Women and Higher Engineering Education – Supporting Strategies

Aura Paloheimo

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


The purpose of this study is to present new findings regarding women in higher engineering education. I aim to answer three important questions. Firstly, I present women's paths to our university of technology (first research question, RQ1). Secondly, I explain methods that are designed to help with the retention of female students during their early studies in a cost and admin-efficient way (RQ2). Thirdly, I present an analysis of female engineers' early-career prospects (RQ3). I have collected my research data from applicants, students and alumnae of the Helsinki University of Technology in years 2002-20012. My research is based on the fact that women are strongly underrepresented in most of the engineering programmes in both the Helsinki University of Technology and around the world. I derived my research questions in the light of earlier research on this field, as well as my own experiences. My study uses a mixed method, with an emphasis on qualitative analysis. I use different methods to answer different questions. In my first research question I use narrative inquiry: students wrote stories of their journey to engineering education. In my second question I use two separate case studies of women-friendly teaching methods using a mixed method approach: Firstly, I arranged exercise groups for an introductory computer science course using different ratios of females in each group. Secondly, I investigate the impact of a small course of literature. In my third research question I analysed female engineers' early career via second-hand data from two sources: Aarresaari (network of university career and recruitment services) survey and WomEqual (project interviews that chart web service user survey). The nature of this study is mixed method. Female applicants leave their decisions regarding their place of study notably later than their male peers. Women are also more open to study other fields than engineering than their male peers. Women often choose to learn technical skills, not because of the skills themselves, but due to the possibility to apply them into something concrete in future work life. As students, women benefit from a good climate, as well as social and communicative study methods. Interdisciplinary teaching improve, apart from other benefits, motivation for more traditional engineering studies. In early working life women face more challenges in their early career than their male peers: Women, compared to men, are more risk averse, less competitive and they have more challenges combining family and work and they constantly need to reaffirm their expertise in the work place. The average pay cap after five years of graduation is approximately €500 per month in favor of men.
Translated title of the contributionNaiset ja korkea-asteen insinööriopetus - tukistrategioita
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Malmi, Lauri, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6503-8
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6504-5
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • women in engineering education
  • gender distribution
  • minorities
  • diversity
  • interdisciplinary teaching


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