad and proud to say that the majority of our seniors who completed the programme are now married with children. DATA ANALYSIS PROCEDURE The data collected were sorted out and put into categories. To them marriage is the most important thing in the world. Y. 80% between 20 and 25 years and 10% between 26 and 30 years. while 20% were not married because they had not met a suitable marriage partner. Lamptey and N. for practising and student female engineers. while the ages of the lecturer respondents were between 30 and 55 years. Y. The results of the study clearly indicate that the engineering profession for women is not a barrier to marriage. which is the only university in Ghana which trains engineers. while all the lecturer respondents were married with between two and five children. The ages of the male engineering student respondents were between 19 and 28 years. L. and data was collected through semi-structured. Baryeh [8. all of the School of Engineering at the UST. Qualitative design was used for this study because of its exploratory nature. 11] was used to find the significance of the differences of some of the results. None of the male engineering student respondents were married. open-ended qualitative interview schedules on an individual. and engineers. The Fisher Exact Probability Test [10. 60% between 26 and 30 years and 20% between 30 and 40 years. The themes that emerged from the categories were analysed using frequencies and percentages. Baryeh. consultants.

while the least number was enrolled in agricultural and mechanical engineering. Distribution of engineering disciplines of respondents Engineering discipline Agricultural Chemical Civil Electrical/electronics Geodetic Geological/mining Mechanical Metallurgical FES(%) 2 28 38 24 2 2 2 2 FPE(%) — 20 60 20 — — — — International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 .Ghanaian women and the engineering profession Distribution of FES respondents 337 The School of Engineering at UST had a total of 83 female students out of a total of 600 students at the time of this study. Distribution of female engineering students (FES) Engineering programme Agricultural Chemical Civil Electrical/electronics Geodetic Geological/mining Mechanical Metallurgical Total Number of students per year of programme Second Third Fourth 1 9 8 2 2 1 0 3 26 0 5 8 6 1 0 0 1 21 0 0 8 3 0 0 0 1 12 First 0 7 5 8 0 2 1 1 24 Total 1 21 29 19 3 3 1 6 83 Table 2 displays the engineering disciplines of FES and FPE. The table indicates that most of the female students were enrolled in civil. This is partly because most of them had some prior knowledge of the existence of civil. civil and electrical/electronics engineering. 26% and 16% were in the first. Table 1. and partly because they felt the other engineering disciplines are more strenuous and more likely to injure people. The distribution of the female students according to the engineering programmes offered and year of programme is shown in Table 1. chemical and electrical/electronics engineering. Table 2. All the FPE were in chemical. The reason for the choice of engineering discipline of the FPE were similar to those of the FES. 30%. while the FES covered all the engineering disciplines offered at UST and all the years of the programmes (28%. chemical and electrical/ electronics engineering. third and fourth years respectively). second. Civil and electrical/ electronics engineering had respondents from each of the four years of the programme.

One student remarked: I was strong in mathematics and science. Lamptey and N. opportunities and limitations in the real world. A. In Ghana. perceptions on his or her abilities. however. They noted that the boys always wanted to take decisions for the class. mathematics and science ability are based on interest. Forty-five per cent FES and 60% FPE revealed that the secondary schools they attended influenced their career choice. Natural curiosity. 33% FES and 30% FPE were motivated by people. is a result of interest and abilities in science and mathematics. in a study in New Zealand. Those whose fathers were engineers confessed that their fathers influenced them greatly. Those who attended all girls secondary schools revealed that it took some few months for them to get used to their male colleagues at the university. liking and values for something. This confirms that the environment in which a person lives can affect the choice of his/her career as indicated by other researchers [12. this study has shown that the main motivating factor is women’s curiosity about the engineering profession. follows a recognized ability in areas such as mathematics. The results therefore conform with the statement that a person’s likes and dislikes. found that 50% of the female engineering students studied. values. Some were influenced by more than one factor but only the major ones are shown in the figure. Naizer [13] has further indicated that students’ entry into and retention in the scientific talent pool. 13]. and 24% and 22% respectively were motivated by their high mathematics and science abilities. Baryeh Type of secondary school attended Forty-eight per cent and 40% FES and FPE respectively attended a mixed secondary school. Parental influence on International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 . had a family member or close friend who was an engineer. Y. created an atmosphere of equality. and values. Consequently. influence his or her choice of occupation [5. Obu. and although my mother is a teacher she put her support behind my father’s. Ginzberg [18] has indicated that the final choice of occupations are compromises between interest. Baryeh. Godfrey [19]. D. Motivating factors for respondents The major factors that motivated respondents to choose engineering as their career are displayed in Fig. followed by their ability in science and mathematics. For the FES and FPE. Those who attended mixed secondary schools. 1. physics and chemistry rather than a long held ambition to be an engineer. chosen to study civil engineering instead of mechanical engineering because I like structural work. Y. 17]. and my father is a mechanical engineer. 24% and 25% respectively. I have however. that their interaction with male students in secondary school. and it got them used to the boys even before they enrolled at the university. making people’s influence higher than both natural curiosity and mathematics/science ability. They indicated further. who were also planning to study engineering. R. Amateifio [16] also found that women who went into engineering in Sierra Leone did so mainly because they were good in science and mathematics. L. while 16% FES and 15% FPE were motivated by non-family members. competition and freedom of choice. interests. confessed that their secondary school male colleagues.338 E. Seventeen per cent FES and 15% FPE were motivated by family members. had some influence on their choice. He was very supportive and influential. The rest attended secondary schools for girls only. were motivated mainly by their natural curiosity of the engineering discipline. Newton [14] and Granstam [15] have reported that the decision to study engineering for young women overseas. They attributed their high performance in mathematics and science to the good secondary schools they attended.

