Date of Award

Spring 5-28-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial/Organizational Psychology (PhD)


Industrial/Organizational Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Rob McKenna

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Melani Plett

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Lynette Bikos


engineers, professional identity, retention, turnover, men, women


The purpose of this investigation was to gain insight into professional identity and retention in the field of engineering, for both men and women, in an effort to mitigate the shortage of engineers in the United States. Although past efforts have predominantly focused on improving women’s retention since they represent a significant minority of this population, retention should be addressed in men as well, as both typically leave engineering within 10 years of entering the workforce (Frehill, 2012).

Professional identity and retention were evaluated with a mixed methods approach using archival data from a previous investigation on degreed engineers. Professional identity was measured by an online survey taken by all 891 participants (53.6% female, 46.4% male). A subset of 61 participants (60.7% female, 39.3% male) were also interviewed about their experiences in engineering.

The results indicated professional identity is significantly correlated with persistence in the field rpb = .142, p < .001, with those who persisted in engineering scoring higher on professional identity than those who left. Tests conducted within gender indicated statistically significant differences between those who stayed in the field and those who left, for both men t(101.17) = 1.994, p = .045, d = .25 and women t(297.28) = 3.168, p = .001, d = .30, with those who stayed scoring higher on professional identity in both genders. However, no gender difference in professional identity was found t(886.95) = -1.448, p = .148, d = .10. A grounded theory analysis of the interviews highlighted the personal importance and meaning individuals felt with regards to their identity as engineers, as well as the similarity in the factors contributing to retention and turnover in men and women. A social identity approach was applied to the identity themes and offered a valuable framework for the findings. The similarity found between men and women suggests interventions targeted to these common factors could improve retention in the field overall, and have a substantial impact on retention, and therefore the number of engineers in the United States.

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