1. Motivation of respondents. .Fig.

Baryeh children’s career choices have also been reported by Rice [17] and Amissah [20]. Although they felt the engineering field was male dominated. job reward/satisfaction.340 E. The rest were not aware of engineering until they got to secondary school. These were respondents who had their primary school education in urban centres. none of them aimed at being a lecturer. are a reflection of strong identification with the father. had fathers who were engineers and brothers who were studying engineering respectively. Twenty per cent FPE had already achieved their aim of ascending to management positions in their respective companies. and they had not been discriminated against in their promotions. science/mathematics hobbies and career awareness were less motivating for both groups. They were asked. Y. mainly because there is no career guidance in the secondary schools. although they all felt there should be more female lecturers. Obu. aptitude. they hoped to ascend to management positions. construction and dam sites. From there. The only FPE in the teaching field was a lecturer in a polytechnic. This is mainly because the remuneration of lecturers is low. regarding how the various factors affected their career choices. D. Baryeh. Perceptions Forty per cent FES and 20% FPS indicated that their perceptions of engineering began in primary school when they saw technical scenes on television and technicians and mechanics repairing electrical appliances and cars respectively.05 significance level—between the two groups. They also perceived engineering as being practical. R. They all felt their positions matched their qualifications and experience. sex role concepts as some of the factors influencing occupational choice. L. Rice [17] also identified parents. prestige. Comparison between both respondent groups using Fisher’s Exact Probability Test did not indicate any significant difference—at the 0. according to Osipow [21] and Naizer [13]. and field trips to Akosombo Dam and Tema Industrial Sector. Surprisingly. making life better for people and offering the opportunity of establishing one’s own firm or company to become independent. A. industrial and factory scenes. interest. mathematical and more difficult. while 20% intended to work after the first degree and get married before deciding on what to do next. Lamptey and N. Eight per cent hoped to do post-graduate studies. and therefore there are some women engineers. Eighty per cent FES were aiming at jobs with industry. government establishments and engineering firms. auto shops. than most nonmathematical disciplines. Y. ‘If you can accelerate the attainment of your aspirations by changing jobs would you International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 . Career aspirations Both FES and FPE had high aspirations. They saw engineering as a good paying discipline and having many areas that are not physically demanding which women can handle. The influences of status of engineers in society. intelligence. They initially perceived engineering as a masculine domain because they saw mostly males working in industries. and she hoped to be the first female principal of the institution. Other sources of awareness in secondary school were the media. Career choices. school personnel. The rest were aspiring to management positions or hoping to set up their consultancy or engineering companies within the next few years. 15% were planning to set up their own engineering firms or consultancies and 5% were planning to enter research institutes after their training. they thought there were many job opportunities in engineering. Granstam and Sani [22] also noted in studies in Sweden that 56% and 25% of the female engineering students studied. peers.

At this time they were more mature and familiar with the various branches. while a few of them behaved traditionally. Decision time Eighty four per cent FES and 80% FPE indicated that they took the decision to study engineering during the latter part of their secondary school education. Some of these comments could be due to the men’s fear of competing with women and finding the women to be doing as well as or better than them. Some men felt the women made the wrong choice. 90% FES said they were fairly treated and accepted by most of the male students as equals. They felt engineering programmes are sometimes academically and physically demanding. McWilliams [24] found in New Zealand. The inadequate female lecturers was also noted. Two students commented: There is nothing about engineering which makes it suit one sex. They experienced discouraging and negative attitudes and unjustified criticisms from men. the women who attended girls’ schools felt at ease with the men after a few months of being together with the men. while some commented on their lower physical strength. so physical strength is not needed as much in engineering as before. International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 .05 level. for example. technology is advancing. As a result. Ginzberg [18] and Grewal [12] have indicated that the choice of career is best made with maturity of individuals. that female students liked to have more women tutors. Kuiper [23] has stressed the attitudes of men in Tanzania as one of the major constraints in small enterprise development for women. Generally. Most of them did not. decide on the branch of engineering until they started the first year programme. The rest took the decision after secondary school when they were doing their national service. The engineering field has many branches from which one can make a choice. Most of the men became very cooperative and helpful. Constraints for female engineers The constraints given by the respondents did not show any significant difference between the two groups at the 0. Only 20% of the students had female lecturers and they viewed them as role models. 10% said ‘too much mobility might conflict with marriage’. This could partly be due to Odugbesan’s [37] feeling that some women portray lack of positive attitudes to mathematics and science and some still believe these are for men. Brown [25] has also reported the significant improvement in female enrolment in science and engineering in some American universities as a result of attending seminars given by women role-models. resulting in good management and control systems. Despite some negative comments and occasional criticisms from some male students. The increase in female lecturers will definitely boost up the morale and aspirations of the students. The respondents mentioned the understanding of mathematical concepts as one of their difficulties. some male lecturers demonstrated preconceived ideas that the women could not make it. Moreover.Ghanaian women and the engineering profession 341 do so?’. This encouraged them to work harder. friends and colleagues. however. Male lecturers also treated them fairly. 10% said ‘I want to gain more experience in my present job before moving’ and 10% said ‘I am satisfied with my present job and position’. Seventy per cent answered in the affirmative.

Bhatia [26] has commented that most girls hesitate to go in for science. a female’s lack of physical and emotional stamina that the engineering programme demands. employers preference for male workers and a lack of confidence of females in themselves. L. the media and visits to industries. To them the word ‘engineering’ has a masculine connotation. a female’s self-assessment of her own ability and performance in physics and mathematics is significantly lower than that of men. the FPE’s revealed that it was sometimes difficult combining their engineering jobs with family and domestic responsibilities. and thus depriving them of other interests and activities. None of the respondents had counselling in secondary school or university. and fewer chose to study them at school and university. The role played by working women in the home is a contributing factor to their slow advancement in their careers.342 E. and most of them were pleased to see females enrolled in the School of Engineering. Eighty per cent of them felt the performance of the females is up to the level of the males. ignorance of women about the engineering career. friends and teachers. especially when the need to work overtime and at odd hours arose. Zietsman and Naidoo [27] have also revealed that in South Africa. Baryeh In addition to the above. R. girls’ shying away from mathematics and science in secondary school because they think they do not have the brains for these subjects. Community attitude towards women engineers The FPE’s noted that some people were challenged and inspired by their status. the males indicated that few girls satisfy the entry requirements for the engineering programmes. Their career awareness came from relatives. discouragement from family members. ‘There is still a bit of male chauvinism and a few male engineers think we are rubbing shoulders with them and therefore try to make things difficult for us’. which severely restricts their entrance into engineering. The rest felt that some of the females did not put in the necessary effort required by the programmes. women feeling that engineering demands a lot of time and brain work. Furthermore. This created a mixture of inferiority complex and envy in these people. A. Male students’ views Male students affirmed that engineering can be studied by both males and females who have the interest and ability. Y. and a lack of guidance and counselling for students in secondary school also contribute to the low enrolment. however. with the additional duties traditionally expected from girls at home. D. Obu. Y. Reasons for low participation of women The respondents indicated that. Baryeh. are the main reasons for the low enrolment in engineering programmes. especially for practical classes. Lamptey and N. International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 . Zietsman and Naidoo [27] also confirmed in South Africa that girls are less interested in physics and mathematics than boys. This made them command a lot of respect from some sectors of the community. both in matters of time and effort. friends. as this makes heavy demands. Other people looked at them with astonishment because they felt the women had chosen a field which is masculine. gender stereotyping about what society deems to be male or female domains. Employers prefer male to female workers because females take maternity leave when they give birth to babies. and some admired them for being engineers. they are discouraged from aspiring to study and research of pure sciences [26]. In addition to the reasons the female respondents gave for the low enrolment of females in engineering programmes. Ten per cent FPE. commented.

The School however. but they improved with time. They revealed that the target of the School was to enrol 10% of the total female population in the university. that some females had a weaker background in mathematics and science so they faced more difficulties with the mathematical aspects of the programmes. They recommended that more girls must be encouraged to study science and mathematics in secondary school. Twenty per cent FPE mentioned that they had counselling on one occasion in their final year from some women in management positions who briefed them. they all answered positively. and emphasize that girls International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 . This supports the AAMT’s [29] statement that girls are more likely to attribute their success to hard work and their failures to lack of ability. affect their future work performance and should therefore not be encouraged. Views of engineering lecturers All the lecturers interviewed were not happy about the low enrolment of female students in the School of Engineering. The lecturers affirmed that the females perform as well as the males. This could partly be due to the lower entry requirements for females. which is an indication that women can stand the rigours of the programmes. SUGGESTIONS TO IMPROVE THE PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN The four groups of respondents suggested that girls should be encouraged at an early age to develop a liking for mathematics and science which are the tools for engineering. They felt some of the females had a preconceived idea that engineering is difficult and this had some adverse effects on them. however.Ghanaian women and the engineering profession 343 It is therefore advisable to include counselling in secondary school and university study programmes. They confirmed all the reasons given above as contributing towards the low female enrolment in the School. did not meet this target. on women engineers. and they easily became desperate when faced with any hardships or failure. among other things. while boys are more likely to believe their successes are due to ability and their failures to lack of effort or external factors such as the difficulty of the work. The male students also indicated that the females often relied on their male counterparts in most of the practical aspects of the programme. When asked if they will be prepared to give talks to secondary school girls on engineering. This could. Counselling is also necessary due to the increased importance placed on the breaking down of sex-stereotyped attitudes and choices by young people. Another comment was that the females were often not prepared for the mathematical and physical practical work although they were theoretically good in other aspects. This must start from primary school and intensified in secondary school. Wallace [28] has stated that the opportunity for young people to discuss their ideas and vocational choices in a counselling session is particularly important with the introduction of vocational and technical courses for 14–18 year group. They noted. no female had ever dropped out of the programme as a result of poor performance. Despite these. and that career guidance and counselling units should be established in secondary schools to explain to female students the options available to them in the universities. it seems the males regarded the females as a weaker sex and therefore relieved them from works which demanded physical strength. They confessed that they benefited from the counselling and their morales and confidence were boosted up. In addition they said men were more inquisitive and more adventurous about engineering than women. From the above points. although the entry requirement for females was lower than that of males. however.

while boys and girls must be educated and encouraged to do domestic chores together without defining any special roles for any of them. Girls must be taught separately. because this is likely to encourage them to study engineering. D. They should be encouraged to think positive. To stir the interest of girls. and audio-visual tapes on women engineers working in the field. should be exposed to engineering through seminars by women role models. Men must be encouraged and educated to accept women in male dominated fields. they felt that the ‘science and mathematics clinics’ for secondary school girls organized by the government should continue and be intensified. A. This situation is due to the lack of counselling in secondary schools. Baryeh can enter into the traditionally male dominated careers. Finally. they suggested that male engineers must be tolerant and welcome their female counterparts. they felt. Field trips to engineering firms should be organized for secondary school girls to interest them in engineering. Y. criticism and discouragement from people. Both male and female engineering students. Men must be educated and encouraged to share family and domestic responsibilities with women.344 E. CONCLUSION The study has revealed that the number of women studying and practising engineering in Ghana is very low compared to their demographic percentage and high commercial activities. R. Y. and the engineering job market. Females must be physically and emotionally prepared in secondary school for engineering before entering university. mathematics and science ability and influence from family and non-family members were the major motivating factors for women student and practising engineers. They should be encouraged not to attribute their failure to their femininity or lack of ability. Women. as well as female practising engineers and lecturers. They advised that women should be encouraged to get rid of the notion that engineering is too difficult and is a sole preserve for men. Baryeh. Lamptey and N. support the idea of increasing the female enrolment in engineering programmes in the country. the teaching of science and mathematics should involve the use of female interests and everyday life in the context of girls and society. and an execution of technical project works. in addition to being taught together with boys. difficulties in understanding mathematical concepts. and brilliant girls from poor families who wish to study engineering should be aided financially. Obu. among others. The link between the universities/other technical training institutes. salaries and working conditions of lecturers must be improved to attract more female engineering lecturers. Furthermore. It was revealed that natural curiosity. and a low number of female lecturers. Finally. L. should be enforced to expose women to engineering jobs. Women must be encouraged to know their potential. Society must be educated through the media about the role women can play in the development of the country and the fact that no career is the sole preservative of males or females. Girls must know through counselling that engineering is not an impediment to marriage. secondary school girls who perform excellently in mathematics and science must be given some incentives to encourage them to continue doing well. and such hobbies should include the dismantling and assembling of appliances and equipment to give them a hands-on experience and interest in technology. In addition to the above. and more scholarships must be made available to females willing to do further training in engineering in order to lecture. A number of International Journal of Mechanical Engineering Education Vol 28 No 4 . girls must be introduced to hobbies in science and mathematics in secondary school. the authors suggest that women must be encouraged to recognise their potential in the engineering field.

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